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Pakistan and gender inequality


March 13 2017

PERHAPS one of the appropriate activities related to International Women’s Day, celebrated across Pakistan yesterday a little more seriously than usual, was the release of the Punjab Gender Parity Report (PGPR) 2017, which again showed how much remains to be done to overcome gender inequality.

The PGPR is issued annually since last year by the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women in recognition of its mandate to maintain a database on gender issues that will enable the government to plan for women’s empowerment. Gender disparity was measured in six thematic areas. Let us look at the key findings.

Demographics: In 2016, women accounted for 48.2pc of the Punjab population. Out of the births registered in 2015, 47pc were girls. The number of marriages registered in 2015 was 3pc less than the 2014 figure. Fewer women (24pc) filed for divorce in 2015 than men. Out of the CNICs issued by Nadra in 2016, women’s share was 44pc, the ratio being the same as in 2015. In 2016, Nadra issued CNICs to 1,090 transgender persons.

While the issue of identity cards to transgender persons is welcome, and women’s lagging behind men in securing identity cards and in seeking divorce is understandable, the causes of gender gap in population need to be explored. Are girls under-registered at birth? Is infanticide or killing of the female foetus after identification through easily available testing facilities one of the issues?

No serious attempt has been made to remove the social causes of discrimination against women.

Governance: Out of the 146 Punjab MNAs (general seats), only four (2.8pc) are occupied by women. Apart from 67 reserved seats for women in the Punjab Assembly, the 303 MPAs (general seats) include only eight (2.6pc) women. Women chair three (9.7pc) of the 41 standing committees in the assembly. Women have only four (14pc) seats out of the 31 in the Punjab cabinet. In 2013, women accounted for 43pc of the registered voters.

Health: Female life expectancy has risen to 66.9 years, below the life expectancy for men at 67.7 years and below the global average of 73.8 years. The total fertility rate fell by 2.8pc over the 2015 figure; contraceptive prevalence rate up by 4pc; family planning visits nearly doubled; infant mortality rate fell by 1.8pc. The report offers little disaggregated data on women’s lack of access to healthcare and its impact on their lives.

Education: Female literacy rate rose from 48pc in 2007-08 to 55pc in 2014-15 (male literacy rate nearly constant around 70pc); the net enrolment rate for girls fell from 70pc in 2013-14 to 67pc in 2014-15 (the ratio for boys fell from 74pc to 73pc). The districts with the lowest parity in a number of schools, teachers and enrolment (D. G. Khan, Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur) are all from south Punjab.

Economic participation: In 2014-15, the labour force participation rate for women was a mere 27.8pc (for males it was 69.4pc); the highest female labour force participation rate — 22.8pc — is in agriculture (for males 49.1pc); almost 75pc of women workers are denied the minimum wage and almost 50pc of them get Rs5,000 per month or less; the number of women beneficiaries of the Social Security Institution fell from 42 in 2015 to 39 in 2016 (the number for men was up from 901 to 950). Agriculture is obviously the area where women’s deprivation and exploitation of their labour presents the greatest challenges to their emancipation.

Justice: Of the 60 Lahore High Court judges, only three (5pc) are women; of the 1,703 judges in the district judiciary only 260 (14.5pc) are women; there are three female police stations out of a total of 709, though 99pc of the male police stations have female help desks; in 2016, there were 7,313 reported cases of violence against women (12.4pc more than in 2015).

While the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women deserves to be commended for its initiative, the need for greater efficiency on the part of data suppliers at the district level is obvious.

It is a fair guess that the condition of women in other provinces is no better. A nationwide mapping of gender disparity will be possible if the only other provincial commission on the status of women, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, starts compiling basic data and Sindh and Balochistan set up similar commissions and task them with the collection of statistics on gender disparity. However, considerable information on gender inequality at the national level is available from other sources. The Gender Gap Index 2015 ranked Pakistan second from the bottom among 145 countries.

The essential question is what can be done to accelerate the rate of reduction in gender disparity, a goal the prime minister enthusiastically accepted in 2015?

The problem is that Pakistan has concentrated on addressing, and that too half-heartedly, the symptoms of gender disparity by making new laws to curb violence against women, child marriage, forced conversion, and the customs of vani/swara etc. These efforts run into two serious obstacles. First, the laws are not properly implemented and cannot be so implemented because they are in conflict with socially sanctioned customs, most of which are rooted in feudal culture while some are also confused with religious injunctions. As a result, these laws fall into disuse and after some time new versions are legislated.

Secondly, no serious attempt has been made to remove the social causes of direct and indirect discrimination against women. Recognition of women’s right to economic independence, their progress towards sharing power in family affairs, and special efforts to end the hardships of women-headed families could facilitate the realisation of gender parity;

Yet, the ideal of gender equality cannot be achieved by laws and policies alone. The key lies in the abolition of feudal culture and release of both men and women from an oppressive patriarchy. It is a pity that not many people in authority are looking in that direction.

Tailpiece: The people received a new sarkari slogan last Sunday: ‘What is life without passion, patriotism and cricket!’. The naughty urchins quickly replaced ‘patriotism’ with ‘Basant’.

Originally published by Dawn Pakistan 

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