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Women empowerment: a distant dream

Women can be empowered only when they have full access to their rights, which include the right to live free from violence, slavery and discrimination, along with access to education, employment and maternal health rights on equal basis. Only when women have taken leadership and peacemaking roles and when all of them have gained the self-determination they are entitled to can equality be actually achieved. But they have yet been deprived of these rights simply because of their gender. Patriarchy, religious fanaticism, cultural traditions, rigid mindsets and conservative attitudes towards women collectively create impediments against the provision of women’s rights.

The fact is that women’s rights are human rights enshrined by the United Nations for every human being on the planet nearly 70 years ago. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations General Assembly under Article No 3 says that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security. Article No 5 says that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. But in Pakistan, there is no implementation on any of these articles, and women rights, especially, are alarmingly violated with impunity. The prevalence of domestic violence against women has reached epidemic proportions. Around 90 percent of women experience psychological, physical and social violence due to the deep-rooted misogyny in Pakistani society, which is the main factor for violence against women. Moreover, child abuse, child or forced marriage, honour killing, rape and gang rape of minor girls and women, and acid attacks on women are rampant. These incidents are a reflection of barbarism, tyranny, and pandemonium existing in society. It seems that the criminal justice system in the country has become dysfunctional and constantly fails to protect citizens from the brutal and tyrant actions of evil minded people.

Regrettably, a colossal difference prevails between Pakistani society and western society as far as accordance with social norms and moral values is concerned. Today, citizens of the civilised western society demand liberty and empowerment of women through gender equality and equal opportunities in education, decision-making, political representation and business leadership. But it is a matter of great concern that in Pakistani society, gender discrimination prevails immensely and women are treated like cattle and commodities to be sold in the market. We have failed to ensure even the protection of life and honour of women.

To eliminate gender disparity, education is a pre-requisite because without education the goal of women empowerment will at best remain a dream. Pakistan was expected to achieve full gender equality in primary enrolment as well as youth literacy by the year 2015; however, figures show an alarming gender disparity in education. The female literacy percentage is also coming down. The male and female literacy rates stand at 70 per cent and 47 per cent respectively. Alif Ailaan reported last week that Pakistan has the second largest number of out-of-school female students all over the world. Of the 24 million out-of-school children, 13 million, 54.16 percent, are girls. The difference between the two indicators is an issue of grave concern and should compel authorities to take swift action aimed at bridging the gap.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said, “We will never achieve any of the Sustainable Development Goals without overcoming the discrimination and poverty that stunts the lives of girls and women from one generation to the next. We must work at all levels, from grassroots to global leaders, to put equity and inclusion at the heart of every policy so that all girls, whatever their circumstances, go to school, stay in school and become empowered citizens.”

Women are not offered the fullest possible opportunity for economic independence and advancement. This is why only two out of every 10 women participate in the labour force and a majority of them are working in low-quality jobs, which is completely unrecognised and some working there are unaware of their rights. Of the estimated 48.65 percent of the country’s female population, 12.51 million women are home-based workers. According to a World Bank report, the male and female labour force participation rates were 83.47 percent and 24.8 percent respectively in 2014 in Pakistan.

In our patriarchal social order, men are considered to be the heads of households, bread-winners, owners and managers of property. They are also active in politics, religion, business and professional arena. On the other hand, women are expected and trained to bear and look after children, to nurse the infirm and old, and do all household work. However, the degree of disparity between male and female roles and responsibilities varies broadly.

Although women are given appropriate representation in provincial assemblies in all four provinces, the National Assembly, and the Senate, yet this is nothing more than symbolic representation, which has proven to be inadequate. Female parliamentarians can play an effective role in reduction of gender disparity in every field of life and violence against women. And yet they have never been seen taking a firm stand for the rights of their community throughout parliamentary history.

Recognition and provision of equal and inalienable rights to women is sine qua none for establishing society based on freedom, justice, and peace. If we want to have such a society, women must enjoy freedom of speech, belief, along with protection of life, honour and property. Furthermore, change in mindsets and attitudes towards women is needed. An atmosphere to realise gender-equality not only in words but also in practice needs to be realised in all sections of population especially in the downtrodden one.

Human rights organisations, feminist movement activists, civil society activists and the academia meeting shoulder to shoulder with the government have to play their role collectively for ending gender-based disparity in every walk of life and for the protection of rights, honour and lives of women. For attaining that mission, all of them will have to make arduous efforts for women empowerment in the country.

Source: Daily Times

Byline: Sheikh Abdul Rasheed

December 5, 2016

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