Empowering Women For Employment Is The Need Of Hour, Says Sadaffe Abid


Empowering women for employment is the need of hour, says Sadaffe Abid

CIRCLE’s Work Readiness Programme making waves

By Hira Asif

Sadaffe Abid, the CEO of CIRCLE Women Association, sees Pakistan’s path to economic prosperity through the meaningful inclusion of women in employment and the digital world.

“We are alive in a day and age that is tech-enabled,” she has posted her message as the CIRCLE Women Association head.

“Anyone and everyone who has a skill and can use basic technology is qualified to generate an income.”

Ms. Abid has always had a tight but very disciplined schedule every day at the office. The reason is her association is into various projects focusing on low-income women.

“They possess multiple skills like cooking, embroidery, handicrafts, and more, but lack basic digital literacy. They are not aware of the potential of their seemingly ‘ordinary’ skills and that is what we intend to change.”

She says studies show that when women earn, they invest back in the education, nutrition, and healthcare of their family.

“Which is why I believe that when women grow, we all win.”

A cursory look at the Circle's projects ongoing or completed shows that every project aims at arming women with skills and employment opportunities.

Ms. Abid started off with “She Loves Tech (the world’s largest startup competition for women) bringing it to Pakistan in 2017 with support from HBL with the aim of creating a robust startup ecosystem in the country to facilitate women entrepreneurs, especially in the field of tech through greater visibility, access to mentorship, funding, and a community of like-minded women.

The other program was the Digital Literacy Program with the cooperation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to train 10,000 women. In the Digital Acceleration Program, CIRCLE with the support of the British Asian Trust and CITI offered a specialist package of micro-entrepreneurship and digital marketing training to underserved young women with micro/small businesses and business ideas in Lahore, Sargodha, Jhang, Faisalabad, Multan, Khanewal, Rajanpur, Hyderabad, Karachi, and Gilgit Baltistan.

The program called Tech Karo addresses gender disparity in the field of tech, in which CIRCLE partnered with Engro Vopak and Engro Foundation to offer technological training to the majority of young girls and youth from underserved communities under the initiative of Tech Karo.

Under the project, Tech Hub, CIRCLE, with its partners across Pakistan, is setting up a network of Tech Hubs for digital training of low-income and underserved women in multiple cities. The target age group for the students is 18-30 years with basic matriculation.

The project, Elevate, is a professional leadership development program aimed at addressing gender barriers in business and improving the understanding of women in executive management roles. These are just a few programs from a long list of the Circle Women Association has achieved so far.

Now, at the heart of the Circles is the CIRCLE Work Readiness Program: Empowering Women for Employment in Pakistan. Ms. Abid is determined to make the program a success. She said that under the program, young urban women (18-40) from low-income communities seeking employment or career advancement would be brought into the employment fold.

“The program is open to unemployed or underemployed women earning less than, equal to, or slightly above the minimum wage due to the high cost of living. Also, second/third-tier college graduates or final year students lacking confidence, exposure, role models, and critical digital and work readiness skills.”

Achieving the dream is not a piece of cake, given our socio-cultural settings which hardly allow women to step out and work in a male-dominated society.

“The first hard task was/is to bridge the skills gap by providing a comprehensive training program in digital literacy, communication, job search strategies, and professional development.” Besides that, addressing the digital divide and equipping underemployed women with the skills needed for better job opportunities was also a task.

“To achieve the task, we ran an online awareness campaign and visited several public and private universities, convincing women to join the program, which equipped them with the necessary skills to make them potential employees.”

The drive also engaged men as allies to promote gender equality and encourage men to support women's career aspirations.

“When a woman decides about working outside the home, the first problem is mobility. The other problem is awareness about the need for accessible and affordable childcare solutions. Ms. Abid with her team organized roundtable discussions with key decision-makers, such as the State Bank of Pakistan, Women Development Department, universities, corporate institutes, and policymakers.

“Our main objective was to increase female workforce participation, improve career prospects for low-income women, enhance digital literacy and work readiness skills, and so on. Their efforts brought out positive results as under the program, a batch of 25 women has been trained and employed with the Faysal Islami Khudmukhtar Internship Programme.

“The selection of the right candidate was a hard task, but by sticking to the rules, we had a batch of wonderful women, who after training, have hit bank branches and have a few days left to complete their internship.”

Before the training, the Circle Women Association arranged an orientation for the families of would-be program participants. “This step was necessary to win the trust of the families of the women workers,” she says.

During the orientation, parents received detailed insight into the program's working and benefits. She says the program's first cohort successfully completed a four-day intensive training session held from March 25 to 28.

“The training program focused on equipping women with the necessary skills like digital and financial literacy, soft and communication skills, and professional grooming,” says Ms. Abid.

The program may set a trend to engage women in employment, that is what the country needs. “While our women employment rate stands at 21 per cent, it is 40 per cent in Bangladesh. To bridge this gap, the Circles are committed to teaching digital literacy. internet access and digital literacy pose a challenge, but women are proving that the digital space can be harnessed as a tool for change."

She said as the number of digitally literate women goes up, it would become a network and a platform for women to script their own narratives. Sadaffe Abid is hopeful that through such a nationwide campaign for women's empowerment, digital literacy, and financial inclusion, a positive change would emerge.

Abdullah Hussain

Abdullah Hussain is a staff member who writes on politics, human rights, social issues and climate change.