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Gender Equality And Human Rights – By Iqra Mumtaz

Iqra MumtazFreelance Writer

Gender Equality and Human Rights in Pakistanجنسی مُساوات اور اِنسانی حقوقलैंगिक समानता और मानवाधिकारWomen’s Rights Are Human Rights

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”“When you lift up women, you lift up families, you lift up communities, you lift up economies – and you lift up your country.”“There’s something so special about a woman who dominates in a man’s world. It takes a certain grace, strength, intelligence, fearlessness, and the nerve to never take no for an answer.”

Women’s Rights Are Human Rights:

Attaining equality between women and men and eliminating all forms of discrimination against women are fundamental human rights and United Nations values. Women around the world nevertheless regularly suffer violations of their human rights throughout their lives, and realizing women’s human rights has not always been a priority. Achieving equality between women and men requires a comprehensive understanding of the ways in which women experience discrimination and are denied equality so as to develop appropriate strategies to eliminate such discrimination.

Women's Rights in Iran | Human Rights Watch

It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and thatincludes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will. Women’s rights are human rights. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely – and the right to be heard. Women must enjoy the right to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries if wewant freedom and democracy to thrive and endure. Freedom means the right of people to assemble, organize, and debate openly. It means respecting the views of those who may disagree with the views of their governments. It means not taking citizens away from their loved ones and jailing them, mistreating them, or denying them their freedom or dignity because of the peaceful expression of their ideas and opinions. Now it is time to act on behalf of women everywhere. If we take bold steps to better the lives ofwomen, we will be taking bold steps to better the lives of children and families too.

As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace around the world – as long as girlsand women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled and subjected toviolence in and out of their homes – the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperousworld will not be realized.

Womens Rights Images - Free Download on Freepik

Woman’s Rights in Pakistan:

There is a saying, “Behind every successful man, there is a woman”. In today’s modern times the role of woman has expanded many folds and now she is not only behind the success of a man but she also plays an important role in the success of a nation. Women are an integral part of any society who play an important role in the development of a country. Therefore, they should be provided with platforms to utilize their talents and improve their standard of living. Unfortunately, that is not the case in Pakistan. Social spaces of expression for women have increasingly been squeezed in Pakistan over the years.

Gender equality and human rights have remained significant challenges in Pakistani society. Deep-rooted patriarchal norms have historically promoted unequal gender roles and limited women’s empowerment and participation. However, over the past few decades, progress has been made through legal reforms, advocacy efforts, and increased awareness. While discrimination and violence against women persist, initiatives targeting education, economic empowerment, and legislative changes indicate a gradually shifting landscape. Addressing issues of gender inequality and promoting women’s rights is crucial for Pakistan to achieve inclusive development and prosperity.

Women hold up half the sky, but whether they are compensated for this effort in Pakistan remains questionable. As of last year, Pakistan stood only above Afghanistan as the second-most unequal country along gender lines in the world. Women face disproportionately higher risks of poverty, financial and economic exclusion, and unemployment. However, exports and economic growth offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak scenario.

Pakistan has become the sixth worst country for women to live in according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation

The gender discrimination is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society. The gender disparity in Pakistan is evident at household level. It includes Distribution of food, education, health care, early and forced marriages, denial of inheritance right, mobility restriction, abuse, and violence.

Pakistani women rights activists called for a change in mindset in the country on Wednesday after Pakistan was ranked the second-worst country in the world for gender parity in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2022.

The top five countries in the report, featuring a list of 146 countries, were Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden. Pakistan occupied number 145 on the list, the second-worst. The only country that performed worse than Pakistan was Afghanistan.

Gender Equality | United Nations Development Programme

The report also said Pakistan was among five countries with a gender gap greater than 5 percent, with the others being Qatar, Azerbaijan, China and India.

In the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub index, the report said women in Pakistan had the smallest share of senior, managerial and legislative roles at 4.5 percent.

“Until we as a nation don’t change the perception that women’s only purpose in life should be staying within the four walls of their homes, go out only when allowed by the men of the family, get married and bear and rear [their] children, the status of women will not change,” Tasneem Ahmar, the founder of the women’s rights advocacy group UK, told Arab News, responding to the latest survey.

