THE Balochistan government seems to be taking steps to improve women’s integration into society and the workforce in the province. In October 2020, the provincial cabinet approved the Balochistan Gender Equality and Women Empowerment Policy, 2020-2024. To implement this policy, the government has launched the Governance and Policy Project Balochistan that aims to improve gender integration into the public sector. The project has been launched with help from foreign donors to ensure the comprehensive application of the gender empowerment policy which would help pave the way for achieving SDG 5 that relates to gender equality. Women across the country are disenfranchised to a large degree because of patriarchal values that are ingrained in every sector and class. In the case of Balochistan, the tribal culture reinforces the barriers that already exist. The overall literacy rate for women in Pakistan is around 52pc while only 33.5pc of women in Balochistan are literate. Similarly, the number of women dying in childbirth is far higher in the province; 758 women out of 100,000 die during childbirth in Balochistan against a national average of 272. This gloomy picture is also a result of the overall underdevelopment in Balochistan that is far worse than in the other provinces.

Against this backdrop, the provincial government has done well to involve international rights organisations for improving gender integration. The GPP project is expected to directly benefit the provincial Women Development Department and the ombudsperson on workplace harassment appointed under the Balochistan Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2016, and would equip these departments to carry out the desired changes and build their capacity for actively working towards the protection of and mainstreaming women in the public sphere and the provincial workforce. A key aspect of the project involves carrying out a gender-based analysis of government departments and a baseline women empowerment survey. This will help fill in the gaps in efforts required for uplifting women as women’s rights groups working in Balochistan often complain about the lack of official data. However, all said and done, foreign support will only set the framework for gender integration. It is the provincial government which will have to follow through with its plans. One hopes that this impetus to integrate disenfranchised women of the province does not dry up when there’s no more funding.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2021

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