LAHORE: In the annual Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum (WEF), Pakistan is almost at the bottom with only Sudan behind it in the 146 countries of the world. Last year, it was at 142nd position, which means that it has lost three places and the situation for women in the country worsened comparatively.

The women rights activists have called for a commitment from the state as well as society to work for gender parity and close the gender gap. They called for redefining roles of the women that society and the state have defined for them.

The index annually benchmarks the state and evolution of gender parity across four key dimensions, i.e. economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The top five countries regarding gender parity are Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden.

“It’s not the issue of this year only Pakistan’s position has been dismal since I have been seeing this index for the last 15, 16 years. Our country has been having almost the same position with a little difference,” says Bushra Khaliq, the executive director of the Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE).

Position in the region

Compared to Pakistan, the other countries in the region have done better than it vis-à-vis the gender gap as Bangladesh has been ranked at 99 while India is ranked 129 in the overall gender gap index.

Activists seek redefining women’s role as country hits bottom; Pakistan is 145th among 146 countries

The picture is made clearer as the ranking shows the country’s position regarding gender gap in all the four sectors separately. In economic participation and opportunity, Pakistan is at 143 while India at 142 and Bangladesh at 146. In educational attainment, Pakistan is ranked 139 while India is ahead of it at 112 and Bangladesh is ranked 125. In health and survival, Pakistan is ranked 132, India 142 and Bangladesh 129. The situation is slightly different as Pakistan is ranked 112 but India is far ahead at 65 and Bangladesh at 7.

Pakistan is lagging behind even the countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.

“Compared to 2023, the economy loses three ranks and 0.53 percentage points on its overall score, largely driven by regressions in the Political Empowerment dimension, yet partially offset by a small score improvement in Educational Attainment. The low performance reflects substantive gender gaps in economic and political parity, as well as a lag in both the Educational Attainment and Health and Survival subindexes, where most economies are at parity,” the WEF report says.

Bushra thinks that situation is a little bit better in politics because of 33pc reserved quota for women in the parliament but the women’s situation is not that good when it comes to general seats where only eight to 10 women are elected through direct elections.

“These women mostly come from the high-profile political families or big cities,” she adds.

Regarding political empowerment, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Director Farah Zia says, “attempts were made to decimate a certain political party during the last one year, especially its women leaders and workers, who were a robust part of it during. I am talking about the women who were incarcerated in jails and the state manipulated cases filed for their bail. The women in politics really suffered in the last one year at the hands of the state.”

The WISE executive director thinks Pakistani women have created some space in businesses but that’s also limited to the textile sector or fashion industry. “Most women work in the informal sector where there is a lot of exploitation.”

She says that in the health sector, the death ratio for mothers during childbirth is huge in the country while the conditions in reproductive health are deplorable.

“In Education, about 25m children are out of school in Pakistan and girls make a big part of it. We work with domestic women workers where hundreds of thousands of women are engaged and they have to keep their minor daughters along with them at work. Most of them don’t go to school due to poverty and lack of skill development and inherit profession their mothers.”

About education, health and economy, the HRCP director says: “One thing that’s not a part of the discussion in Pakistan in the last 20 or 25 years is the population explosion and education, health and economy are directly impacted by it. Women don’t get their reproductive rights and there is an increase in fertility rate but as the state and society we are not even discussing this issue.”

Speaking further about population, she points out that in the NFC award, the provinces having more population are getting more incentives instead of steps to control population that impacts women development. Any kind of human development is very hard for the population that our country has, let the women develop, she adds.

“The role of society as well as state regarding gender parity is questionable as it is manifested in the resistance to Aurat March when women come out to raise a voice for their rights. All this has resulted in the widening gender gap in the country.”

Redefining role of women

Farah Zia has called for the need for commitment from the state and society for protecting women rights and bringing about gender parity. She stresses redefining roles for women that the society and the state have defined for them that hinder them to become a productive part of society. She says progressive steps for women are needed as no country can make progress by keeping half of its population out of the mainstream.

Bushra considers patriarchal system a hindrance to women development, not only in politics but in other sectors like education, health and economy, implying that it should be done away with.

“The common woman of Pakistan is fighting for survival as she faces violence even at home.” She stresses an enabling environment for the women to close the gender gap.

She termed sensitization for changing patriarchal mindset important for women to make progress as Pakistani women are struggling to have a space for themselves. “Even in trade unions, women are finding it hard to be productive and active because decision-making is controlled by men.”

There should be opportunities for redefining their role in decision-making which starts from home followed by protection by the state, she says.

The WISE executive director points out the lethargic role of the government departments working in above-mentioned sectors to make accurate information available to international organisations like the WEF which get data from their own sources. As a result, Pakistan’s position in the gender gap index does not improve.

The WEF report says “In 2024, gender parity inches slowly forward – the pace of travel is such, however, that full parity remains beyond the reach of another five generations.

“Big lifts in economic gender parity are needed to ensure that women have unfettered access to resources, opportunities and decision-making positions. Governments are called on to expand and strengthen the framework conditions needed for business and civil society to work together in making gender parity an economic imperative – one that fulfills the most basic of needs and inspires the very edges of innovation,” it says.

Published in Dawn, July 6th, 2024



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