“In Pakistan, institutions are male-dominated where there exists a patriarchal bias,” Farzana Bari, a prominent human rights activist and academic, told Arab News.  “They don’t let competent women rise to the top positions,” she said, adding that men acting as “gatekeepers” in various institutions kept women from achieving positions higher than Grade 18 or 19.   Bari cited the examples of Pakistan’s health and education sectors.

“Women run the education and health sectors but how many women DGs or secretaries in health do you see?” she asked. Speaking about the report in general, Bari said such indexes did not take into account Pakistan’s ground realities, such as conflicts that kept women away from the workforce or issues specific to women of this region. She said another problem was that such indexes did not take into consideration the informal sector, which had witnessed the entry of many women and children after the coronavirus pandemic.

Beyond the needle & thread

The WEF report said Pakistan had registered a significant improvement across three sub-indexes, with the highest positive variation on Economic Participation and Opportunity.

“This is the highest overall level of parity Pakistan has posted since the report launched,” the report said. “While wage equality carries the highest gender gap score among economic indicators (0.620), advances were also reported in estimated earned income, where women’s earnings increased 4% compared to 2021.”

The report said South Asia had one of the lowest regional gender parity scores for Health and Survival, at 94.2%, with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India among the worst-performing countries in this category globally.

A group photo of women nominated for district committees at the inaugural ceremony in Peshawar. — File photo

Historical Context:

Traditional social structures in Pakistan have upheld a patriarchal value system where women’s roles are centered around marriage, motherhood, and caregiving within the private sphere of the home. Religious ideologies contributed to the notion of women as subordinate to male authority figures. During British colonial rule, these notions were further institutionalized through legal codes that denied women equal rights. After independence in 1947, efforts to modernize clashed with conservative cultural forces, creating ambiguity around women’s place in the public and political domains. Significant events like conflicts with neighboring countries in subsequent decades reinforced nationalist narratives emphasizing the protection of traditional gender roles.

Historical precedence explains the link between gender parity and export growth. In fact, despite the successes listed above, Pakistan is still an outlier compared to its South Asian competitors like Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka who have all seen greater gains for women coinciding with greater export growth (Lopez-Acevedo and Robertson, 2016). Pakistan has failed to fully harness its export potential and therefore has stunted its women’s potential too.

Social media has also empowered women to speak for themselves through the major platforms

A study in 2022 explored the experience of Bangladeshi women employed in the textile export sector, using interviews and statistical data on income growth and financial asset growth. It found that women attained financial independence, empowerment, and social mobility due to paid employment (Mamun and Hoque, 2022). The proportion of bank accounts opened in a woman’s name rather than joint accounts opened under a husband’s name also grew in Bangladesh as exports expanded. This implies a growing level of financial literacy, allowing many women to buy plots of land, and begin schooling for themselves or their children.

Furthermore, their contribution to household budgets gave women the leverage to negotiate greater respect and autonomy amongst their communities (Mamun and Hoque, 2023). In Pakistan, only 13% of women have bank accounts, which aggravates poverty and maintains cycles of dependency between women and men. Empirical research into labor market trends among South Asian exports also explains why textile exports are specifically good for women.

Empowering women still a challenge in Pakistan

Current Challenges:

Pakistan is a constitutional republic founded in 1947. It has a complicated social structure, based on customary law instead of divine guidance. The intricate social design of Pakistan has created problems for women in every field of life. Women are considered the source of all evil and a burden on the shoulders of parents and other family members. In Pakistani culture, a woman faces tremendous challenges, particularly in tribal regions of the country, where the situation of women is grim in all walks of life. An attempt is made in this article to analys. the situation of women in Pakistan and provide some remedies for overcoming inequality, injustice, and discrimination.

Despite great strides made by the international women’s rights movement over many years, women and girls around the world are still married as children or trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery. They are refused access to education and political participation, and some are trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war. Around the world, deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth are needlessly high, and women are prevented from making deeply personal choices in their private lives. Human Rights Watch is working toward the realization of women’s empowerment and gender equality—protecting the rights and improving the lives of women and girls on the ground.

