Friday, March 5, 2010

Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities: Progress for All

International Women’s Day (March 8) is just a few days away. Marked as a global day for almost a century, this day is meant for celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women. Theme for this year’s International Woman’s Day is ‘Equal Right and Equal Opportunities: Progress for All”.  Irrespective of the common women’s awareness regarding the significance of this day, civil society organizations and women’s rights activists groups will commemorate it across Pakistan. Everybody with some awareness of human rights will acknowledge the importance of this day regarding the women’s rights groups’ struggle for the emancipation of women allover Pakistan. However, on this auspicious day, there is a need to specifically analyze the progress Pakistan has made throughout last year on the gender front or the steps the Pakistani government has taken for the emancipation and progress of Pakistani women.

Let us begin with the policy matters first. The incumbent government has proved itself as progressive and has received applause and appreciation from the women’s rights groups after having passed two Bills: The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill and the Criminal Law Amendment Bill. Both of the Bills are meant to redress sexual intimidation faced by women at work places and would definitely play a pivotal role in making workplaces women friendly if the women folk have the awareness about the existence of such laws and if the prescribed redress mechanisms are made available for working women in letter and spirit. On the contrary, the government has been criticized for letting the Bill on domestic violence lapsed, only because of the criticism of one member of the Senate who stated that banning violence against women would increase the divorce rate in the country.

The status of those institutions responsible for dealing with policy issues concerning women was in dismal last year. Even though Pakistan has a ministry of women development  the office of the minister of women development has not yet been handed over to any member of the parliament. Likewise, there is a National Commission on the Status of Women mandated to analyze policies from a gender perspective. Nevertheless, the women’s commission, which in reality is supposed to act as a watchdog on women issues, is struggling with institutional capacity constraints, limited funding, and autonomy issues.

In respect of women’s participation in politics, Pakistan has made good progress over the years and the present provincial and national parliaments shows a good number of women parliamentarians on board. However, the level of awareness of these women parliamentarians on women issues is doubtful. To what extent our women parliamentarians believe in women emancipation can be gauged from the recent suggestions put forward by Ms Samina Khawar Hayat, a member of Punjab provincial assembly. She proposed amending the existing laws thereby allowing men to re-marry without the consent of their first wife rather than increasing 18 % job quota for women aged 30 and above. Indisputably, with such women representatives in the parliament reluctant to raise their voice in favor of women, the struggle for emancipation and gender equality is getting hampered severely in Pakistan.

Besides these legislative and institutional issues and irrespective of how strong or weak they are, let us have a look on our women’s momentary status in the economy and education sector. According to the federal bureau of statistics, women’s participation in labor force is 6.2 % in urban areas and 17.88 % in rural areas as compared to men’s labor force participation of 49.88 % and 49.08 % respectively. The average monthly income of working women both in urban and rural areas is half of the average monthly income of their male counterparts. Keeping in view the women’s labor force participation and average monthly income, it can be inferred that the percentage of women employed at decision-making level is negligible as compared to men. As part of the Gender Reform Action Plan the government had reserved a 10 % job quota for women employment in the public sector for encouraging women to join government institutions. However, the progress on this policy directive is moderate so far.

Similar tendencies can be observed in the education sector. The women literacy rate is 41.75 % and total female enrolment is 44 %, which is comparatively less than other South Asian countries. Despite such bad literacy rates insurgent groups are blowing up girls’ schools in FATA every other day where education for women and girls has a major importance. Having said that, Pakistan’s disappointing rank among the bottom ten listed countries on the 2009 Gender Equity Index doesn’t come as a surprise. A lot has yet to be done by the government to reduce gender inequality in the country. The status of women can only be improved if the government takes substantial measures. Rather than allowing women related laws to be lapsed it has to create equal opportunities for women. Otherwise, another international women’s day will come and pass without any substantial progress or even a deterioration of the women’s situation in this country. It is time to focus on the development of women since it will lead to a ‘Progress for All’. 


Moody Alam said...

Nice one Dani. The status of women is pathetic in our country let alone the status of women rights. I have always wondered how the children are taught in our schools about the given "unprecedented women rights" by a particular religion. But when it comes to real life, all these teachings are some how ignored and women are mostly treated as objects owned by "alpha-males". Nice reflection of the current circumstances. Bravo!!!

Farrah said...

Overall, you have well described the situation of Pakistani women. I like the idea that the ‘government and society’ needs to create more opportunities and space for women to improve our status.

I am not heartbroken yet; I think we are taking steps although small ones, and are moving forward keeping in view our economic conditions and literacy rate. This by any way does not mean that we have done enough for women’s empowerment.