Pakistan is home to more than 180 million people with 52% of them being females most of whom remain engaged, all through their life, in household work like rearing of children, looking after husband and other domestic chores. But their say in household affairs is negligible particularly in making of important decisions like for their children’s education, family planning, health and marriages. The workforce ratio of female gender is about 22% as compared to 68% of men. This inequality in labour market leads to economic disempowerment of females at family level and also reflects their infinitesimal share in national economy. This phenomenon is not restricted only to economic disempowerment but is also depicted by their continuous deprivation of rights to education, healthcare and participation in socioeconomic life. Our cultural and social restraints keep them away from outdoor activities as they are considered safe inside four walls of their homes. Resultantly, female genders net enrolment ratio (NER) is not encouraging — according to UNESCO female NER is 53% as against male NER of 60%. This shows that girls in Pakistan have lesser access to primary education than boys.
This gender inequality shows the rank of Pakistan in Human Development Index (HDI) at number 123 out of 148 countries with Gender Inequality Index (GII) score at 0.567. We need to take effective steps to empower females in all areas of life. In recent times, though a number of steps have been taken — one of them being unconditional credit transfer to 5.5 million families across Pakistan in the form of BISP (Benazir Income Support Program). The BISP has certainly improved their lives as to liberty to spend this cash transfer with their free will but it has not enhanced their say in family affairs or we can say it has not helped in bringing about women empowerment.
Ours is a patriarchal society where family affairs are run under the strict control of family head and even educated and working women face tough resistance from all corners of their families in every sphere of life.
Despite successful and continuous disbursement of unconditional cash transfer since 2008, no survey has been carried out to assess the effects of this cash flow on female gender especially in improving their lives and enhancing their role in decision-making. Empowerment, basically, is to be responsive to service-users and ensuring command or real say in matters of concern to citizens. In the context of women empowerment, they must have greater access to, and control over resources and decision-making processes.
The fate of children is much more dependent upon the family relations wherein women face marginalization and their viewpoint is often not given much weight while making final decisions. Therefore, despite having equal concern about her children, a woman is ignored particularly in our rural segment of society. One such area is education and health of her children. The unconditional cash transfer to women could not significantly improve the net enrolment ratio of girls. Similarly, health indicators do also not show any substantial improvement that is why we are lagging behind in achieving MDGs as far as education and health for girls are concerned. This cash transfer can be partially made conditional for the purpose of enhancing NER of girls and can also be attached with other areas of concern like underage marriage, vaccination and reproductive health of recipients’ dependents. As it has been witnessed that women’s registration rate has significantly plummeted in rural areas just to avail themselves of this cash transfer programme. Since, among other factors that may determine women’s assertiveness and autonomy in patriarchal control, this conditional cash transfer may serve as a tool not only to empower them but also to enhance their say in the system.