Pakistani women are more than half of the total population, but women are treated cold-heartedly within their homes by their partners or leading males through different ways like Domestic Violence, Sawara, Vani, Karo, Kari, killings based on honor, acid throwing, forced marriages etc.

Campaign #MeToo also went viral on social media in Pakistan.

Despite progress, significant discrimination persists against women in Pakistan. Only 46% of women participate in the labor force compared to 81% of men. Women account for a meagre 21.7% of seats in parliament (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2021). Gender-based violence remains widespread, with over 1,000 honor killings reported annually (Amnesty International, 2020). Domestic abuse, acid attacks, and sexual violence occur regularly without adequate legal consequences. Women subject to such abuse often face social stigma and abandonment. Numerous women also remain out of school due to poverty and patriarchal norms. Obstructions to land ownership and inheritance rights undermine women’s economic security. Conservative interpretations of Sharia law further enable everyday marginalizationand curb women’s autonomy over their lives. Challenges Women Face in Competing with Men Women in Pakistan continue to face considerable challenges in competing equally with men, especially in male dominated sectors.

Threatened with violence and intimidation, Pakistani women still vow to march

Some of the key issues women’s are facing in Pakistan:

Cultural mindsets: Deeply entrenched patriarchal attitudes in society view women as lesscapable than men. This mindset poses significant social resistance against women pursuingcareers perceived as “men’s work”.Family responsibilities: The burden of unpaid care work at home, like childrearing andhousehold duties, predominantly falls on women. This limits their ability to dedicate longhours and energy into professional development as easily as men.Mobility restrictions: Social norms restrict mobility of unmarried women in public spaces.This disadvantage becomes more pronounced for career advancement opportunities likebusiness travel and networking events held outside regular hours.Safety concerns: Threats of harassment and lack of secure transportation curtail women’smobility to pursue education and jobs far from home. The risk of commuting deters manyfrom higher-paying opportunities in industries located in industrial zones away fromresidential areas.Gender wage gap: Even in similar job roles and qualifications, women on average earn lessthan men due to discrimination and lack of negotiation skills promoted among women. Thiswage disparity grows significantly with age and experience.Limited role models: Few visible women leaders and entrepreneurs in upper managementremain an exception rather than the norm. This scarcity of female mentors and sponsors actsas a deterrent for younger women to aspire towards and break into male-dominated sectors.Sexual harassment: Rampant harassment at the workplace creates a hostile environmentcompromising women’s dignity and performance. Many capable women shy away frompursuing careers with higher risks of facing such abuse.

Overcoming these substantial socio-cultural barriers requires dedicated efforts acrossdifferent fronts to facilitate equal opportunities for women to compete fairly with men on alevel playing field.

Progress and Initiatives:

Pakistan has taken initial steps towards reforming discriminatory laws and policies. The Protection of Women Against Violence Act was enacted in 2015 to provide the legal framework for domestic abuse cases. In 1996, the Women’s Protection Act criminalized karokari (honor killings), offering some deterrence through harsher sentencing. However, implementation and prosecution remain weak. The 2018 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act banned child marriage under 16. Pakistan has committed to promoting gender equality through SDG 5 by 2030. Active civil society and non-profit organizations play a leading role in advocacy. Groups like Aurat March and Women Action Forum raise awareness through protests while providing legal aid and shelter to victims. Provincial commissions on women’s status monitor legislative progress. Many charities at the grassroots level focus on education, skill-building,and empowerment through microfinancing programs.

More women entering politics and public leadership signal gradual changes. Despite facing immense resistance from religious conservatives and extremist factions, women like Benazir Bhutto and Sherry Rehman have held the highest national offices. Reserved parliamentary seats and quotas have also increased female representation while exposing women to decision-making spheres previously dominated by men.

Pakistan tops in holding biases against women: UN Report - The Economic Times

Economic Empowerment:

Financial independence strengthens women’s agency and negotiating power within families and communities. Only 24% of women in Pakistan participated in the labor force in 2020 (World Bank). A lack of skills and resources hinders income-generation opportunities for many rural areas. However, targeted initiatives bring promising results.

