Gentlemen, it's time to close Pakistan's gender gap

November 03, 2014

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Only through concerted efforts and grassroots initiatives does Pakistan stand a chance to close the gender gap. — AP/file
Only through concerted efforts and grassroots initiatives does Pakistan stand a chance to close the gender gap. — AP/file

Most of us men, we pay attention to rankings.

We debate and discuss rankings of our favourite teams, sports heroes, colleges, our cities, and even our countries on how they stack against the rest.

Just last week, BBC released a list, '100 Women of 2014', to highlight women working to help make a difference in the world. Six of these 100 women are either Pakistanis or of Pakistani-descent living abroad. Pakistan is clearly blessed with talented women.

Photo courtesy: BBC
Photo courtesy: BBC

But there’s another set of rankings that was released last week – a day before that BBC list.

The World Economic Forum published the Gender Gap Report 2014 on October 28, 2014. The report compiled a ranking of 142 nations on how much overall progress have women of a country made when compared to their male compatriots under a set of criteria including education, health, politics, and income.

The rankings are not too flattering. And it’s been this way for multiple years now.

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Dismal gender-gap ranking


A score of 1 in the Gender Gap survey means total parity in opportunity and access between men and women for that country. The highest ranked country has a score of 0.95. Pakistan has an overall score of 0.55.

The Nordic countries of Iceland, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden took the top five spots (see full rankings). Remarkably, Rwanda and Philippines made it in the top ten. Canada and United States were ranked 19th and 20th. UK was 26th. India was 114th.

Pakistan, unfortunately, ranked second to last on the list of 142 countries ahead of Yemen.

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Before we roll our eyes and dismiss the rankings as culture bias, it is noteworthy that the rest of the subcontinent did not fair as poorly. Bangladesh ranked 68th – clearly in the top half of the rankings – ahead of Italy, Brazil, Russia, China, and Greece. Sri Lanka was 79th.

Gender gap rankings have a more serious implication for the social well-being of Pakistan. It reflects opportunity and access for women, which directly impacts the lives and aspirations of half of the Pakistani population.

It would be hard to claim social progress when half the population is unable to fully avail of that progress.


A silver lining


If you look at Pakistan's numbers closely for each of the four criteria i.e. income, education, health, and political empowerment, the rankings for Pakistan show up better in the category of political empowerment.

That is largely due to the fact that unlike most other nations, Pakistan has already had a female head of state.

Even though education has immense room for improvement, there is a silver lining there too. Within the small population of Pakistanis who are enrolled in universities and colleges, the ratio of men versus women is at a score of 0.95 versus an average of 0.88 for all other countries. And, that is very encouraging.

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The political empowerment and higher education enrolment scores – combined with the accolades that Pakistani women are achieving on the world stage, as indicated in the BBC list – paints an encouraging picture.

In certain select segments of the population, the gender gap appears to be closing in Pakistan. In fact, women could well be outperforming men in the higher social strata of the Pakistani population.


From advanced education to economic participation


The largest gender gap, on the other hand, shows up in economic participation and opportunity – especially in professional and technical work.

So, how do we reconcile the high participation of women in higher education with their low representation in professional and technical careers?

If efforts are made to ensure that those talented young Pakistani women who are currently enrolled in higher education institutions could make a successful segue into technical and professional fields, we could well find Pakistan progressing, in terms of both gender-gap and economic output over the next generation.


Role of men in closing the gender gap


Pakistani men have a central role to play in boosting economic participation for women. Transitioning graduating women into professional careers presents one key opportunity to close the gap. Here are a few steps all of us could consider as our way of contributing:

1. Set up mentoring networks:

If we know of successful professional men or women in our friends, family or colleagues, we could encourage or facilitate mentorship. Being a role model to a college student – especially if the role model happens to be a woman – can have an immense impact in helping an aspiring student visualise a future in professional or technical work. It’s as easy as signing up to be a guest speaker or agreeing to conduct weekly phone calls to guide a female student looking for a position in the workforce.

2. Ensure equal opportunity:

As men, we find ourselves hiring or evaluating potential candidates for projects or positions on a regular basis. In such situations, we could ensure that the playing field is leveled and the environment is conducive for every candidate, whether they happen to be a man or a woman.

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There’s always the chance to negotiate down the compensation for a woman since she may not be the “breadwinner” in the family or “need as much”. Fairness demands that we resist the temptation to nickel and dime based on gender.

3. Offer skills development:

In a nation with a shortage of engineers and entrepreneurs, Pakistani women represent an underused talent pool for an economy in dire need of expanding its skills base. Responsive skills development programs aimed at women would go a long way.

For those of us in a position to coach or train qualified women on technical skills, technology offers an avenue through e-learning. We don’t even need to be under the same roof as our learner. Simply post the training content on a blog, in a video lecture, or deliver over a web call using a computer connection.


Never a sure thing – but encourage success


Sometimes it does not only take skill, savvy or sacrifice to make a difference. If we are not in a position to deliver much else, then celebrating the success of women around us in their professional or technical fields can go a long way.

Competition aside, let’s be gracious when our female co-workers, colleagues, and classmates demonstrate success. And we could encourage our other male colleagues to take that view as well; workplaces could turn even more women-friendly. Caustic or hostile work environments don’t help either gender.

What if despite all of the sage advice, the efforts don’t translate into higher rankings next year for Pakistan in the Gender Gap report?

No reason to despair.

Look through: From world stage to economic center stage: Pakistani women, let the rise begin

Even if it takes a while to see a closing of the gender gap, we’d still be better off having endeavoured in our personal spheres to increase economic participation for Pakistani women. Only through concerted efforts and grassroots initiatives does Pakistan stand a chance to close the gender gap.

Everyone desires higher rankings, but real men understand that it takes solid results and sustained commitment to deliver desired outcomes. Let’s not leave this agenda for the government to prioritise or a politician to promise.

Gentlemen, it’s time for us to step up and own the problem.