Empowerment as a concept was introduced at the International Women’s Conference in 1985 at Nairobi. From the 1990s, the concept of women empowerment began to gradually gain a footing in the international gender and development agenda and media have started laying much emphasis upon women’s problems like gender discrimination, their role and importance, health and education. Women empowerment is an active, multi-dimensional process which enables women to realize their potential and powers in all spheres of life. Women empowerment itself elaborates that social rights, political rights, economic stability, judicial strength and all other rights should be also equal to men. Women are the most significant part of our social structure, but despite this fact, they usually face a number of obstacles in their way to avail their rights. Its harsh reality that women are always given the second preference in everything in the society. They didn’t have the power to express their opinion, pursue the career they wanted and even the basic human rights of education and health. They were suffering from the problems like child marriage, forced marriage, dowry, Honor killings and discrimination.
Women empowerment is necessary in all fields especially in education, economics and politics. Entire nations, business community and groups can benefit from the implementation of programs and policies that adopt the notion of women empowerment. Empowerment of women enhances both the quality and the quantity of human resources available for development. Women are mainstreamed in all economic sectors and ultimately proof themselves a productive part of the society. Today in this competitive world, women entrepreneurship and women empowerment plays significant role in the socio-economic development of all underdeveloped countries. However, the beginning of the 20th century brought about a series of changes in the status of women especially, in the Western World. In Europe, major initiatives were taken to promote women empowerment. Women's access to education has been recognized as a fundamental right. At international level, educating women results in improved productivity, income, and economic development, as well as a better quality of life, notably a healthier and better nourished nation. European countries such as Finland (1906), Norway (1913), and Denmark and Iceland (1915) granted women the vote early in the 20th century.
Pakistan being a democratic and an Islamic state, the issue of women empowerment faces new challenges. The status of women in Pakistan is one of systemic gender subordination even though it varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women's lives. Girls are constantly fed lessons on how to live in society. The horror of honor killing haunts the narrative of women empowerment, which would remain ineffectual unless there is a change in mindsets. A majority of women cannot move beyond the status patriarchy assigns to them. But with the passage of time the importance of women empowerment has been realized and steps were taken to promote gender equality. Historically Muslim reformers promote women empowerment. Muslim reformers such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan brought reforms in education and tried to empower women through education. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had a positive attitude towards women empowerment. After the independence of Pakistan, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah tried to eliminate socio-economic disparities against women in the country. Before 1947 there was a tendency for the Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League and women were organized into large-scale public demonstrations. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947 under the Pakistan (Creation of Pakistan) Ordinance, and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution. The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.
Pakistan government has taken daring steps to restore the personal security and dignity of women and to give them protection at workplace, like reservation of 10 percent quota for females, on the political side, reservation of thirty three percent seats for women in all local bodies, seventeen percent seats have been reserved for women in all constituent assemblies like, Provincial, National and Senate to tackle the issues of harassment and to eliminate the gender based violence. Moreover, for promoting gender equality and women empowerment, the government of Pakistan has signed many international and national commitments like Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), National Plan Of Action (NPA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Pakistani women of today, however, enjoy a better status than the past. Women, who were once expected to be seen and not heard, are now stepping outside the comfort of conventional or safe career paths, to cement their role in professions they were once alien to.
Empowering women to participate fully in economic life across all sectors is essential to raise the living standard of themselves and their families. There is dire need to thwart the hostility against the women which ultimately strengthen women’s psychological and physiological empowerment.