Recognizing women’s dignity and working for their health, education, work and political inclusion are two most important prerequisites to achieving the goal of gender equality in Pakistan. Although we believe in this notion, yet despite such acceptance, when it comes to actions, we find that women face mental, physical and emotional torture and harassment at workplace, and in their domestic life too, they are abused, tortured or even killed in the name of honour. And, what is more distressing and perplexing is the fact that this atrocious attitude is taken as normal routine and a personal, internal matter of a family or a tribe.
Empowering women and promoting gender equality is crucial to accelerating sustainable development. Ending all forms of discrimination against women is not only a basic human right, but does also have a multiplier effect across all other development areas. In order to achieve this goal, curbing all forms of violence against women and shunning the outdated norms, which we almost religiously follow, is absolutely indispensable.
It was in this backdrop that nations of the world at the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women on 18 December 1979. Being a signatory to the Convention, Pakistan has pledged to ensure gender justice across all sections of society.
But, it is unfortunate that no concrete actions to fulfil this promise were taken and the situation has resulted in country’s persistently low global rankings. The most recent shocker is ‘Global Gender Gap 2016’ published by the World Economic Forum according to which Pakistan was ranked at 143rd place among 144 countries. The country was declared second-worst in the world for gender inequality for the second consecutive year. Pakistan’s poor ranking presents a bleak picture of the state of modest progress made on female empowerment and gender equality. And, even in South Asia, Pakistan was the worst performing state as India got 87th position, Sri Lanka 100th, Nepal 110th, the Maldives 115th and Bhutan 121st.
Pakistan’s poor ranking presents a bleak picture of the modest progress made on female empowerment and gender equality.
A big contribution to gender equality gap is made by the deeply-rooted patriarchal values in our society. While girls face restrictions at all stages of their lives, they are, mostly, not allowed to take independent decisions in their lives. Too much emphasis is put on the way they dress, and not on the way men ogle at them for their appearance. Women are asked to cover up; many women are not allowed to leave their houses without permission. Girls’ education is still thought to bring dishonour to the family in many parts of the country. Inhumane practices of Swara, Wani, Karo Kari, etc., negate women their due rights, let alone ‘equality’.
Although Pakistan has made great strides in its struggle for gender equality, yet there is still a long way to go. To improve gender equality in the country, we need to build robust organisations with cultures that elevate and support women toward their professional goals and maximise their workforce participation.