Female engineer Shahleeza Murawat works at New Bong, an IFC-supported power complex in Pakistan. © Anam Abbas/IFC
Shahleeza Murawat has always wanted to be an engineer. Growing up in Mirpur, a city in Northern Pakistan, she spent her spare time playing with her father's tools and tinkering with whatever she found lying around the house. But conservative Mirpur offered few economic opportunities for educated women. So after graduating from university with an engineering degree, Murawat faced the wrenching prospect of leaving home to find work.
The construction of the nearby New Bong Escape Hydroelectric Power Complex changed that—and changed Murawat’s life, too. In 2013, she landed a job at the sprawling facility, which is owned by Laraib Energy Limited, a private power company.
"I am blessed to have gotten this opportunity right where I live," she says. “I think now that as people in Mirpur see local young people getting jobs at Laraib, some are inspired to pursue higher education."
Stories like Murawat’s are among the reasons why IFC pledged $38 million to support the construction of New Bong, an 84-megawatt run-of-the-river plant on the Jhelum River. Along with providing much-needed power—limiting the number of crippling blackouts that plague Pakistan—the company has created well-paying jobs for locals, including women like Murawat.
Companies like Laraib Energy know that gender diversity and sustained attention to cultivating an inclusive workforce offer benefits beyond measure. Firms that employ women can draw from a much deeper talent pool than those that rely largely on men. They are usually more innovative, up to 25 percent more productive, and better understand their customers.
IFC has long recognized the importance of greater participation of women in economic activities—in the Middle East and North Africa and elsewhere. Through a combination of investments and advisory services, we help channel small-business loans to women, provide training to female entrepreneurs, and assist in expanding access to vital financial services, like bank accounts. We also show businesses how to develop more inclusive hiring practices and create policies, like flex-time, that allow women to balance work with their responsibilities at home.
Initiatives like those are important especially in regions like MENA, where women cannot access the same economic opportunities as their male peers. Female entrepreneurs struggle to secure loans for their business, and workplace discrimination remains common. These barriers are especially difficult to surmount for younger women in the region, half of whom are jobless. That is double the rate of unemployment for young men.
Creating opportunities for women in Pakistan, and throughout the Middle East and North Africa, is a key goal for IFC's work in the region. In 2015, the last year for which full results are available, our clients in the region employed more than 25,000 women, including nearly 1,700 in Pakistan.
Now four years into her career at Laraib Energy, Murawat is determined to show how times and cultures can change. She's a key member of Laraib's planning department, but she has an even more ambitious goal: she wants to join New Bong's mechanical engineering unit, which is still a male-dominated realm. She is confident in her ability for one simple reason: "I excel because I like what I do," Murawat says.
To learn more about IFC's work in gender equality, visit www.ifc.org/gender.
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Published in March 2017