Gender equality is a myth

A school of thought believes there is no discrimination on the basis of gender in the world, so no need to talk about gender inequality because no one’s rights are being violated. These people, to solidify their point, provide some examples like Article 25(2) of the Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, which guarantees that “There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex,” and thus safeguards women’s rights. They also put up the examples of women leaders like Fatima Jinnah, Benazir Bhutto, Dr Fehmida Mirza, et al, as women’s active participation in politics. Nonetheless, in reality, gender equality is a myth. We have made laws, but have not implemented them properly. Women’s participation in all activities of life is limited. Almost everywhere there is discrimination on the basis of gender. Rights of each gender being infringed and violated.

Females make more than 50 percent of the population of Pakistan. However, by not providing them the opportunities — and facilities — to participate in all sectors of life, we have failed to cash in on the talents and skills of a major chunk of our population and it has resulted in huge economic losses.

However, it is important to note that the problem of gender inequality has plagued not only Pakistan but almost every part of the world. Males, females, eunuchs; all genders are facing inequality all around the world. This burning issue must be resolved as early as possible in the light of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) the Article 2 of which asserts that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Before analyzing the issue of gender inequality in detail, it seems suitable to know as to what gender equality actually is. Generally, gender equality is considered the provision of rights only to females only, but in actuality, it is achieved when women and men enjoy the same rights and opportunities across all sectors of society, including economic participation and decision-making, and when the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are equally valued and favoured.

Ours is a patriarchal society and males are dominant here in almost all fields of life. But, there rights, too, are violated and they face discrimination — though its ratio is meagre. It is often observed that while numerous men have queued up in order to get something — for instance, a ticket — a female comes and gets that before them; bypassing all the males who have been waiting for their turn for many hours. Although it is considered an act of courtesy in our society, yet this is violation of males’ rights.

Moreover, in public sector as well as private sector, women not only have quota but some positions like office assistant, personal secretary, receptionist, etc., are also almost every time offered only to females. It’s also a common observation in many offices that men share the most part of the work burden.

To present the other side of the story, it is pertinent to mention that mostly females are the victims of the violation of their rights.

In Pakistan, we often read news about the instances of vani, an ugly tradition where young women are traded between families in resolution of a dispute; swara, a deplorable practice under which minor girls are given away in marriage to the enemy’s family as a symbol of ‘lasting and effective’ peace between two disputing parties, etc., which means that girls are treated like a commodity. Moreover, in our common households, boys are given preference over girls in terms of provision of  basic necessities of life. Unequal treatment of boys and girls can be seen in almost every facet of life. For instance, it is rampant in terms of provision of food as well as education; if a son wants to go for an outing with his friends, he is encouraged to do so. But, if similar wish is expressed by a daughter, she would be snubbed and would not be allowed owing to “traditions” of the society. Domestic violence is also ubiquitous in Pakistan and the findings of Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) speak volumes about this fact. The PDHS has found that 43 percent of women and 35 percent of men in Pakistan deem it absolutely justified if a husband inflicts violence on his wife in case she argues with him.

The cancer of honour killings has also been rampant in Pakistan as according to a report by Aurat Foundation around 1,000 women and to another one by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) around 900 women annually are killed in the name of honour in Pakistan; let alone the actual figure which must be much higher than those reported because these organizations collect data only from newspapers and other like sources.

The chronically dejected class, which consists of transgenders or eunuchs, is the most vulnerable in our society. As per the findings of a recent survey, 60 percent of the people of Pakistan do not want to befriend the eunuchs; only 14 percent replied in affirmative. The birth of a eunuch is considered not less than a torment. Most families virtually abandon them and leave them on the mercy of the fate. Resultantly, most of them end up being a beggar, a street singer or a dancer. They are even denied their right to inherit as they are not given proper share in the property left by their parents. Besides this inhumane treatment, almost all families don’t want to send them to schools and colleges for getting education. And, if they howsoever successfully get education, then jobs are not offered to them despite possessing the qualities required to perform the job effectively and efficiently.

