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Gender Equality and Human Rights – By Irma Abbasi

Irma Abbasi
Freelance Writer

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Gender Equality and Human Rights
جنسی مُساوات اور اِنسانی حقوق
लैंगिक समानता और मानवाधिकार

“Gender equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue. It affects us all.” 
“When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.” 
“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing
poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.” 

Illustration by Ahmed Amin

What is feminism?

Feminism is the belief that everyone should have equal rights and opportunities regardless of their gender. Simply put, feminism means a belief in gender equality, the belief that both male and females should receive equal treatment and not be discriminated against based on their gender.

Equality between men and women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence; have equal opportunities for financial independence through work or through setting up businesses; enjoy equal access to education and the opportunity to develop personal ambitions, interests and talents; share responsibility for the home and children and are completely free from coercion, intimidation and gender-based violence both at work and at home.

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Why should you care about feminism?

There are various ways in which gender inequality is affecting every individual of every age, even you.

For example, if you’re a girl, were you told that you can’t participate in a sport because it’s a “boys’ thing”? Did you ever feel that when you spoke up in class, the teacher barely acknowledged your answer whereas when the boys spoke up, they were praised and encouraged to speak? If yes, you know what gender discrimination is, and you know why feminism is important.

If you’re a boy, did people ever make fun of you when you wanted to play with your sisters’ doll houses? When you hurt your knee or scratched your elbow, were you ever told that “Boys don’t cry”, when in fact the pain was so much that the effort to not cry actually made it worse? If yes, you’ve felt the restraining influence of gender norms — what society considers male and female behavior, and the roles males and females are expected to take in society — and you know why feminism is essential for every individual’s freedom. Gender inequality is limiting the freedom of people to act as individuals; it is trapping them within a narrow range of behaviors when in reality we could all do so much more and be so much more, if we were free to act without the limitations imposed by gender bias.

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Introduction:
Gender equality is a fundamental concept that encompasses the equal rights, opportunities, and
treatment of individuals regardless of their gender. It seeks to eliminate discrimination based on gender
and promote a society where men and women enjoy the same privileges and opportunities. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of gender equality, its distinction from human rights, and its critical role in the context of Pakistan.

Understanding Gender Equality:
Gender equality is a foundational principle advocating for the equal rights, opportunities, and treatment
of individuals, irrespective of their gender. It is rooted in the belief that all people, regardless of whether
they identify as male, female, or otherwise, should enjoy the same privileges and be free from
discrimination based on their gender.
At its core, gender equality strives to eliminate systemic and structural biases that perpetuate inequalities in various aspects of life. It goes beyond the mere concept of treating men and women equally, aiming to challenge societal norms, stereotypes, and expectations associated with gender roles.
Achieving gender equality involves providing equal opportunities for education, employment, and
participation in all societal spheres. This includes addressing discriminatory practices such as the gender
pay gap and limited access to certain professions based on gender. Empowering women is often a central
focus, acknowledging historical disparities and working towards dismantling barriers that hinder their
socio-economic advancement.
Challenging traditional gender roles is a crucial aspect of promoting gender equality. This entails breaking away from preconceived notions about the roles and responsibilities assigned to individuals based on their gender. In essence, gender equality advocates for a more fluid and egalitarian understanding of individual capabilities and aspirations.
On a global scale, gender equality is recognized as a key component for achieving broader societal goals,
including poverty reduction, sustainable development, and good governance. It is viewed not only as a
women’s issue but as a fundamental human rights imperative that benefits society as a whole.
Gender equality is a multifaceted concept that addresses not only the elimination of discrimination but
also the creation of an environment where everyone can reach their full potential, unrestricted by societal expectations tied to their gender. It stands as a guiding principle for building a fair, inclusive, and progressive society.

