Women’s empowerment to change country’s economic landscape: CCP chairperson

ISLAMABAD, Mar 9 (APP):Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) Chairperson Rahat Kaunain Hassan has stressed the need to promote women’s economic empowerment as it would change the country’s economic landscape.

She was addressing the opening session of a seminar held in connection with the International Women’s Day to discuss the crucial role of Small and Medium Enterprises in the economy with a special focus on contributions and challenges of women entrepreneurs.

The theme of the seminar was, “Women in SMEs: Challenges and way forward” and it was attended by a wide array of stakeholders including the representatives of small businesses, chambers of commerce and industry, commercial counsellors of foreign embassies in Pakistan, women-led SMEs, and regulators, said a CCP press release on Thursday.

The CCP chairperson highlighted the critical role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in driving economic growth.

She explained that the choice of SMEs as the seminar’s theme was due to their impact and estimated contribution of up to 40% of the gross domestic product in the economy and being one of the key components of CCP’s strategic vision 2020-2023.

While discussing the country’s economic challenges, she emphasised the importance of enforcing competition principles in such times of crisis as a necessity.

The CCP also presented its draft report on “Improving Economic Efficiency of SMEs.” The report identifies access to finance as a major barrier to SMEs.

A survey of 50 financial institutions (FIs) was conducted in 2021 which showed that only 30 out of the 50 lend to the SME sector. Among the 30 FIs, the lending was skewed towards medium enterprises and only two were able to achieve the indicative lending targets set by the SBP in the sector.

The SBP prepared National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) in 2015 in which the SME sector was identified as a priority sector and the target set for SME lending was 17% of the private sector financing, to be achieved by 2020.
However, the SME lending was only 5.40% of the private sector lending in September 2022 and over the last five years the lending remained between 6-7%.

The report recommends that the targets need to be enhanced and aggressively followed. The report also emphasizes the need for an SME Act, an effective SME banking network with focussed SME desks, as well as redefining SMEs to include micro-enterprises with distinct thresholds as per global standards.

Addressing the session, “Empowering Women Entrepreneurs in Pakistan: Challenges and the Way Forward,” Founder and CEO at Base6 Private Limited, Dr. Farah Faris Qureshi urged the government to simplify policies and provide an enabling environment for small businesses in the health sector, particularly those run by women.

CEO of Pronto Promo, Saulat Salahuddin highlighted the challenges faced by the SMEs in Pakistan, saying there was no ecosystem for entrepreneurship to flourish both in terms of knowledge, skills, and technology.

She suggested establishing more technical training institutions and setting up a single window operation for over 30 government departments.

CEO of Conatural Beauty Pvt Ltd Myra Qureshi Jahangir pointed out the issues of gender-friendly spaces, like the lack of women’s restrooms and public transport, which were major challenges for women entrepreneurs.

Creative Director of Orah Jewels, Mariya Suhail shared the challenges in the gemstone industry, including a lack of skilled individuals, machinery, technical support, and regulatory barriers.

The speakers of the second session on “Creating an enabling environment for SME growth in Pakistan: innovation and best practices,” delved into the various opportunities that are available for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and women entrepreneurs in Pakistan.

Farhan Aziz Khawaja, CEO of the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), shared that the Asian Development Bank was lending its support to the development of a women entrepreneurship policy, which was currently being drafted.

Shumaila Rifaqat, Head of Women Venture Portfolio at Karandaaz, emphasized policy consistency and continuity and the importance of innovation.

Syeda Raafiya Mamujee, Chairperson of the Consumer Association of Pakistan – Women Wing, discussed the need for a single window operation and training for women entrepreneurs.

Dr. Iqra Riaz Rajput, Chairperson of Women Empowerment Hyderabad, emphasized the need for sensitization of women in remote areas and sustainable actions for capacity building and shared how CAP is helping women in getting their businesses registered online.

Dr Naveed Iftikhar, Founder of Atomcamp, highlighted the importance of digital skills and mobility in rural areas and suggested long-term policies and credit guarantees to help SMEs.

All speakers were unanimous in having long-term and consistent policies for SMEs to become vibrant.

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