Monday, November 3, 2014

Closing Gender Gaps in Pakistan – Time to Act


Young women leaders in political education program  
By Shad Begum[1]

During the past few years, Pakistani women have achieved international awards in the fields of human rights and filmmaking. These awards include Nobel, Oscar, Emmy, the Right Livelihood Award, and the International Woman of Courage Award. Pakistan stands at rank 72 amongst 153 countries of the world in terms of women representation in the Parliament. This representation is possible only because of the especially reserved seats for women and not because of a greater space for women in politics. Despite these awards and somewhat good raking in parliamentary representation; however, huge gender inequalities exist in Pakistan. The recently published Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) 2014 by the World Economic Forum reflects on the gender inequalities in the countries of the world including Pakistan. In the GGGR, Pakistan occupied the second-last position, ahead of Yemen only.  Pakistan has been consistently on the second-last position for the last three years in gender inequalities in the world.

The World Economic Forum is a Geneva-based not-for-profit Foundation and according to its website, “is an independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests, working in close cooperation with all major international organizations.”

The GGGR, taking advantage of the data available with credible international organizations such as the ILO, UNESCO, UNDP, WHO etc., has measured the performance of countries along four major indices in the gender gap: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment.

Pakistan spends less than the UN recommended 4% of GDP on education. The lack of public spending on education results in under-developed human resource, which leads to poor economic performance. The spending on the overall social sector is far below than the desired level, which affects the health and survival indicator.

Economic empowerment of women is the key to closing the gender gaps in Pakistan but unfortunately women have either no access or control on economic resources. The property rights of women are not enforced as men take the responsibility of managing the economic resources. There are significantly fewer companies which are owned by women in Pakistan. In financial institutions and business enterprises, women are conspicuous by their absence in majority cases. The women workforce in public sector institutions is far below than the desired level to close gender gaps in employment.

The economic dependency of women directly leads to their political dis-empowerment. Although political parties in Pakistan nominate women on reserved seats for the allotted quota in parliament, very few political parties allot party tickets to women on open seats. The representation of women in the political parties decision-making bodies is only cosmetic, as male-dominated decision-making bodies within the political parties take major decisions. The percentage of women ministers in Pakistan is also less than one percent.

Gender inequalities are the result of traditions, customs, and practices that are heavily tilted in favour of men in the Pakistani society. Since policy-making is the domain of men in Pakistan, women’s priorities, by and large, remains outside the scope of development agenda in Pakistan. Almost half of the Pakistan’s population comprises of female but this huge human resource is not fully tapped for economic development.

While this is true that societies develop gradually, we should not forget that deliberate actions and planning can change the realities on the ground just as has been witnessed in the case of some recently developed economies such as China, South Korea and Malaysia.

There is a dire need of shift in policies to close the gender gaps in Pakistan. The National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women under the National Plan of Action for Women in Pakistan needs a serious attention. It envisages removing imbalances and inequalities in all spheres of life, including socio-economic development and women’s equal access to all development benefits and social services. A policy is relevant only if it is put in action with concrete milestones and timeframes. We hope that the federal and provincial governments in Pakistan will take concrete steps to remove gender inequalities and stand with its head high in the comity of nations. All this is possible only if we bring fundamental changes in our attitudes towards women as equal citizens of Pakistan, but the journey of change in attitudes should start from our homes first.  





[1] Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage awards.

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