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Promoting gender equality

Provisional results of the newly conducted census reveal that there are 106.45 million men, 101.31 million women and 10,418 transgenders in Pakistan. It is obvious that there are 5 million less women than men and points to the phenomena of “missing women” as theorized by Amartya Sen in political economy literature. There might be errors of under-reporting while counting women as well. However, the trend reflects extreme gender equalities as validated by the Global Gender Gap yearly reports and other indices.

There are certain drivers of change to address extreme gender inequalities. The policies, rules, laws and institutional set-up of the state provide the structural framework to institutionalize gender equality. While both pro-women and gender discriminatory laws exist on the statue books; there has been a boost to pro-women legislation in the recent past. Weak enforcement capacity of state and lack of will leads of implementation challenges of pro-women laws and make it difficult to change regressive attitudes and behaviours in the society. Capacity building of judicial, legal, prosecution and law-enforcement departments would also help to address the rampant violence against women.

Economic empowerment of women is another driver of change. While the gender gap in the tertiary education sector might be closing; women’s educational attainment does not translate into their proportionate entry into the job market. Women’s labour force participation is around 25 percent and the bulk of it is of agricultural work in rural areas.

There is need to work on both the demand and supply side issues to facilitate women’s entry in the job market. Women-friendly workplaces, transport, and a societal discourse on women’s productive roles along with their reproductive roles would help to push women’s labour force participation. The implementation of anti-harassment workplace law would also provide a supply side incentive to help women enter the job market.

Traditionally women’s labour force participation is restricted to certain areas, agriculture work being the main employer for rural women. In urban areas, women have traditionally been employed in education and health sectors. With the services sector being the leading contributor to GDP, more women are also being employed in the services sector ranging from call centers, telecom, retail and hospitality and beauty businesses. Drivers of change for gender equality need to augment women’s presence in traditionally male-dominated areas of work such as engineering, sciences and their increased employment in law-enforcement agencies.

Drivers of change for gender equality need to augment women’s presence in traditionally male-dominated areas of work such as engineering, sciences and increased employment in law-enforcement agencies

Pakistan has made strides in the promotion of women’s political participation in the recent past. There is need to consolidate those gains and advance them further. Women’s participation in the legislative bodies through reserved seats has brought a positive change in increasing gender equality in politics. However, there is a need to deepen political intensification of women’s roles in mainstreaming women in direct politics within political parties.

In terms of women’s political participation, a game-changer has been to institutionalize their representation in the various tiers of local government under decentralization. The role of women councilors needs to be understood as a prism of change at the grassroots level. Initiatives of progressive behavioural change as well as service delivery can utilize the institution of women councilors to transform the gender relations at the local level.

Creating women-friendly public spaces is another driver of change that can contribute to gender equality. Both provision of women-friendly modes of transportation and public spaces such as dedicated facilities in the educational, health, administrative, judicial government buildings as well as in markets, parks and recreational outlets would increase women’s visibility and outreach.

Women in Pakistan have shown immense resilience to forge ahead in their lives despite major structural impediments and barriers prevalent in the politics of state and societal attitudes. National and provincial governments in general and women’s governmental machineries need to transform the collective wisdom on drivers of change to promote gender equality for consolidating tangible results.

Sadiq, Foqia. Promoting gender equality. Daily Times, September 7, 2017.

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