Gender equality and Human Rights
Gender equality and human rights are closely intertwined concepts, yet they have distinct focuses within
the broader framework of societal well-being. While both strive for fairness and justice, they address
different facets of the complex tapestry of human existence.
Human rights, as a comprehensive concept, encompass a wide range of fundamental freedoms and
protections inherent to all individuals by virtue of their humanity. These rights include civil, political,
economic, social, and cultural dimensions. Human rights are universal, inalienable, and indivisible,
applying to everyone regardless of their gender, race, religion, or other characteristics. The foundational
principles of human rights are enshrined in international declarations and treaties, serving as a moral and legal compass for global societies. On the other hand, gender equality is a specific subset of human rights that focuses on addressing disparities and discriminations based on gender. It is a commitment to ensuring that individuals, regardless of their gender identity, enjoy equal opportunities, treatment, and rights. Gender equality seeks to eliminate societal norms and structural barriers that perpetuate inequality between men and women. While human rights cover a broad spectrum, gender equality hones in on the unique challenges faced by individuals due to their gender, particularly addressing historical imbalances and systemic biases.
In essence, human rights provide the overarching framework that safeguards the dignity and well-being
of every individual, while gender equality zooms in on the specific inequalities and discriminations related to gender. Together, they form a symbiotic relationship, with gender equality representing a crucial aspect of the broader human rights agenda. Both concepts work hand in hand to create a society where every person, regardless of their gender, can live a life free from discrimination and enjoy the full spectrum of human rights.

How does gender equality relate to human rights?
Gender equality, besides being a fundamental human right, is essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development. Moreover, it has been shown that empowering women spurs productivity and economic growth.

Importance of Gender Equality
Gender equality is a pivotal component of human rights, playing a crucial role in fostering a just, inclusive, and equitable society. Its importance within the realm of human rights lies in its ability to address historical imbalances, systemic biases, and discriminatory practices that have disproportionately affected individuals based on their gender.
First and foremost, gender equality is a matter of basic human dignity. Every individual, regardless of gender identity, deserves to be treated with respect and afforded the same rights and opportunities. By
upholding gender equality, societies uphold the fundamental principle that the inherent worth and rights of all individuals are equal, irrespective of gender.
Furthermore, gender equality is essential for realizing the full potential of human societies. When women and men have equal access to education, employment, and participation in societal decision-making, it results in a more dynamic and prosperous community. By harnessing the talents and contributions of all individuals, regardless of gender, societies can achieve greater innovation, economic growth, and social development.

Addressing gender equality is also an imperative for the advancement of other human rights. Women, in
particular, have historically faced barriers to education, economic opportunities, and participation in
political processes. Achieving gender equality ensures that women can fully exercise their rights to
education, work, and political engagement, thereby creating a more robust foundation for the realization
of broader human rights goals.
Moreover, gender equality is intricately linked to social justice. Combatting gender-based violence,
challenging discriminatory norms, and dismantling stereotypes contribute to the creation of a more just
and equitable society for everyone. It is not only a matter of rectifying historical injustices but also of
ensuring that future generations inherit a world where equality is a guiding principle.
In a nut shell, gender equality is integral to the realization of human rights because it is a cornerstone for
human dignity, societal progress, and social justice. By championing gender equality, societies pave the
way for a more harmonious and inclusive world where all individuals can live free from discrimination and fully exercise their rights.

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Gender Equality and Women’s Rights
Gender equality and women’s rights are intertwined concepts that address the specific challenges faced
by women in their pursuit of equal opportunities, treatment, and recognition. While gender equality
encompasses the broader goal of eliminating discrimination based on gender, women’s rights focus
specifically on safeguarding and advancing the rights of women within this context.
Women’s rights advocacy seeks to rectify historical imbalances and discriminatory practices that have
marginalized women in various spheres of life. This includes addressing issues such as unequal pay, limited access to education, and barriers to political participation. Ensuring women’s rights is not only a matter of justice but also a fundamental component of achieving comprehensive gender equality.
By championing women’s rights, societies contribute to the overarching goal of gender equality.
Empowering women, dismantling gender-based stereotypes, and providing equal opportunities create a
foundation for a society where both men and women can thrive without limitations imposed by traditional norms. The synergy between gender equality and women’s rights is essential for building a fair, inclusive, and equitable world where every individual, regardless of gender, can reach their full potential.

