ISLAMABAD: Stating that societal barriers remain to women’s representation and advancement in the civil service, a new study released by the United Nations on Friday asked the government to develop evidence-based programming to address barriers to gender equality in public administration.

The Pakistan case study on ‘Gender Equality in Public Administration’ jointly released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) found that women in Pakistan face entrenched societal attitudes and suggested that a multi-faceted approach that accounts for socio-economic realities must be devised to increase women’s access to decision-making positions in public administration.

A second key finding of the study says that designing and implementing policies for increasing women’s access to decision-making positions in the Pakistan public administration require a multi-faceted approach looking at the socioeconomic realities of women’s lives.

The case study, carried out under UNDP’s global Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) initiative, recommended that engagement with parliament was required for meaningful dialogue on the translation of the benefits of increased induction into the civil services to society at large, and even before that, to the so-called ex-cadre recruitment.

With the dissolution of the women development ministry, there was no longer a standing committee on women development of parliament, alternatives and means of reengagement, therefore, have to be explored, the study recommends.

According to the study, the role of women in decision making in public administration can benefit women, at large, when there is a well-defined ‘Gender Equality Agenda’ articulated and committed to by the government. This provides these women an opportunity to expand their influence to empower women in Pakistan in a more direct manner.

Pakistan needs to translate the change in office space into change in the larger public space, with more women in the street. There is a need for continued engagement at the societal level to change attitudes, specifically those of men, the study emphasises.

Within the civil services, there can be an effort to introduce women’s networks within public service to promote mentoring opportunities for young women and sharing of experiences. Pakistan is uniquely poised to share its experience of an increased critical mass necessary to form the base on which to structure equal participation of women in decision making in public administration. These experiences can very well be shared beyond Pakistan as part of South-South cooperation.

The study notes that the baseline for gender equality in the labour force leaves significant room for improvement. While women’s labour force participation in Pakistan has increased by more than 50 per cent over the past 15 years, only one out of every five women participates in the labour force.

However, one interesting development is that Pakistan has reached parity between women and men at the tertiary education level which is very relevant to this study given admission to the civil service requires a bachelor’s degree.

Published in Dawn, March 3rd, 2018

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