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Reducing inequalities

DESPITE huge challenges and setbacks, Pakistan has indeed made progress towards promoting social justice in recent years. More women and girls have opportunities to realise their potential, and legislation is enacted to reduce violence against women. The evils of child labour are brought forward and debated with renewed commitment.

Politicians, policymakers and people are taking more initiatives to increase employment, and especially decent work. There is higher recognition of minority rights and the need to protect them, including the needs of the transgender community. But there remains a long way to go for Pakistan to become a society in which all persons can exercise their rights equally, free from stigma and violence.

For there to be social justice, we in Pakistan need to explore more often, and more openly, issues of ethnicity, gender, disability and other social inequalities.

How far have we come on World Day of Social Justice?

If Pakistan is going meet the goals it has set for itself in Vision 2025 and the SDGs, there is a need for collective work on strengthening social justice. The categorisation of people into groups makes the hurdles they need to cross much higher if they are not to be ‘left behind’. Meeting the targets in SDG 10 (reduced inequalities) and SDG 5 (gender equality) are necessary building blocks for all the development goals to be met. If Pakistan does not reduce inequalities, it will not be able to meet all the SDGs.

Ending such inequalities is a prerequisite for human development. Jinnah captured this 70 years ago: “No nation can ever be worthy of its existence that cannot take its women along with the men. No struggle can ever succeed without women participating side by side with men. There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.”

A good way to mark World Day of Social Justice today is to take stock of how far we have come in achieving what was envisioned by Jinnah.

Pakistan is ranked 121st of 155 countries by the Gender Inequality Index; the Global Gender Gap Index ranks Pakistan 144th of 145 countries; only 19.3pc of women in the country attain a secondary education, as opposed to 46.1pc of men; similarly, women’s participation in the labour market is a mere 24.6pc. Women earn 23pc less than men for equivalent work. Extremely few women (0.3pc) hold managerial positions.

The level of gender inequality is the most widespread human rights concern in Pakistan. It not only affects women and girls but also the well-being of all in Pakistan. There are several reasons for this, many social and cultural, but the primary one is inequality of opportunity for girls, especially from poorer families, whether in terms of health, education or voice.

The more than 40pc difference in income between men and women is because of gender stereotypes, lower levels of education among women, unpaid care work, and direct or indirect gender-based discrimination. Women bear a burden of unpaid work that is globally estimated to be three times greater than the burden borne by men. But in Pakistan it is 10 times greater, according to a study by UN Women Pakistan.

Despite progress on education for women and girls, and women’s increasing involvement in political and administrative roles, Pakistan lags behind other countries in terms of substantially advancing women’s rights. Though there are a number of women who have played a prominent role in Pakistan, including Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, they have generally been the exception. So while there is progress (eg in 2002, 54 women ran for seats in the National Assembly, a figure that rose to 161 in the 2013 election), very few women serve in elected roles. Though Pakistan will soon be one of the few countries in the world with a woman serving as foreign secretary, we have among the lowest proportions of women in public service in South Asia, currently only 5pc. The overwhelming majority of public servants are men (95pc).

The year is 2017 and because we are so far only taking baby steps to address the pervasive inequalities across Pakistan, too many Pakistanis are missing out on the opportunities they have the right to have. Current good policies to end this social injustice are going in the right direction, but too slowly for those who continue to be discriminated against, and who live on the periphery. But Pakistan can pick up the pace; with collective efforts by government, private sector and civil society centred on eliminating discrimination and violence, and empowering the disadvantaged with the tools to improve their lives. Ending social injustice is also about individual action: If we call out even one unfair act, we have contributed to a just society.

Buhne, Neil. Reducing inequalities. Dawn, February 20, 2017.

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