Ayesha Aziz, five men discuss women’s financial inclusion in Pakistan
The Karachi Literature Festival hosted on Sunday a panel on women empowerment and financial inclusion that featured four men, a male moderator and a lone female panelist.
Investment banker Ayesha Aziz was the sole woman on the panel featuring former finance minister Asad Umar, State Bank of Pakistan Governor Reza Baqir, former SBP governor Ishrat Husain and HBL’s Muhammad Aurangzeb. Chartered accountant Rashid Masood Alam moderated the session.
For Aziz, economic empowerment can only come after social and psychological empowerment. “It comes when you know you can stand up and ask questions.”
She said patriarchal attitudes aside, the most difficult to recognise are the patronizing attitudes from the most friendly and well-meaning men in our lives and it’s those that we must also question.
She said that the ecosystem in the corporate environment is only marginally better than what it was 30 to 40 years ago, making it difficult for women to work. “It’s designed by men, for men and women are a very unwelcome addition to this.”
With more women in leadership positions, we can change that ecosystem as most hurdles faced by women can so easily be resolved but men don’t do it, she said.
However, when the audience objected to the disproportionate number of men on a panel to discuss women empowerment, she defended it by saying that it was ‘sexist’ for women in the audience to criticise men for speaking at the event. “When there are no women in leadership roles, where would you find them for the panels?” she asked.
Baqir acknowledged the difficulties faced by women opening bank accounts and said opening these accounts is a measure of financial inclusion.
The State Bank introduced branchless banking, he said, to have more women in the economy. “Now we can put a bank account in a mobile phone and we can put a mobile phone in the hands of a woman.”
Baqir said that while bank accounts are not alone enough for women’s financial inclusion, they are correlated with so many other things and would give a sense of economic empowerment. That’s why it’s a quantifiable achievement for him.
Bank accounts alone are not enough for women’s financial inclusion, said Baqir, but they are correlated with so many other things and would give a sense of economic empowerment that we have to consider it a quantifiable achievement.
The question of why women in Pakistan remain secluded from the economy and financial matters is like the riddle of the chicken and the egg, said Umar.
He said he was pleasantly surprised when he heard a woman say that after her economic independence, her family started to seek her opinion, which was unprecedented.
Umar added that back when he had become CEO on Engro, they only had women in junior managerial positions if at all. “But after I became the head, I introduced some 13 steps including lighting up the parking space which used to be dark and building a daycare centre. After some months we saw women in executive positions.”
Little steps like these will help include women in the economy, he believes.