—By Lubna Jerar Naqvi
Women face many obstacles in life before they can achieve anything. The situation is only magnified if they are working to pursue a career. From the get-go they have so many hurdles to cross and so many glass ceilings – at different levels – to break. They are deprived of their basic right if we look at them under a gender lens, like women employees usually don’t get equal pay for the same amount of work done by the men. And there is nothing that seems to be done about this.
However, gender disparity is a common issue globally and many times they are aggravated in countries like Pakistan because there is nothing being done or enough is not being done to deal with these problems. Mainly because they are not considered as problems, or important enough.
Pakistani women already face many issues that are created due to the problem of gender inequality. And it does not help that the country has slipped down the ladder of global gender parity.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021 published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) (March 31, 2021) Pakistan has slipped to the 153rd position out of 156 countries with the worst situation for gender parity.
The report reveals that the regional situation is quite bad and that most of the countries have not done enough to improve the status of women in relevant sectors. “The regional average share of professional and technical roles taken by women is 32.6%. In India, only 29.2% of technical roles are held by women, and in Pakistan the share is 25.3% and in Afghanistan 19.3%.”
The report further breaks the situation down: “The presence of women in senior roles is even more rare: women make up just 4.1% in Afghanistan, 4.9% in Pakistan, 10.7% in Bangladesh and 14.6% in India.”
And the figures in the report don’t give much hope, as it said “the disparity in income between men and women is large in most countries. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, the income of an average woman is below 16% of that of an average man, while in India it is 20.7%. Only in Nepal and Bhutan is the gap lower than 50%, as the income earned by a woman is 74% and 58%, respectively, of that of a man.”
This leads to the existing gaps to widen between the genders, especially since more women are losing their jobs due to Covid19. And with the virus going as strong as ever in the third wave, this spells disaster for many more working women. The report also said that the ‘progress has stagnated and the estimated time to close the global gender gap is now 136.5 years.’
An alarming situation to say the least. And for countries like Pakistan, where things are already not too good, and where change is quite slow, things will not improve soon.
The WEF’s report reveals figures from the region, which show “the women’s labour force participation rate is 51% of the male labour force participation rate’ – Pakistan only has 22.6% of women active in the labour market.”
Out of which 4.9% are in managerial positions and a woman’s income in Pakistan is 16.3% that of a man’s income.
When will Pakistan understand that it needs more women to participate in the labour force and to do this it is important to improve economic opportunities for women.
And it has been seen that women are the first ones to lose a job in any crisis and we have seen this during the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan.
Commenting on the situation in Pakistan,Sidra Dar -broadcast journalist, America (VOA) – said, “The WEF report has highlighted some very alarming facts. On the other hand, the debate regarding women in Pakistan has taken a very dangerous turn after Women’s Day. Women asking for their rights and organizing marchon women’s day are under severe criticism. The situation had become very graveafter some women were accused of blasphemy and they had to register cases in court against the accusers.”
Sidra Dar thinks the situation in Pakistan is only getting worse as people don’t understand the situation properly. “Thegender gap is widening and women participation is decreasing in Pakistan. As it there are many countries where women are deprived of their rights. However, everyone was thinking that things were improving for women in Pakistan. Apparently, things were not so and it is revealed in the low ranking of the country and it is quite alarming.”
Agreeing that women have been more affected during the pandemic, Dar said, “If we speak about women in the media, they have been badly affected during Covid19 as well, especially when the option of work from home was given. Many women were laid off in many organizations on different pretext.”
“As it is women are already not working on high positions, their salaries are not equal to men, they are not in decision-making positions, and working women are unable to find jobs if they lose their jobs.” She adds.“The media crisis has also added to this problem as they don’t have many job opportunities, which is true in every sections of media. When things get worse in any industry, it affects women more.”
Dar said, “The WEF has also highlight that the Pakistani labour force is just about22% and those in managerial posts is about 4%, salaries are very low overall. There are very few women in senior positions. How many women are bureau chiefs, director news, controller news?Many think that women are incapable of taking decisions under pressure, will panic and be unable to make proper decisions. This is quite strange for a country where a woman held the post of prime minister.”