The Benazir Income Support Program provides cash transfers and interest-free loans to impoverished women to start small businesses or vocational training. This direct cash injection empowers over 5 million women annually. According to the United Nations, these subsidies lifted millions out of poverty and boosted school attendance among girls. The Punjab Women Business Incubator Network trains female entrepreneurs through mentorship and market linkages. Graduates report significant increases in average monthly incomes and confidence levels. Experts suggest economic participation as a driver for long-term social change.

FILE – In this Friday, March 8, 2019 file photo, a Pakistani woman takes part in rally during International Women’s Day in Islamabad, Pakistan. Provincial lawmakers in northwestern Pakistan have assailed women’s marches held earlier this month across the country marking the International Women’s Day as anti-Islamic. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash, File)

Education for Equality:

Educating girls directly enhances gender parity while challenging stereotypes when imparted through equitable curricula and teaching methods. During primary education in Pakistan, gender gaps are almost nonexistent. However, disparities increase in secondary and higher education, were dropout rates spike for girls due to cultural norms. Madrassas disproportionately enroll boys compared to the formal secular system. Non-profits work to bridge these divides through community mobilization.

The Girls’ Access to Education Package utilizes school stipends, parent-teacher councils, and infrastructure improvements to boost retention. Sensitization programs train male and female teachers on inclusive pedagogy and balanced textbooks. Successful initiatives then scale up to influence policy and budget allocations. Higher education institutions implement gender studies and sensitization core courses. Such awareness-building fosters acceptance towards a more equal Pakistani society.

Investing In The Global Power Of Women

Education and Skill Development:

Education is crucial for empowering women because it gives them the knowledge, critical thinking skills, and self-assurance they need to participate fully in society. Pakistan has made a lot of progress in getting more women educated. However, there are still problems like gender differences, cultural norms, and limited access to good education. The gender gap in education can be closed by putting more emphasis on girls’ education, making available policies, and funding skill development initiatives. Pakistan’s social, economic, and technological progress can be significantly helped by having a population of educated and skilled women.

Female Empowerment in Pakistan

Health and Well-being:

Women’s health and well-being are crucial for their general empowerment. Numerous gender-based health issues exist in Pakistan, such as child deaths, restricted access to reproductive health care, and abuse against women. In the health industry, empowering women means ensuring access to affordable health care, reproductive rights, and safety from abuse. These problems can be solved by improving the health care system, offering services sensitive to gender, and raising knowledge through programs. This will give women the power to make choices about their health based on accurate information.

Future Prospects:

Pakistan struggles to strengthen its constitutional commitment to human rights and equal citizenship. Internal security issues due to extremism and terrorism pose obstacles. Widespread poverty further inhibits social change by prioritizing economic survival over rights and empowerment. However, continued legal reforms accompanied by improved law enforcement could significantly curb violence against women. Prioritizing women’s healthcare, maternity benefits, and safe workplaces through labour laws signals systemic progress. Furthering women’s inclusion in leading sectors like technology, media, and sports challenges the conservative status quo. The government must drastically increase investments in girls’ secondary and tertiary education. Tackling gender bias in public service roles like policing and judiciary also enhances the credibility of reform efforts. International support ensures continued pressure and financing of Pakistan’s national agenda. Monitoring anti-discrimination laws and policy implementation remain equally important. Sustainable partnerships strengthen networks of local activists fighting for women’s autonomy, dignity, and security to claim their fundamental rights as equal citizens. With concerted efforts across all fronts, Pakistan has the potential to realize a more progressive and equitable future where no person faces injustice due to their gender.

Women, Violence and Conflict in Pakistan | Crisis Group

Women, girls and Malala: Women’s rights and girl’s education in Pakistan:

Malala Yousafzai, the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, has been advocating across the world for girls’ educational rights, even in the face of extremely difficult circumstances in her home country of Pakistan, where gunmen attempted to assassinate her in 2012.

Of course, women throughout the world face a range of challenges, and none more so than in the developing world. Levels of education, health care and political representation can be dauntingly low, and discrimination and sexual violence are all too frequent.

