Musharaf Hai, the former CEO of Unilever and L’Oreal, has said that the entry of women into the Corporate Sector and Trade Associations should be based on merit and not because of their gender. Biases, prejudice, and preconceptions make it difficult for women to come forward. Women should be courageous and not succumb to conforming to what others say. Women should exhibit their knowledge, expertise, and competence to counter negativity in their march forward. As Chief Guest, she addressed a large audience at the National Conference on Gender Equality hosted by Global Compact Network Pakistan (GCNP).
Ms. Hai advised the women audience that they should not box themselves up but must arm themselves with the required knowledge, laws, and regulations if they want to change their surrounding environment. If strong women were not visible, their purpose would face setbacks. “She advised that three important qualities are important for women to excel, progress, and scale. Women must have confidence in themselves and their professions or careers. They must possess integrity of purpose and for this, they have to be fearless. Moreover, they must move ahead with perseverance and face any adversity in their way.”
She added that in her career, she had been mentoring and motivating women subordinates, and today, many women are climbing the ladder of hierarchy in enterprises. She opined that despite the misogynistic environment in many corporations, those women who are determined to achieve their objectives continue to prove their merit and hence they are more positioned to succeed and be recognized.
Majyd Aziz, President Global Compact Network Pakistan(GCNP), in his welcome address, said that the theme of the Conference is “Breaking the Ceiling in Pakistan’s Misogynistic Ecosystem,” and the purpose of the Conference was to advocate a balanced entrepreneurial ecosystem for the present and future generations.
He said, “During his four decades of involvement in Chambers and Associations, he learned the power of saying “I can” and he hoped that more and more women would also say, “I can”. He also narrated many instances of his leadership in KCCI, the Employers Federation of Pakistan, and GCNP, through which he assisted in breaking the ceiling for women.”
Majyd Aziz added that in the Islamic tradition, a woman has an independent identity, she is a responsible person in her own right, and she carries the burden of her moral and spiritual obligations. Women have as much right to education as men do. He also informed that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had said, “Among my followers, the best of the men are those who are best to their wives and the best of wives are those who are best to their husbands. The best of the women are those who assist their husbands in their work”.
He said today, by law, there has to be at least one woman on the Board of Directors. He informed that today, the Employers Federation of Pakistan has five women on the twenty-member Board, a process that commenced when he took over as EFP President in 2017. Although there are many women heads of state and government, the four SAARC countries, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have already reached that milestone.
Hina Mansab Khan, Chairperson of Women Chambers Council, who was the keynote speaker, said that the motto of her organization is “I am” and assured that now women will not fail. She said that women have to exert their rights and that now they are earning a lot of respect. She lamented that despite gains made by women, Pakistan is number 187 in the Gender Equality Global Index. She also gave an example of the tremendous work of women in Gilgit and called for some policy to deter middlemen who extract most of the profit that should have gone to the women involved in producing handicrafts and garments in Gilgit.
Yulia Bazhenova, representative of GIZ Germany, was also another keynote speaker. She informed that GIZ is very much involved in the textile industry in Pakistan with focus on labor, social and environmental standards. GIZ is working with one hundred companies in the field of gender equality, women employment and women empowerment. GIZ is also now introducing new programs and projects to further spread the message to, and sensitize industries to promote gender equality and women employment.
A very vibrant and informative panel discussion was held with four panelists, Dr. Uzma Shujaat of Area Study Centre for Europe, University of Karachi, Sadaf Hatif, CEO of company providing manpower services, Ayesha Ashraf Jangda, head of Women Development in Bank Islami, and Farheen Zahoor, Head of Sustainability in AGI Denim. All four narrated their case studies, the challenges they faced in their fields, their successes despite all biases and prejudices, and provided advice and guidance to the women present in the audience.
They highlighted the fact that despite all these roadblocks, they were and are committed to achieve their objectives and excel in their work. They said that even females are misogynistic, while many male bosses have an egoistic nature in dealing with women. They accepted that women have a tough journey in their careers. They implore that women who wear Niqaab should not be discriminated against but encouraged in the corporate sector. It was also mentioned that despite all challenges, this is the best time to be a woman.
Ms. Hai unveiled a display of Women in Stamps curated by renowned philatelist Arif Balgamwala who also presented his design of a stamp that should be accepted and approved by Pakistan Post Office for release on International Women’s Day 2024. It was the first time such a display of the collection of Women in Stamps issued by many countries was publicly presented. GCNP Recognition Plaques to Caroline Bates, Head of ILO Better Work Program, Durreshawar Nisar, Chairperson of KCCI Women Entrepreneurs Committee, and Arif Balgamwala for winning world awards in philately were awarded. The program was fabulously managed by GCNP staff members Samreen Shaikh with technical support from Zainab Fatima.