The report compares the situation in the region and reveals things are not any better in other countries either.
It said, “Only 22.3% of women in India, 22.6% in Pakistan, and 38.4% in Bangladesh are active in the labour market. On average in the region, the women’s labour force participation rate is 51% of the male labour force participation rate. In Nepal, however, over 85% of women participate in the labour force.”
India has also not fared well according to WEF as it has also lost its ranking since last year. Speaking about this senior Indian journalist Laxmi Murthy who heads the Hri Institute for Southasian Research and Exchange; is Contributing Editor with Himal Southasian and currently working with Zubaan on an initiative researching gender, labour and violence said via email,
“The 28-point downgrade of India’s ranking in the Global Gender Gap report by the World Economic Forum should not surprise anyone. It is merely one more symptom of the deeply entrenched inequity and structural gender discrimination.”
Murthy added, “While the female labour force participation rate has been in free fall over the years, the pandemic and accompanying lockdown have only exacerbated the vulnerabilities of women workers including women journalists, particularly freelancers and those on precarious contracts.”
Like Pakistan, India also faced a gender wage gap apart from other serious issues that women journalists face. However, the pandemic has only added to the existing problems. Laxmi Murthy points out an important point relationship and effect of women’s low political participation in India and how it will affect problems faced by working women in different areas including the media.
Murthy explains, “The steep decline of 13.5% in political participation in the past year flies in the face of the popular perception of women’s prominent presence in politics. Given the intimidation, misogyny and downright harassment of women in politics and those who dare to enter the public arena, the abysmal figures are only to be expected.”
She added, “For women journalists, already bearing the burden of a gender wage gap, sexual harassment at the workplace and salary cuts and layoffs due to the pandemic, public space, including the online space, is particularly fraught. The recently released report ‘Democracy under Siege’ by US-based on-profit Freedom House which marked India’s fall from “free” to “partly free” in terms of deteriorating political rights and civil liberties, was met with nationalistic push-back rather than introspection and a political will to change deeply embedded gender injustice.”
Ishita Shahi is a journalist and a social media manager for an independent digital publication, The Record based in Nepal. She won the Future News Worldwide (2019)-which recognised 100 most influential young journalists from all around the globe.
Like women journalists in Pakistan and India, Ishita and her colleagues also face the same basic problems in the field.However, according to WEF the situation in two countries – Nepal and Bhutan – is comparatively better. The salary gap is not as wide as in other countries in the region.The salary gap between the gender in Nepal is lower than 50%, ‘as the income earned by a woman is 74% and 58%, respectively, of that of a man’.
Despite this Ishita thinks the gender pay gap is a problem as she said, “Gender based pay gap is still observed here in Nepal. The patriarchal roots of the society find its way through the media profession too, where women, as well as other gender minorities, face differences compared to that of their cis-gender male counterparts.”
“Although, we as a country come across as a progressive nation, which has a balance in the number of female and male representatives, the country’s extreme patriarchy still remains intact. There has been progress too, especially in terms of equal pay, just that the journey is still far beyond.” Ishita added.
Examining the situation in the region as a whole, as well as in individual countries in the region, it is clear that things are not good. Gender issues and gaps are not improving and as time goes by things are not improving. Regions that are struggling with many issues need to also focus on inclusion policies, especially gender inclusion policies making it easier for everyone to participate in different sectors.
Understandably, this will be difficult for regions like ours to cover the lost ground. As it is as the WEF reported it will take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide and the pandemic has also exasperated the situation. Even then the foundations of plans on how to close the gender gap must be put into place now, so that they can be put into motion as soon as possible.
Countries like Pakistan – which should have begun yesterday – have to seriously stop getting distracted and begin to understand that the gender gap is a serious reality. It has to begin to plug the leaks in the system which are eroding important structures that support the economy. Short-term and long-term plans have to be developed that utilise the potential of the entire working force now so that we can move ahead in the future.