IN this year’s Progress of the World’s Women report, UN Women has highlighted how placing women’s rights and family-friendly policies at the heart of public planning and budgeting can have immense knock-on effects for the socioeconomic development of the country. Pakistan has a long way to go before it can realise the goal of ensuring the health, happiness and safety of all its citizens. Much of this has to do with the fact that political and policy considerations have always been skewed towards a male-centric model of development. But it is women who, as social and biological caregivers, have the most to offer to address the many crises afflicting our nation. Yet, with over 101m women in Pakistan according to the last census, the status of women across all classes is abysmally worse than that of men. Pakistani women are overwhelmingly undernourished; undereducated; underpaid, unacknowledged and undocumented for their labour; they lack access to social and financial services; and are vulnerable to exploitation and violence. The math is simple: improving the conditions of one half of the population will strengthen families, communities and, in turn, the country.
Pakistan cannot advance unless it ensures a more equitable arrangement for women to advocate for their families’ well-being. Two key areas require urgent attention. One is the persistently high levels of violence against women in the public and domestic spheres, and the other is their lack of financial inclusion. Women’s access to microfinance options has consistently shown that they tend to invest with altruism and foresight, spend and save prudently, and stimulate economic and entrepreneurial activity — significantly improving the socioeconomic indicators of their families and communities. But the threat of coercion and abuse will forever thwart this progress without robust legal and social protections. It is hoped that in the coming years more legislation, policies and programmes are guided by gender-equality principles, and reflect women’s priorities — health, education, economic opportunity and the guarantee of individual safety and autonomy to pursue these goals. It’s time to put our house in order.
Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2019