Lip service to gender equality in Pakistan By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

The Charter of United Nations in 1945 was the first international agreement which affirmed the principle of equality between both genders. The status of women was affirmed and strengthened through bilateral agreements, internationally agreed upon goals that strengthen the position of women around the world.

It was in 1909 that the first National Women Day was observed in US on the 28th of February. It was dedicated to the 1908 garment workers strike in New York aimed to raise a voice against the working conditions there by the Socialist Party of America.

In Pakistan as well, this day is celebrated with great fanfare. In February 2018, the United Nations released a report on gender equality. The report was for Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 with Pakistan being one of the four countries focused. The women forming part of the survey were usually married under the age of 18. They were hardly, if at all, educated and were non-working hands. The women of marginalised ethic groups are even worse off. According to this report the ethnically marginalised group is the Pashtuns, Sindhi and Saraiki. Clean cooking fuel is a luxury for two-third of women taken for sampling and one third has no facilities for sanitation. The rural and urban divide has the greatest degree of disparity in education. 98.8pc in rural areas and 29.3pc in urban areas are uneducated.

In KP and FATA women are targeted by discriminatory practices followed by informal legal systems, in name of religious extremism and under other umbrellas

In urban areas as per Higher Education Commission data, the ratio of men entering colleges and universities is much higher than that of women. Out of twenty students, 11 are male.

The difference between accesses to healthcare too is high. According to the report females around 15 have no decision making powers in their own health concerns. The ratio of this goes as high as 48.1pc in women and girls. Women are given lesser food than men. This disparity of lesser food input in women is 11pc higher than men of their background. Wages of women are lower as opposed to those of their male counterparts.

Pakistan’s meeting targets under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being held back because of health, social development and education at poor levels. Pakistan had incorporated 169 targets under the National Health Vision 2016–2025. Sadly fewer girls are getting vaccinated for a full course as compared to male children.

Startlingly a DW report reveals the following: “Even women who are elected in Pakistan are hindered by the 18th Amendment, which stipulates that they cannot work or vote without the instructions of the party leaders, and if they fail to comply, they shall be expelled from the assemblies.” (03.11.2016)

Violence against women in Pakistan is another ugly chapter. ‘There is 21.5 percent increase in violence against women in 2017 as 8,882 cases were registered in comparison to 2016’. Punjab Government’s Commission on Status on Women Gender Parity Report 2018 said that. (Pakistan Gender News) For every one case registered there are hundreds that go unregistered.

In KP and FATA women are targeted by discriminatory practices followed by informal legal systems, in name of religious extremism and under other umbrellas. “Laws, many remnants of General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation in the 1970s and 1980s, continue to deny women their constitutional right to gender equality and fuel religious intolerance and violence against them. Their access to justice and security will remain elusive so long as legal and administrative barriers to political and economic empowerment remain, particularly the Hudood Ordinances (1979), FATA’s Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) (1901) and the Nizam-e-Adl (2009) in KPK’s Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA).”(Report CRSS 7 November 2017)

It is a matter of shame that in 2017 Pakistan was ranked the second worst nation globally in terms of gender equality. The biggest challenge is to change the mindset of people may that be men or women. This needs not just education but awareness of role women can play in upbringing their children but also being a contributing member towards the income of the household. The entire value matrix needs to change. Education alone is not a guarantee of changing attitudes towards female empowerment. In a patriarchal society like Pakistan it is extremely important to involve men to ensure gender equality. In September 2017, ministry of human rights and CARE International in Pakistan produced a documentary as to how to engage men in gender equality. Asia Peace Film Festival held a special screening and panel discussion in Islamabad. The documentary shows both men and women not only as individuals but also as partners. Such initiatives are direly needed at rural community levels too.

Martin Armstrong, writing for Pakistan and Gulf Economist says, “Based on current trends, the global gender gap will not be closed for another 100 years. These predictions are of course fluid. In fact, this year’s figure is even an increase on 2016 – in the last report, the time needed was forecast at 83 years. When looking at particular aspects of the gap, the biggest factor in the current disparity becomes clear. According to the World Economic Forum it will take 217 years to close the economic gender gap. On the more positive side, the educational gap looks set to be almost completely diminished within 15 years.” (The Global Gender Gap Report 2017)

End Note: “In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.” (Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide)

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