One of the most prominent cases of a country struggling with the competing dynamics of development, modernization, religion and tradition is indeed Pakistan, the sixth most populous country on earth. The World Economic Forum ranks the country as the least gender equitable in the Asia and Pacific region. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reports many challenges women there face, including being “attacked and killed on account of asserting their rights to education, work and generally for choosing to have a say in key decisions in their lives.”

While the state of the educational system in Pakistan is dire, and the gap between education providers and the aspirations of the people huge , we believe that a window of opportunity is now open for initiating system-level reform. It is urgent to seize this opportunity, because population dynamics will make education a graver problem in the next decade if immediate steps are not taken. It is also important to recognize that reform must tackle all sectors of the education system — primary/secondary, higher education and vocational education — as Pakistan does not have the luxury to delay reform in one sector until the other sectors improve. Of course, reforming the system poses a great challenge, but strong examples of success within Pakistan remind us that it can be done. This may be the time for public, private, and philanthropic institutions and change — makers to pool their resources and initiate lasting system — wide change, which some of them have achieved, at least partially, in their respective domains.

Final Verdict:

Discrimination against women in Pakistan takes various forms. Women face challenges of inequality, injustice, and discrimination in every field of life, particularly in tribal regions of the country . Gender inequality continues to be entrenched in Pakistan, where women are deprived of their fundamental rights . The patriarchal system in Pakistan creates inequalities and restricts women’s social and economic opportunities . Despite an increase in the number of women in politics, gender essentialist stereotypes persist, and women’s substantive representation remains limited . Violence against women is a major issue, with various forms of abuse prevalent across all strata of society . These forms of discrimination include sexualizing, objectifying, subduing, and confiscating women, as well as physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, and financial abuse and exploitation .

While significant work lies ahead, Pakistan has taken initial strides in women’s empowerment and anti-discrimination. Real change hinges on overcoming patriarchal mindsets through holistic, long-term strategies promoting awareness, education, and equal opportunities. Legal reforms must be vigorously enforced with improved access to justice systems responsive to women’s needs. Developed nations share responsibility through responsible partnerships and aid. Non-profits advance gender parity by empowering women as agents of positive change. With political will and sustained multi-sectoral collaborations, Pakistan can uphold its constitutional guarantees to ensure universal human rights and dignity for all its citizens, regardless of gender.

Woman setting red chili

Increasing women’s participation in Pakistan’s labor force is beneficial to both economic growth and gender equality. Policy interventions must identify and alleviate barriers to women’s participation by improving access to finance, enhancing digital literacy, and addressing mobility challenges.

The lack of women’s participation in Pakistan’s economy is both a gender equity and developmental concern. The economic case for focusing on women’s economic empowerment is clear: if their participation was at par with men, Pakistan’s GDP could increase by 60% by 2025. Another estimate suggests that closing the gender gap in labor force participation could lead to a one-off 30% boost in GDP.

Globally, women form 38.8% of the labor force, but just around 20% in Pakistan, one of the lowest in South Asia. In fact, Pakistan fares poorly on all gender-related indicators. The Global Gender Gap Index Report 2022 ranked Pakistan at 145 out of 156 countries in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity, at 135 for women’s educational attainment, 143 for women’s health and survival, and at 95 for political empowerment. The Global Wage Report 2018-2019 by International Labor Organization estimated the gender pay gap variation between men and women at 34%. Pakistan also shows the largest gender gaps amongst electrical democracies in voter turn-out, with men being 20% more likely to vote.

Gender discrimination is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society. To prevent gender discrimination, the entire society, especially women should be educated and gendered sensitized to improve the status of women in Pakistan.

1. Investing in gender equality can help build resilience to future shocks.

2. Unlocking women’s productivity requires a policy intervention on multiple fronts.

3. Women that are interested in work may face barriers in their job search.

4. Men and women face different mobility challenges.

5. Inclusiveness in growth demands women’s voices are heard.

Pakistani policymakers are also showing a growing commitment to the agenda of women’s empowerment. With more evidence on what works, Pakistan can make progress in empowering millions of women, lifting them and their households out of poverty.

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