Every year the Geneva-based World Economic Forum publishes a report on the gender gap – inequality between man and woman in all fields of life. In its annual report, the WEF conducts a worldwide survey and ranks countries regarding their policies on gender equality. The rankings are based on countries’ progress towards gender parity in four dimensions: economic participation and opportunities, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.
Over the past 14 years, the Global Gender Gap Index included in the WEF report has served as a compass to track progress on relative gaps between women and men on health, education, economy and politics. Through the annual yardstick, stakeholders within each country are able to set priorities relevant in each specific economic, political and cultural context.
This year’s report underlines the growing urgency for action. Without the equal inclusion of half of the world’s talent, the international community will not be able to deliver on the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for all of society or achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.
However, many new channels have opened to close the gender gap. Companies must offer equal opportunities to all members of society, leveraging gender diversity and investing in all of their talent through ongoing upskilling and reskilling. Governments must create policies that provide talent development, integration and deployment opportunities for all genders, diversify the leadership pool and provide support to families and caregivers, in both youthful and ageing societies alike.
In its Global Gender Gap Report 2020, the Forum ranks Pakistan at 151st place among 153 countries, just ahead of Iraq and Yemen, making it the third worst country in terms of gender inequality. Pakistan is rated at 150th, 143rd, 149th and 93rd position, respectively, as per the given criteria. According to the report, while a majority of countries have bridged or nearly bridged the gender gap, Pakistan lags behind in all dimensions. And among the seven South Asian nations its performance is the worst on all scores.
The report makes depressing reading. Considering the prevailing conditions in several other counties, especially in certain Arab states and closer home in Afghanistan, it is hard to believe they are ranked better than Pakistan. Some analysts have pointed out that this raises questions about the validity of the WEF’s findings. No doubt, women in Pakistan face discrimination everywhere: at home, in access to education and healthcare, in employment opportunities, and rising in their chosen professions. In some parts of the country they are denied even the right to vote. There are too many social barriers to advancement.
But things are changing in Pakistan. Those who have the will and the ability to compete with men can and do so. Many have entered professions previously considered male domain such as engineers, business executives, lawyers, journalists, army officers, air force pilots and more. Some have attained prominence in politics. That surely does not mean they are better off than those in most other countries, only that women do not seem to fare as badly in this county as the present report suggests.
The report notes that in economic participation Pakistan’s score fell from 112 in 2006 to 150 at this time; in educational attainment from 110 to 143; in health and survival from 112 to 149; and in political empowerment from 37 to present 93. This slide in scores is rather puzzling, considering that there have been no policy reversals during this period in any of these areas that could increase the gap in gender equality. Nor has any new attempt been made to deny educational or other opportunities to women. In fact, the report says that while in 2017 there was not a single woman minister, as of January 1 this year; there have been three women in the 25-member (federal) cabinet. It appears there is something amiss in the analysis of available information.
All said, Pakistan has still a long way to go to promote gender equality. For a more meaningful political empowerment of women, political parties need to allot a substantial number of party tickets to women for contesting assemblies’ elections instead of nominating them for reserved seats. The key to uplifting women being economic independence, the government must ensure more girls’ enrollment in schools and in institutions of higher learning as well as technical training, opening up gainful employment opportunities for them. Only when they compete with and among men will women find their rightful place in society. The PTI government is committed to uplifting the status of women and it must leave no stone unturned to fulfil its promise.