KARACHI: A United Nations report released on Wednesday presents a very bleak picture of Pakistan that is yet to make a serious start for women’s development, the majority of whom are deprived of education and basic healthcare.

The report finds that 98.8 per cent of women from the poorest rural households are education poor (defined as having only completed six or less years of education), with the rural Pashtun women not only being the most deprived in education but also have the least say in decisions regarding their own health care.

Released two years after world leaders had adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the report — Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda — examines all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and shows their impact on the lives of women and girls. It highlights how the different dimensions of well-being and deprivation are deeply intertwined and suggests measures to tackle existing structural inequalities and turn promises into action.

The most deprived population in education comprises rural Pashtun women, report indicates

Pakistan is one of the four countries highlighted in the report where 4.9 million women aged between 18 and 49 years are simultaneously deprived in four SDG-related dimensions.

Across nine out of 10 dimensions, women and girls from the poorest 20 per cent of households in rural areas fare worse than women and girls from the richest 20 per cent of households in urban areas.

Disaggregation by ethnicity revealed further differences. In the case of malnutrition (proxied by a low Body Mass Index), Sindhi women and girls from the poorest rural households fare far worse than any other group across all wealth quintiles and locations. “However, the most disadvantaged ethnic group often varies across indicators, oscillating between the Sindhi, Saraiki and Pashtun.

“A closer look at those most likely to be disadvantaged — that is, women in the poorest rural households — suggests that in six of the 10 dimensions studied, Sindhi and Saraiki women and girls fare the worst while Pashtun and Punjabi women tend to fare better.

“Exceptions can be observed in some areas, such as access to clean cooking fuel, where rural poorest were equally deprived irrespective of ethnicity,” the report says.

Deprivation in access to employment, according to the report, is unique: the richest are much more likely to lack employment as compared to the poorest, 86.8 and 53.3 per cent, respectively.

On average, 48.1 per cent of women and girls aged between 15 and 49 years in Pakistan have no say in decisions regarding their own health care, but rates vary significantly by location, wealth and ethnicity. For instance, women and girls in rural areas are 1.3 times as likely to report having no say in decisions regarding their own health care as those in urban areas: 52.5pc compared to 39.3pc, respectively.

The differences by ethnicity, however, reveal the largest inequalities, with Pashtun and Sindhi women and girls most likely to report having no say (65.2pc and 62.5pc, respectively) and Saraiki, Punjabi and Urdu least likely (44.0, 40.4 and 31.9pc, respectively).

“The furthest behind are women and girls facing the compounded effect of intersecting forms of discrimination (ethnicity, wealth and location). Ethnicity in some cases exceeds wealth and location as a predicting factor for having no say in own health-care decisions. For example, rates of ‘no say’ among Pashtun women and girls are higher than the national average, irrespective of wealth and location,” the report says.

The report recommends investment in accessible, affordable and quality early childhood education and care as an important strategy that could help contribute to the achievement of gender-and child-related targets of the 2030 Agenda by reducing the time women spent on unpaid care enabling them to increase their access to employment, improving children’s health and nutritional outcomes.

Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2018