NationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 1

Pakistan’s gender parity strides and challenges

Pakistan finds itself among the select few countries grappling with a gender gap exceeding 5%, joining the ranks of Qatar, Azerbaijan, China, and India.

While strides have been made, significant challenges persist across various subindexes, with economic participation and opportunity emerging as a focal point. Kiran, a qualified dental assistant and hygienist, is employed at a private healthcare center in Allama Iqbal Town, Lahore. When she joined the center three years ago, she accepted an offer with wages at least 50% lower than those offered to a male counterpart in the same role. Despite assurances of a substantial salary increase after her first year of service, this promise remained unfulfilled even after the completion of her second and third years at the facility.

Kiran’s experience is not unique. A joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) has exposed a larger gender pay gap for women in the healthcare sector in Pakistan compared to other fields. The report asserts that women in similar roles receive at least 24% less than their male counterparts in the country’s health sector.

The research reveals a raw gender pay gap of 20 percentage points, which increases to 24 percentage points when accounting for factors such as age, education, and working hours. Despite women constituting 67% of health and care workers globally, the study suggests that unexplained factors, possibly indicative of discrimination, contribute significantly to the wage gap.

The investigation, conducted by these prominent organizations, indicates that wages in the health and care sector are generally lower than in other industries, consistent with patterns observed in sectors where women predominate. The report notes that, despite the pivotal role played by health and care workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, there were only marginal improvements in pay equality between 2019 and 2020.

The report highlights considerable variations in gender pay gaps across different countries. This suggests that such pay gaps are not inevitable and that efforts can be made to narrow them.

Another report from the World Economic Forum ranks Pakistan as the second-worst country in terms of gender parity. The Global Gender Gap Report 2022 positions Pakistan at 145th out of 146 states. The top five countries in gender equality are Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, and Sweden, while Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, and Chad are ranked as the five worst.

The report states that the global gender gap was 68.1% closed in 2022. However, at the current pace, it will take 132 years to achieve full parity, indicating a slight improvement from the 2021 estimate of 136 years. The report highlights that, in the trends leading up to 2020, the gender gap was on track to close within 100 years.

According to the report, Pakistan is one of the five countries with a gender gap exceeding 5%, alongside Qatar, Azerbaijan, China, and India. The report highlights that in 2022, Pakistan closed 56.4% of the gender gap, marking the highest level of overall parity the country has achieved since the report’s inception in 2006.

Significant improvements were noted in three subindexes, with the most positive variation observed in economic participation and opportunity. Pakistan ranked 145th on economic participation and opportunity, 143rd on health and survival, 135th on educational attainment, and 95th on political participation.

The World Economic Forum report emphasizes that although wage equality carries the highest gender gap score among economic indicators, there were also reported advances in estimated earned income, with women’s earnings increasing by 4% compared to 2021. However, the report highlights a decline in women’s participation in the labor force in 2022, and both men and women’s shares in senior and professional categories saw a downturn.

Additionally, the report notes an increase in gender parity scores for literacy, secondary and tertiary education enrolment. Pakistan stands out as the country with the smallest share of women in senior, managerial, and legislative roles, accounting for only 4.5%. Regionally, Pakistan was ranked as the second-worst country, with Bangladesh leading the region at 71st globally, followed by Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bhutan, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

The report underscores that South Asia has the widest gender gap in the economic participation and opportunity subindex, having closed only 35.7% of it. While the overall score improved compared to the previous year, “considerable country divergences” affected South Asia’s ranking among regions.

The report attributes much of the variation in this subindex to highly populated countries. Notably, increases in the share of women in professional and technical roles were observed in Nepal, Bangladesh, and India, while shares in Iran, Pakistan, and Maldives regressed, impacting overall regional performance. South Asia also has one of the lowest regional gender parity scores for the health and survival subindex, standing at 94.2%, according to the report.


(The writer is a physician by profession. She worked as an intern at the Capital Health (New Jersey) & the Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital (New York). Rights and gender issues are the areas of special interest to her. She can be reached at:[email protected])