FeaturedNationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 17

Women’s day: a call for action against gender disparity

The observance of International Women’s Day last week brought into sharp focus the sad plight of women in Pakistan, especially those living in the rural areas.The plight of women in Pakistan is a multifaceted issue involving cultural, social, economic, and political factors. Women in Pakistan face discrimination in various aspects of life, including education, health, employment and decision-making processes. Traditional gender roles and societal norms and expectations contribute to this inequality.

The preamble of the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees fundamental rights of all citizens. Yet women in Pakistan face serious social, religious, economic and political obstacles, which prevent them from realizing their full potential. There is no appreciation of the contribution our women make, particularly in the rural areas. They work day and night not only in farms and fields but also make significant contributions to the enhancement of agricultural productivity by engaging in seed-bed preparation, weeding, harvesting, threshing, food storage, cottage industry and multiple related tasks.

Pakistan has over 24 million primary school-age children out of school of which 63 per cent are girls. While the government of Pakistan has legislated education for all, education remains drastically under-funded at only 2.5 per cent of the country’s GDP, despite oft-repeated official commitment of 4 per cent. Notwithstanding the constitutional provision of fair and equitable education for all citizens, female education in the country leaves a lot to be desired. Girls still face severe challenges to get even basic education. Due to a patriarchal attitude and rampant gender inequality in the country, women in Pakistan have to struggle hard for their basic primary education.

Successive regimes in Pakistan have been woefully negligent in solving the problems women in our society face. At the political-cum-social level, there is little realization of the importance of the role of women in society – a fact which is borne out by the indifferent attitude of all past governments to the issue of girls’ education in the country as well as the poor state of health facilities and opportunities for employment for women.

The gender gap report of the World Economic Forum ranks Pakistan 131 out of 142 countries. The latest Global Gender Index places Pakistan as the second lowest country in the world for gender equality. Pakistan has been placed near the bottom of both the regional and global rankings. Only Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan are below Pakistan in this context.

In all fields of life women are given lower positions as compared to men. Women are generally excluded from decision-making forums both in the public and private sectors. Recently, there has been some progress, an example being the adoption of the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill. But the law is far from satisfactory and very limited in its scope, especially on the issue of domestic violence. Violence against women is a recurrent phenomenon as the law on the issue has not been enforced with the vigour the situation demands.Incidents of domestic violence, honor killings, and other forms of violence against women remain rampant. Legal frameworks have been developed to address these issues, but implementation and enforcement is inconsistent.

Although there have been improvements in recent years, women in some parts of Pakistan still have limited access to education. Factors such as poverty, cultural norms, and security concerns hinder girls’ education. Women also face economic challenges, including limited job opportunities and wage disparities. Cultural norms and habits sometimes restrict women from participating fully in the workforce.Forced marriages, particularly involving young girls, continue to be a concern. This practice is linked to cultural traditions, economic factors, and societal expectations. Some NGOs have done good work to discourage the practice but their efforts have met with little success because of entrenched societal prejudices and traditions.

The status of women in Pakistan varies considerably across classes, regions and the rural/urban divide due to the uneven socio-economic development and the impact of tribal and feudal social formations on women’s lives. In recent years the government has made efforts to address these issues through legal reforms and initiatives. For example, legislation has been enacted to criminalize certain forms of violence against women, and steps have been taken to promote women’s participation in politics.

Lately steps have been taken to raise public awareness about women’s rights. An increasing number of Pakistani women are getting education and joining government job and entering into various professions like banking and law. Religious groups and civil society are increasingly denouncing violence against women. In response to calls by women’s rights groups, courts are delivering harsher punishments for crimes against women. All these are encouraging signs but there is still a long way to go before women in Pakistan can take their rightful place alongside men in all sectors of national life.