Author: Eraj Atiq, Program Assistant at Women Media Center, Pakistan and Associate Member at International Research Group on Crisis Communication (IRGoCC), Germany.
According to Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) issued by World Economic Forum (WEF) Pakistan stands at the 141 position out of 142 countries in 2014. The report estimates the degree of gender divergence in the fields of health, education, economy and politics.
The Gender Gap Index of the report tells the ranking of Pakistan is 141 in terms of economic participation falling down from 135 since 2013, at 132 in education attainment, thus descending from 129 in 2013. Whereas in terms of health and survival it ranks 119 rising up from 124 in 2013, while political empowerment has fallen down to 85 this year from 64 in 2013. WEF began issuing their Global Gender Reports since 2006 and unfortunately Pakistan fails to make an overall breakthrough.
“A system has to be created and maintained. Improvements are needed to be made but situation is worse in Pakistan”, said Shala Raza, Deputy Speaker Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Ex- Acting Governor of Sindh. She further said “if a mishap occurs to a woman the family denies standing along while disowning her, people want to suppress the issue without any accountability. There are lot issues of gender bias and injustice”. Analyzing Pakistan’s performance and the underlying spot globally in years, we need to take into account the negligence towards women empowerment and their participation in the country. Deprivation of women in Pakistan can mainly be attributed to the patriarchy, the gender biased customs, social and cultural traditions strengthened by feudal and tribal system, where women are entities with no say. Women do not compose a single part of the society. They affect the entire social, political, cultural and economic system of the country. It’s time to understand that the responsibility of empowering a woman does not entirely lie with the state but begins from her family. Limitation to the access of education for women makes them incapable of playing their influential roles in political and decision making processes. Conclusively altering the growth rate and affecting nation’s economy on a universal perspective. International assurances as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and UN Women have addressed women empowerment as acutely important agent of global development and growth. Women have to be looked upon as potent and disparate beings and not as passive victims of discrimination. The constitution of Pakistan affirms equal opportunities for women and promotes their participation at National level. Regrettably the status of women is still vague in four important spheres which GGG report covers.
Observing the Global Gender Gap Report Dalia Grybauskaite, the President of the Republic of Lithuania and Chair of the Council of Women World leaders said “Closing the global gender gap requires genuine political will to implement structural reforms in labor markets and social security systems. Leaders and decision-makers have a responsibility to ensure not only equal opportunities, but also a possibility of equal choices regarding education, career and family life”.
Prominence of women in Pakistan today fluctuate across socio-economic, political, rural, urban, ethnic and religious sectors yet the gender inequality remains heightened in public and private life. To note a few, domestic violence, gender-bias in education, health facilities, unfairly paid jobs and less opportunity for growth are to mention as a servitude image of women in the society. “Violence against women tells another story of bias when it comes to providing them medical care and litigation services. The conviction rate of criminals involved in crimes against women is far less than any other developing country. More than 50% cases of acid attacks against women take place in southern Punjab where the conviction rate for this crime stands at 30 to 35%, which means that over 60% gets away with this act”, says Sabin Agha, free lance Journalist and Documentary film producer.
“The gender inequality begins from our homes, when a woman is to give birth to a child, family including the mother herself wishes for a boy, despite of the fact she is a woman herself. All children are equal, capable of similar potential regardless of the gender. To fill in the gap of gender equality we need to realize the importance of women respecting their abilities and existence”, says Shahla Hasan, Assignment Editor.
Recently National Assembly was informed that Pakistan is on top among the countries with regard to spread of breast cancer and the disease on rise. Minister of State for National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination Ms. Saira Afzal Tarar mentioned that every fourth woman in Pakistan is suffering from breast cancer. Attention of the ministers was drawn towards breast cancer that claims lives of 40,000 women in the country every year. 25 % of women are constantly suffering from the disease since 1973. The maternal motility rate remains high which is 260 deaths/100,000 live births, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2010. Modified access to educational opportunities, appreciation of their skills through participation in political process and provision of economic participation can help filling in the gap across the globe. According to UN Human Development Report – 2013, 18% of women have acquired education. Pakistan stands at the lowest ranks when it comes to spending on education and health in the region (at about 2% of GDP). According to World Bank female labor participation rate in Pakistan was measured at 22.40 in 2010. Pakistan has one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the region. Malnutrition also remains a threat, as 44% of children under five are kept from growing, as per the report of World Bank.
Policy responses need to be accelerated by raising awareness of education not only for women but for people who have limited their approaches and thoughts in a choked shell. The slow rate of progress indicates that it is very challenging for Pakistan to meet the Millennium Developments Goals by 2015.
Women are individuals of respect, grace and abilities. We need to empower women by making them believe in their selves, by not controlling their voices. Government and business community needs to bring in consideration the role of women in economic development. Social animosity is keep women away from excelling. Women are capable of contributing a fair share in the country’s economy, culture, politics and social developments. “The downfall on a GGG report signifies lack of tolerance , lack of women empowerment, fundamentalism, lack of access to justice are just a few of the basic issues that continue to push Pakistan towards poor standing on social indicators”, says Unjela Kaleem, Communications, Gender and Community Development Specialist, URBANICS.
Gender-Equality is a state of mind and a game of perception that originates from within of both, men and women. We cannot progress until the war of honor in the name of gender ends. Other influential actors as government, international donors, NGOs, and entrepreneurs can work on creating an enabling environment for women to practice their wills without any sort of discrimination, be it a work place or health care. Women empowerment dares the patriarchal system in Pakistan and beliefs that promotes women’s inequality. There is an urgent need for equal distribution of positions, responsibilities, powers, authorities, and roles among men and women. Allocation of budget on raising health awareness programs in particular for women needs to be revised through scrupulous research, and the findings shall help in saving lives of hundreds of women dying with curable diseases in urban and rural areas.
However it will be unfair not to defend the progress made in the past few years, though the pace of the change has to be expedited realizing utter urge for Pakistan to improve its Global ranking on gender equality. Socially women empowerment is an essential subject that serves the global development and core realities which makes application of policies influential, a plan that can bring socio-economic metamorphosis; a challenge that never has been.
Empowering women is a complex has to be rectified and understood. On broader perspective women issues are basically issues of male dominance which constrain the development of women. We do not have dearth of women leaders but of people who believe that women are as good leaders as men owing great skills. We need to give up old notions that leadership is associated with physical strength, hence men. Empowering women is only redefining the set beliefs of leadership.
Women empowerment is a goal which needs to be achieved in all spheres though skillful planning along with practical groundwork which brings in the accountability of prominent actors of the state, targeting gender-equality and development progress in an unambiguous vision. “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself, precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance”, says Kofi Annan.