“Men are much more comfortable with numbers and women generally are good in courses which require ‘extensive use of memory’ or must I say rote-learning” is what I heard from a male student on an Eid party, moments later he found out that a handful of students, and I must reiterate not just female students, scored terribly low in a course called Quantitative Analysis.

This certainly wasn’t the first time I had heard such a sexist statement; however, no matter how many times and when I hear this statement it infuriates me as if I was hearing it for the first time.

How many times have you heard that if female students score high they’re automatically categorised as nerds, having no social lives whereas, male top notchers are regarded as geniuses? How often do you come across people saying women score low in mathematics or calculus because they are inherently incapable of fathoming number-oriented concepts whereas, men get away with excuses such as the exam was really tough or we partied all night long?

I must reiterate that men who compete with women on the basis of gender by making such brash statements are only looking for ways to lick their wounds by hiding behind such shallow words.

For all those people who still believe that women are generally bad with numbers be informed that the physicist who discovered the square in Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=MC 2 was a woman called Emilie du Châtelet. It is quite ironic that more than half of the world’s population remembers Einstein but knows nothing about Emilie du Châtelet who played a pivotal role in his research.

Although, now only remembered by a few in the field of Physics, however, she did a great service to the world of science. Unfortunately, her gender invited many discriminating comments in her days of glory. Her mentor Voltaire once wrote in a letter that “Emilie was a great man whose only fault was being a woman”.

One would attribute his statement to the culture of days bygone, however, that is not true. Even today, women are fairly underrepresented in the fields of Physics, Chemistry and Biology. A recent study has shown that both female and male scientist subconsciously favour male students. The study further proved that the scientists considered male students more promising and competent as compared to their female counterparts without any reason whatsoever. Male students are also more likely to receive higher compensation than female students because of their gender.

It is not only the field of science and numbers in which women are stereotyped due to reasons that are best known to people who think so unwisely. Women have been known to be marginalised in almost all fields. Even something as mundane and mechanical as driving a car is also stereotyped in most parts of the world. All you have to do is type women drivers on a search engine and there will be no end to the chain of websites and studies proving that women are horrible drivers whereas, all men continue to give strong competition to Michael Schumacher.

Why are we so disrespectful towards women? Why cannot we all understand that every individual is different and possesses different sets of core competencies which make him/her unique? Why cannot we all appreciate the differences that exist between people rather than stereotyping their achievements? Have we ever wondered why are we so unfair to women? Shouldn’t we think that women are a lot more than a flip of the hair, high heels and pouted lips?

In Pakistan, gender discrimination is quite evidently a notch above other developing economies, especially in highly male dominated professions such as law enforcement. It is estimated that less than one per cent of the workforce in Pakistani police comprises women. Moreover, research also shows that it is extremely difficult for women to get promoted as a prosecutor or investigation office on the basis of gender.

It is not only law enforcement agencies that treat women differently. Even large conglomerates are exactly the same. Whilst working at one of the most prestigious organisations in Pakistan, I frequently heard sexist comments regarding how it is easier for women to either get promoted or hired just because they are women. Well, being a woman I must tell you that everyone who believes that women are promoted easily all you need to do is to look around and evaluate your current board of directors. Most of you will notice that women are greatly underrepresented in the upper echelon of the corporate hierarchy. In fact in many organisations there is a virtual ceiling which only facilitates men to get promoted after a certain level and unfortunately the practice is constant all across the globe.

Despite all the odds that Pakistani women face in terms of blatant and subtle forms of discrimination, we still have women like Yasmin Lari, Shamshad Akhtar, Musharraf Hai and Bapsi Sidhwa who have fought against the gender bias and risen to their current status through sheer perseverance. I am sure they must have heard sexist comments every now and then but it must have motivated them to work harder because every time I hear a gender biased statement I think about all the aforementioned and many more women like them who have managed to make us all proud.

It is essential to understand that in societies such as Pakistan, women have to go an extra mile to achieve their dreams and it is only humane to encourage them as much as possible. It is also significant to realise that we are also an active and integral part of the society and must be treated on equal footing.

 


Faiza Mirza
The writer is a Reporter at Dawn.com