Gender Equality Images - Free Download on Freepik

Navigating Gender Roles in Pakistani Culture

Gender roles in Pakistani culture are deeply rooted in traditional norms and societal expectations,
outlining distinct expectations for men and women. These roles often shape individuals’ behaviors,
responsibilities, and opportunities based on their gender, contributing to a complex tapestry of social
expectations.
In traditional Pakistani culture, men are typically assigned the role of breadwinners and are expected to
take on responsibilities related to providing for the family. This includes pursuing careers, managing
finances, and being the primary decision-makers. On the other hand, women are traditionally assigned
domestic roles, including caregiving, managing the household, and ensuring the well-being of the family.
Cultural norms in Pakistan often dictate the segregation of public and private spheres, reinforcing the idea that men primarily operate in the public domain, while women are confined to the private realm. This division of roles is deeply embedded in societal structures and influences various aspects of daily life, including education, employment, and social interactions.
However, it’s important to note that Pakistan, like many societies, is undergoing gradual changes in gender roles. Efforts towards women’s empowerment, education, and increased participation in the workforce have challenged traditional norms. Women in Pakistan are increasingly pursuing careers, accessing education, and actively engaging in public life, contributing to the evolution of gender roles in the culture. While progress is being made, navigating the balance between traditional expectations and contemporary aspirations remains a dynamic process in Pakistani society. Shifting gender roles reflect the ongoing dialogue between tradition and modernity, shaping the complex landscape of gender dynamics in the cultural context.


A Contemporary Overview of Gender Equality Rankings
Pakistan ranks 145th out of 146 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2022 Global Gender Gap Index, and 161st out of 191 countries on the Human Development Report’s 2022 Gender Inequality Index. There is an urgent need to closely examine the factors contributing to this state of gender in Pakistan.
In the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2023, Pakistan has been ranked 142 out of 146 countries — with a 57.5 per cent gender parity — the highest since 2006.
The annual report benchmarks the current state and evolution of gender parity across four key
dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and
political empowerment.
In the report, which was released on Wednesday, Pakistan has been placed near the bottom of both the
regional and global rankings. Only Iran, Algeria, Chad and Afghanistan are below Pakistan. In 2022,
Pakistan ranked 145 out of 146.

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Gender Inequality in Pakistan
Wealth inequality in Pakistan is overwhelming. According to a World Inequality Database report, the top
10% of Pakistani households earn 42% of the country’s income, while the bottom 50% earn only 13%.
With the current tsunami of inflation and low growth these figures are bound to aggravate further.
Income inequality is equally staggering where the rich live in a different world and the poor inhabit a
different planet. To put it into perspective the richest earn sixteen times more than the average income
for the poorest.
In Pakistan, income disparity is severe. The country’s Gini coefficient, which is a measure of income
inequality where zero represents perfect equality and one indicates perfect disparity, was 0.334 in 2018,
according to the World Bank. This is greater than the lower-middle-income country average of 0.313.
There are various explanations behind Pakistan’s high level of inequality. One key factor is the
concentration of wealth in the hands of a small elite that has profited from economic progress. This has
resulted in large income and wealth discrepancies amongst social groupings

Inequality is further exacerbated by limited access to education and healthcare. This has resulted in
considerable variations in outcomes across areas and social groupings. In Pakistan, the poorest people
frequently lack access to essential amenities such as clean water, sanitation, and power.
Furthermore, there are major gender differences in Pakistan, with women frequently encountering
discrimination and limited educational and employment prospects. As a result, there is a considerable
gender pay gap, with women earning less than males for doing the same jobs.
Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book, “Price of Inequality” examines the economic and social
consequences of income inequality. While some inequality is unavoidable in any market economy, Stiglitz contends that the level of inequality that exists in many developed countries today is harmful to both individuals and societies.
According to Stiglitz, extreme inequality has a number of negative consequences. It can, for example,
result in lower social mobility because children from lower-income families are less likely to succeed than those from higher-income families. Furthermore, as those at the bottom of the income distribution
become increasingly frustrated with their lack of opportunity and influence, inequality can lead to social
and political unrest. Inequality, according to Stiglitz, can harm the economy by reducing demand for goods and services and making it more difficult for businesses to grow.
To reduce inequality, policies like progressive taxation, investment in education and infrastructure, and
increased access to healthcare and other services can help.

Unraveling Gender Discrimination in Pakistani Society
In Pakistani society, gender discrimination remains a pervasive challenge, deeply entrenched in cultural
norms and societal structures. Despite progress in various domains, women continue to face disparities
in opportunities, education, and employment. Traditional expectations often confine women to domestic
roles, limiting their access to education and economic opportunities. This gender-based discrimination is further exacerbated by unequal power dynamics, restricting women’s participation in decision-making
processes.
Gender-based violence is a distressing manifestation of this discrimination, with women experiencing
various forms of abuse, including domestic violence, harassment, and forced marriages. The cultural
stigma attached to reporting such incidents often perpetuates a culture of silence, hindering efforts to
address these issues effectively. While legal frameworks exist to safeguard women’s rights, implementation and enforcement gaps persist, contributing to the perpetuation of discriminatory practices. Efforts to combat gender discrimination in Pakistan involve challenging societal norms, promoting education and awareness on gender issues, and advocating for policy changes that ensure equal rights and opportunities for all genders. Addressing gender discrimination requires a multi-faceted approach, encompassing legal reforms, educational initiatives, and cultural shifts. Activism and awareness campaigns play a vital role in challenging ingrained biases and fostering a more inclusive society where individuals are judged based on their abilities rather than gender. Despite ongoing efforts, gender discrimination remains a significant societal challenge, underscoring the need for sustained commitment and comprehensive strategies to achieve meaningful and lasting change.

