Gender Equality in Pakistan - The dark truth about women’s rights
Author: Marlene Pereira
Department: Pakistan Team
Gender equality “refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys” (…) “women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female” (UN Woman, n.d.).
This article seeks to answer the following questions; How is the situation concerning gender equality in Pakistan? What are the major inequalities in the country and what are the main reasons behind it?
Pakistan is the sixth most populated country in the world and yet it ranks the fourth-lowest for gender equality globally (The International News, 2022). Almost half of the population are women, and even being so, they are the target of the greatest atrocities purely and simply because they were born female, from honour killings to institutional discrimination and even kidnapped brides.
Why are women treated so inhumanly in Pakistan?
Pakistan is a patriarchal country that follows a male-dominated pattern in Pakistani society. Men are still believed to be stronger, braver and smarter because of their physical structure. This old and stereotyped idea that is so thick into Pakistani roots feeds the idea that a woman’s purpose is to be a future wife and mother. This subdivision of men’s and women’s different roles based purely on gender is one of the major difficulties for bringing gender equality.
According to UNICEF, 22.8 million children aged five to sixteen are out of school, with girls accounting for over sixty percent of these children. Pakistan’s education system has a 13 percent gender disparity in enrollment. Only 46.5 percent of women are literate, 61.6 percent attended primary school, 34.2 percent attained high school, and 8.3 percent attended tertiary education (Pakistan Today, 2022).
Early marriages and teenage pregnancies are the main factors contributing to these numbers. Uneducated girls are not aware of their lack of opportunities, cannot become financially independent and cannot raise their children differently. “A woman who did not know her basic human rights, especially the right to education, cannot enlighten her daughter to get such rights which leads to greater gender parity among forthcoming generations and the vicious cycle continues” (Pakistan Today, 2022).
Education is the key for a nation. If more development and assistance were provided to fulfil the gaps in the education system, child mortality, child marriage, adolescent pregnancy and malnutrition could be prevented. As a result, poverty would decrease, new job opportunities would be created, and ultimately Pakistan’s economy and human development would grow (Pakistan Today, 2022).
According to Dawn, in 2020, it was estimated that only 22 percent of women participated in the labour force in Pakistan, and the numbers are decreasing when compared to prior years (Dawn, 2021).
The worse thing is many Pakistani women are home-based workers, and almost 12 million of whom are still denied basic rights (Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 2022). Domestic work and other work carried out at home, like making clothes, shoes, and crafts, are considered “informal work”, which represent 71 percent of employment in Pakistan outside agriculture (The Guardian, 2020).
These working women receive less than the legal minimum wage without access to social security benefits or pensions. A home-based worker exposed the following reality: “I have been working in the bangles industry for more than 25 years. There are two main procedures – sadhai (alignment) and jurai (joining). The rates decided by the Sindh Minimum Wages Board for these processes are 20 and 40 rupees per bunch, respectively. I receive five to eight rupees for sadhai and 15 to 18 rupees for jurai.” (The News on Sunday, 2022)
Without proper education and lack of access to equal opportunities, women suffer from unfavourable societal biases and cultural practices feeding the patriarchy and the bases of gender inequality daily.
Pakistan’s maternal mortality ratio is one of the highest in the world. Poor young women, uneducated, malnourished, with inadequate maternal and newborn care, struggle for the survival of themselves and their newborn babies.
Therefore, the lack of access to education and a considerable income and employment opportunity has been reflected in the low social status and inequities in access to basic health care.
Women still face numerous challenges. Not only do they have not proper access to the health system mostly because their job is considered “unpaid care work” (particularly the large percentage of women who work at home), but they also face political barriers regarding heath – they have limited decision-making powers, household care responsibilities, restrictions on travelling alone, and the prioritisation of male family members’ health.
The scenario is becoming worse due to the impact of the pandemic. There was a noticeable substantial rise in overall poverty, affecting more women than men – “more women than men are likely to be pushed into extreme poverty as they are often less prepared than men to bear the economic impact of such shocks. They typically earn less than men, reporting wages lower by at least 67 percent compared to men.” (IGC, 2021)
Pakistan ranked 153rd out of 156 nations on the Global Gender Gap 2021 Index by the World Economic Forum. It is considered one of the most dangerous countries for women regarding domestic violence. (The News, 2022)
Since gender-based violence is not always reported, it is difficult to have a clear vision of the actual status of domestic violence toward women. A picture of what is happening in Pakistan can be estimated by the few cases that are made through the media. Noor Mukadam and her tragic death in 2021 have brought awareness and helped people raise their voices to stop femicide. “Beaten repeatedly, the 27-year-old jumped from a window but was dragged back, beaten again and finally beheaded” (Voa News, 2021).
Unfortunately, these atrocities and violent murders are still more often than expected. In a country where it is common for a family member, a father, brother or male relative to kill a woman to restore the family honour, we can only preview a long and hard battle for human rights.
- According to Human Rights Watch, almost one thousand women are murdered in Pakistan per year in what is considered an “honour killing” (Dawn, 2020).
- Between 1994 and 2018, some 9,340 people fell victim to acid attacks in Pakistan. 80 percent of acid attack victims are women (Pakistan Today, 2021).
- According to human rights organisations, almost one thousand minor girls are abducted per year for forced marriages (BBC News, 2021).
- It is estimated that only 11 raped women report the crime per day in Pakistan. Only 41 percent of these crimes are actually reported to the police, and only 77 accused have been convicted, which comprises 0.3 percent of the total figure (The News, 2020).
- As per The Economic Times, “60 percent to 70 percent of women suffer some form of abuse in Pakistan and about 5,000 women are killed annually from domestic violence in the country, with thousands of other women made disabled” (The Economic Times, 2020).
The statistics and data are alarming; gender-based violence in Pakistan is a major human rights violation. Women are seen and treated as property, and due to the beliefs of a patriarchal society, every day, thousands of women continue to suffer. Women have to live in a society where they do not have the same opportunities as men in fields like education, politics, economy or socially, and are discriminated against just because of their gender. Women have no real protection or support from the government due to the lack of institutional mechanisms to fight gender-based violence. Pakistan faces a major women’s rights threat, especially when the former prime minister explains the increase in sexual assault, violence and rape towards women as being partly caused by women, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they’re robots. I mean it is common sense.” – Imran Khan (Daily Pakistan, 2021).
It is a long way toward justice and fairness in Pakistani society. Still, this issue needs to be addressed urgently, at every opportunity, to fight for a better world for women, the future of young girls and a better place for human rights.
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