THE Global Gender Gap Report 2021 brings no glad tidings for Pakistan. Not only is the country still hovering at the bottom of the gender parity index, it has since last year actually slipped a further two notches to 153 out of a total of 156 countries. Only Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan fare worse. That means in the South Asian region it ranks second from last. Looking more closely at the four indices that factor into the final tally, the scorecard places Pakistan at 152 in economic participation and opportunity, 144 in educational attainment, 153 in health and survival, and 98 in political empowerment. In fact, in two indices, economic participation and opportunity, and health and survival, Pakistan figures in the bottom 10 countries. The document’s overall assessment is that “progress has stagnated”, and that the time needed for Pakistan to close the gender gap is now 136.5 years. The most demoralising aspect is that if seen in terms of historical perspective, not only are we stagnating; we are sliding precipitously. In 2006, Pakistan came in at 112 in the report: that translates into a drop of 41 places in the latest ranking.
Judging by this bleak assessment, the country is doing poorly in one of the main criteria that power the engines of national prosperity. Certainly, there is extensive evidence supporting the view that women in Pakistan get a far smaller share of the pie than their male counterparts. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated these disadvantages. Most women in Pakistan work in the informal sector, where they toil long hours for low pay, no benefits and little job security; many have found themselves furloughed without pay or laid off as economic activity ground to a virtual standstill. Intimate partner violence rates in the confined home space, with reduced opportunities for ‘escape’ or outside assistance, have also escalated steeply and affected productivity. Then there is education. Considering the already existing challenges in retaining girls in school beyond primary level, the prolonged school shutdowns will have a hugely detrimental impact. That said, one may well question the quality and comprehensiveness of the data, and the way it is used to arrive at conclusions in the annual gender parity report. For example, the contribution of women in the informal sector goes undocumented; were Pakistan to maintain more accurate data, the country would not rank far below nations where women are perceptibly more disadvantaged.
Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2021