FeaturedNationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 16

It is in men’s interest to join the battle for women’s rights

There is no question that women in Pakistan face disadvantages and discrimination in all spheres and walks of life. No wonder, Pakistan has been ranked as the second-worst country in terms of gender parity in the latest Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum recently. It has been placed at 145th position out of 146 states covered in the report. The top five countries are Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden, while the five worst are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran and Chad.

According to the report, over the years steps have been taken by countries around the world to improve the situation of women. This gap has been closed by 68.1 per cent in 2022. In the words of the report, “At the current rate, it will take 132 years to reach full parity. This represents a slight four-year improvement compared to the 2021 estimate (136 years to parity).”

Pakistan is among the five countries with a gender gap greater than 5pc, with the other countries being Qatar, Azerbaijan, China and India. Pakistan has closed 56.4pc of the gender gap in 2022 — the highest overall level of parity the country has reached since the report was launched in 2006.

Encouragingly, Pakistan has made “significant improvement” across three sub-indexes, with the highest positive result on economic participation and opportunity. The country ranked 145 on economic participation and opportunity, 143 on health and survival, 135 on educational attainment and 95 on political participation. According to the report, “While wage equality carries the highest gender gap score among economic indicators, advances were also reported in estimated earned income, where women’s earnings increased 4pc compared to 2021.”

But women’s participation in the labour force declined in 2022 and the shares of both men and women in senior and professional categories also saw a downturn.On the other hand, gender parity scores for literacy, secondary and tertiary education enrolment recorded an increase. Pakistan is also counted among countries where women have the smallest share of senior, managerial and legislative roles at a mere 4.5pc, according to the report.

Pakistan is the worst performer in the South Asian region. According to the report, Bangladesh, which is ranked 71 globally, is the top country in the region, followed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, India, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. South Asia has the widest gender gap on the economic participation and opportunity sub-index, having closed only 35.7pc of it. While the overall score improved compared to last year, “considerable country divergences” downgraded South Asia’s ranking among regions.

Increases in the share of women in professional and technical roles were found to be most notable in Nepal, Bangladesh and India. On the other hand, the shares in Iran, Pakistan and Maldives regressed. South Asia has one of the lowest regional gender parity scores for the health and survival sub-index, at 94.2pc. In this sub-index, only Sri Lanka has closed its gender gap, while Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are among the worst-performing countries not only regionally but globally too.

Pakistan is the fifth most populous country in the world, with a population of nearly 227 million people (49.2 per cent female; 50.8 per cent male). Although the World Economic Forum report ranks Pakistan higher on political participation, women continue to remain under-represented in leadership roles and are restricted from taking up positions in the political, public sphere under an archaic patriarchal system. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, there is a gender gap of around 12.5 million in Pakistan’s electoral rolls. At the current rate of progress, gender parity in national legislatures will not be achieved before 2063.

On the positive side, Pakistan has taken many steps towards protection of human rights by ratifying most international human rights conventions and introducing pro-women legislation, including the National Gender Policy Framework 2022, Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance (2020) and the Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Act in all four provinces. However, while laws for women’s empowerment and protection from violence are in place, their implementation is far from satisfactory.

One of the biggest hurdles to efforts to provide better protection to women is the lack of data on violence against women. This stands in the way of developing appropriate policy responses and reforms. According to various surveys, violence against women is widespread. Over 34 per cent of married women have experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence,,while 56 per cent of married women, who reported experiencing physical or sexual violence, never sought help to stop the violence. Factors that impede speedy and efficient delivery of justice to women include a low level of understanding of laws among the staff of justice sector institutions, patriarchal mindsets and cultural norms that ascribe higher status to men as compared to women. The battle for giving women their due rights is a long and arduous one. It is a struggle in which men should also fully participate in the larger national interest.