NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 9

Gender discrimination challenges

Gender discrimination remains a pressing issue in Pakistan, affecting various aspects of women’s lives, from inheritance rights to education and workforce participation. Despite legal provisions aimed at ensuring gender equality, customary practices and societal norms perpetuate male domination and restrict women’s rights.

Khalida Bibi faced immense pressure from her own mother and two elder sisters when she refused to relinquish her share of inheritance in a 25-acre agricultural land and a shop at Ghalla Mandi (Grain Market) in Hasilpur, in favor of her two brothers. All five siblings, including Khalida, were married off after their father’s passing.

After the Chaleeswan (the fortieth day after death) of their father, Khalida’s mother asked her and her two sisters to sign an affidavit “voluntarily” stating that they didn’t want any share in their father’s properties. The two sisters agreed readily, but Khalida didn’t. She believed that she had an equal right to her father’s properties, just like her brothers. Another reason for her refusal was her husband’s poor financial situation, as he had been bedridden for years after a major accident. However, her insistence on retaining her inheritance rights brought her family’s displeasure and led to her sisters and brothers socially boycotting her.

According to Prof. Dr. Raana Malik, Khalida’s case is not unique or an isolated incident. It represents the story of many families in our society. Dr. Malik, the director of the Department of Gender Studies at the University of the Punjab, Lahore, believes that the International Zero Discrimination Day observed on March 1, with the theme “Remove laws that harm, create laws that empower,” sheds light on the need for Pakistan to further implement the laws enacted to eliminate discrimination against women. She explains that although Pakistan has already passed laws to address this issue, many people are unwilling to accept and implement them due to cultural and social traditions.

Dr. Raana Malik states that discrimination against women begins from the moment a baby girl is born in a family. Unlike the celebrations that accompany the birth of a baby boy, most families feel sorrowful when a baby girl is born. In typical Pakistani families, girls face discrimination at every stage during their early years, even from their own mothers who, as women themselves, provide better food, clothing, and a more comfortable environment for their male offspring than their daughters.

Pakistan currently ranks as the second lowest country in the world for gender equality according to the Global Gender Gap Index. Although efforts to promote gender equality are visible in Pakistan’s Vision 2025, there is still much work to be done to improve the lives of women and girls across the country, according to Umme Laila Azhar, the director of HomeNet Pakistan. She emphasizes that gender discrimination and bias are deeply entrenched in Pakistani society, hindering the socio-economic progress of the country.

The rights activist advocating for women in the workforce points out that there is a gender disparity in education at every stage, with boys outnumbering girls. According to the 2020 Annual Report by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), out of the 22.84 million out-of-school children, 12.16 million are girls, accounting for 55% of the total. The lack of education among young girls deprives them of their fundamental rights because they are unaware of the rights provided through education. Social indicators demonstrate the continued vulnerability of women, such as the female literacy rate of 49%, compared to the male literacy rate of 71%. In rural areas, the female literacy rate drops to just 38%. Additionally, Pakistan has one of the lowest rates of female labor force participation in the region, which is a cause for concern.

Agha Intizar Ali Imran, a Supreme Court advocate in Pakistan, explains that although the principle of equality is enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution, customary practices like women’s seclusion under purdah contribute to male domination within families and society. While Article 23 of the Constitution grants women the legal right to own and dispose of property, customary practices limit women to usufructuary rights over land. Even when women do own property, it is often the husband who manages it.

Furthermore, the legal expert specializing in criminal and family laws notes that the 1962 West Pakistan Muslim Personal Law Shariat Application Act entitles Muslim women to inherit all types of property, including agricultural land, under customary law. However, in practice, many women do not inherit property due to social pressures from the family and fear of isolation. Even when they do inherit, women often receive significantly less than their rightful share. Agha Imran emphasizes the need for increased vigilance and awareness to eradicate discrimination against women in our society entirely.

To overcome the deep-rooted gender discrimination in Pakistan, concerted efforts are required on multiple fronts. It is crucial to address the gender disparities in education and provide equal opportunities for girls to access quality education. Additionally, legal frameworks need to be effectively implemented to ensure women’s rights to property ownership and inheritance. Society as a whole must challenge and change the prevailing cultural norms that perpetuate gender bias and male domination. By promoting awareness, advocating for women’s empowerment, and fostering a supportive environment, Pakistan can make significant strides towards achieving gender equality and creating a more inclusive and progressive society for all.