PAKISTAN is the second worst country to be a woman when it comes to gender equality, declares a recent World Economic Forum report. Ranking 148 out of 149 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index 2018 — which incorporated the latest statistics from international organisations along with a survey of executives to look into education, health, economic opportunity and political empowerment — the number of women holding managerial positions is one of the lowest. Other low-performing countries include Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It was also the lowest-ranked country in South Asia, as it closed 55pc of its overall gender gap, compared to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka that closed just over 72pc and nearly 68pc of their overall gender gap. While the country made some progress in wage equality and the education attainment sub-index, it ranked 146 in economic participation and opportunity, and 145 in health and survival. In terms of political empowerment, the country was positioned at 97.
The report was received with scepticism, especially given that Pakistan was ranked even lower than countries such as Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where women are less visible in the workforce and public life. While one can certainly question the report’s methodology and findings, the government should not outright dismiss the findings, given that the country consistently performs poorly in international reports and indices when it comes to women’s rights and empowerment. A few months ago, a gender audit by the Women’s Action for Better Workplaces found that Pakistan’s labour laws do not create an enabling working environment for women. Additionally, sexual harassment and regressive cultural attitudes keep them from performing to their full potential or out of the workforce entirely. Another UN report from earlier this year found that 4.9m women between the ages of 19 and 49 years were disadvantaged in four SDG-related dimensions, including health. It found that around 48pc of women and girls between the ages 15 and 49 have no say in decisions about their own health, with those in rural areas being particularly disadvantaged. Women are nearly half the population and make up a large chunk of the labour, especially invisible labour and in the informal sector, in both rural and urban settings. But their participation is not equal to their numbers. While Pakistan has made many strides over the years, and has many female citizens to look up to and take pride in, much more needs to be done.
Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2018