Although it was like a whiff of fresh air when in 2012, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) ruled that eunuchs be given equal rights as any other citizen of the country, yet the situation on ground is still far from satisfactory. We need to recognize that eunuchs are not less talented than the individuals belonging to other genders. Hardly would have anyone known that Cai Lun, a Han dynasty Chinese official who is traditionally regarded as the inventor of paper and the papermaking process was a eunuch.

In India, the transgenders or eunuchs are constitutionally a third category of gender, and the Indian government has taken steps in order to uplift them from social backwardness and to bring them into society’s mainstream.

When it comes to civil services of Pakistan, a 10 percent quota is reserved for females. At provincial level, also, women have a specific quota in provincial government services; for instance, it is 15 percent in Punjab, 7 percent in Sindh, 5 percent in Balochistan and 10 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But, when it comes to shemales or transgenders, mum’s the word.

In private sector educational institutions and business concerns, the situation is appalling. In this sector, males are offered more salaries than the female counterparts. Mostly, females are offered a job to work as a showpiece while sitting on the front desk of the office. They are mostly given jobs as telephone operator or personal secretary. It is another form of discrimination which should be avoided and a culture of meritocracy should be promoted instead.

When it comes to the Armed Forces of Pakistan, we see that there are only 4000 females among 617,000 active personnel. There number is really scant and it should be increased to encourage more and more women to join the armed forces. After independence, an attempt of introducing combat training programme in Pakistan armed forces was made by Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan; but her attempt was foiled by General Frank Walter Messervy — First Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan Army from 15 August 1947 to 10 February 1948. In 1949, the first lady took personal initiatives and established her own Pakistan Army Women National Guard (WNG) with few combat courses. The unit’s first GOC and chief controller was Begum Ra’ana, with the rank of a Brigadier. After a long struggle, in 2002, Ms Shahida Malik became the first female officer to reach the rank of Major General in Pak Army.

On 14th July 2014, 24 female officers of Pakistan Army successfully completed a paratroopers’ course, becoming the first group of women to do so in Pakistan military history and proved that females are not less competent than males; they can do everything, if they are provided proper facilities.

Prior to this, in 2003, Pakistan Air Force had inducted the first batch of women as general duty pilots which joined the combat services of PAF in 2006.

In terms of women’s participation in country’s legislative business, we find that out of 342 seats in the National Assembly of Pakistan, only 60 have been reserved for women — not a single one for the third gender. After brief study of the parliaments of other countries, it dawns on us that not only Pakistan’s but almost every parliament in the world is male-dominated. How ironic it is that the absolute authority to making laws on women rights lies in the hands of men!

The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, launched by the Davos-based World Economic Forum, ranked Pakistan at 144th position among 145 countries. This shows our seriousness in eradication of gender inequality in Pakistan.

It’s common observation even in this modern era that after an ultrasound of a pregnant woman, if it is found that the baby would be a girl, many a time the mother is made to go through abortion. But, if the foetus is of a male, then that woman is treated like a princess or a queen.

Even in a country like United States of America, which boasts to be the world’s lone superpower and the torchbearer of human rights, all the presidents had  been males. No woman has ever been provided an opportunity to lead the country.

The same situation is with the United Nations. All of the eight secretaries-general of the UN — the last being Ban Ki-moon in the list — were males; no woman has ever been elected to this coveted post.

In the Muslim world, the situation is not much different. For instance, in Saudi Arabia gender inequality prevails as women were not allowed to drive cars for a long time. However, a campaign in 2011 had done a little and some women are now allowed to drive cars and they are being issued driving licenses.

In a nutshell, gender inequality has permeated the world and it is right to say that ‘gender equality is a myth’. However, if the abovementioned issues are resolved, this myth can be broken. It is the only way to promote gender equality because it is a prerequisite that must be fulfilled if a country wants to tread the path that leads to development and prosperity.

It is opportune to conclude the above discussion in the words of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who once said, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.”

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