The Gender Gap in Pakistan
The gender gap in Pakistan persists as a complex challenge, encompassing disparities in various aspects
of life. Despite strides in certain areas, significant gaps remain in education, employment, and societal
participation. Educationally, girls often face barriers such as cultural norms, economic constraints, and limited access to schools, contributing to a noticeable gender gap in literacy rates. While efforts have been made to enhance educational opportunities for girls, challenges persist, affecting their overall academic and professional trajectories.
In the workforce, women encounter a substantial gender gap, with limited representation in leadership
roles and wage disparities compared to their male counterparts. Societal expectations and workplace
biases further contribute to these imbalances, hindering the full utilization of women’s skills and potential. Political representation also reflects a gender gap, with women often underrepresented in decision making bodies. Despite constitutional provisions promoting women’s political participation, there is a need for more inclusive policies and cultural shifts to bridge this gap.
Efforts to address the gender gap in Pakistan involve not only policy changes but also societal shifts in
attitudes towards gender roles. Encouraging equal opportunities, challenging stereotypes, and fostering
a supportive environment for women’s advancement are crucial steps toward achieving a more equitable
society. Bridging the gender gap requires sustained commitment and collaborative efforts from both
governmental and non-governmental entities to create lasting change.

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Challenges and Paths to Equality

This discrimination and violence against women and girls, deeply rooted in the fabric of societies, is persistent and systematic. And in recent years, there has been a recurrence of scepticism against and denial of international standards concerning women’s human rights, gender equality and gender-based violence, while women and girls are increasingly raising voices to demand equality, including through feminist movements.

Despite much progress made in securing women’s rights globally, millions of women and girls continue to experience discrimination and violence, being denied of their equality, dignity and autonomy, and even a life.

From increasing women’s representation in leadership and decision-making to redistributing care-work and productive resources, progress towards a gender equal and sustainable future starts with taking action today.

This comprehensive exploration delves into the intricate gender dynamics in Pakistani society, highlighting the persisting challenges of gender discrimination and the gender gap. Despite progress in some areas, women continue to face disparities in education, employment, and societal participation. The educational sector reflects a gender gap, with obstacles hindering girls’ access to schooling. In the workforce, women encounter substantial imbalances, from limited leadership roles to wage disparities. Political representation also falls short, emphasizing the need for inclusive policies and cultural shifts. The article underscores the significance of challenging societal norms, promoting education, and advocating for policy changes to address gender discrimination effectively. Despite ongoing efforts, achieving gender equality demands sustained commitment and a multifaceted approach involving legal reforms, educational initiatives, and cultural shifts. The ultimate goal is to create a more inclusive society where individuals are judged based on abilities rather than gender, fostering lasting change in Pakistan’s gender landscape.

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How to support gender equality

As you can see, feminism matters. It’s not just women who suffer as a result of gender inequality but also their families, homes, workplaces and the world as a whole. There is an enormous, untapped potential in the world which cannot be accessed until we make sure that women get the same opportunities, respect and rights that men have; until we make sure that men, too, are free to break gender stereotypes and act freely as individuals.

We can change the world, but first we have to change ourselves. So start the process of change by focusing on the little details in your own life, e.g. instead of saying “policeman” or “businessman”, use terms suitable for and applicable to both males and females, such as “police officer” and “businessperson” respectively. This is important because language reflects our culture, and if we want to create a better culture, language is a great place to begin.

Now that you know what feminism is, how are you going to play your part in it? Be brave. Take the first step, start the first conversation, read the first book, raise the first question and join the first campaign. We have to start somewhere, anywhere — today, right now. We don’t have to wait for the International Women’s Day to begin our commitment — feminism is not about a specific day on which we all get together to advocate for the equality of the sexes; it’s about each of us standing up to fight inequality and take action — no matter how small or how big — every single day until we accomplish our mission of having a gender equal world.

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