Gender equality is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved by 2030. Earlier, Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all the forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Two decades down the road CEDAW has not been implemented, and it shows our commitment to international conventions and covenants. Keeping in view the gender inequality prevalent in our country it is not difficult to ascertain as to why we lag behind the other nations in terms of socioeconomic development.
The Gender Gap Index 2015 ranked Pakistan second from the last among 145 countries in terms of prevalence of gender based disparities. Published by the World Economic Forum, the index measures national gender gaps in economy, politics, education and health. Second last position of Pakistan on the index reflects as to how women lag behind men in the country.
There are glaring patterns of inequality between women and men in our society. For example, women are more vulnerable and tend to suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners more often than men. Women lag behind men when it comes to political participation and representation in decision-making bodies. Women and men have different economic opportunities. Women and girls constitute majority of the people being trafficked and involved in sex trade. These issues, among others, continue to hinder development of women and society on the whole.
Gender has become an issue these days because of the fundamental inequalities between women and men. These inequalities manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Let us have a look at some glaring inequalities women generally experience in their daily lives. Women are under-represented in political process across the globe. Thanks to quota system, women in Pakistan have fair representation. But, unfortunately, the beneficiaries of the quota system are women of political elite because our political institutions are not inclusive. Women from other segments of society are still under-represented and far from taking active part in politics. For majority of the women in the country, politics is no-go area. Resultantly, national, regional and even specific needs of community are often defined without seeking meaningful contribution from women who constitute half of the population. How can the policies yield the desired results when interests of half of the population are set aside?
Despite the constitution and other international instruments that proclaim equal rights for women and men there exist many gaps either by law or practice where equal rights to personal status, land, inheritance and employment are denied to women. For example, women in Pakistan have a legal right to inherit property but, practically, in most of the cases they are denied the same.
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In our society it is women who shoulder the responsibility of nurturing the family. Women also extend assistance to male members of family in economic activities.
Women in villages make an important contribution to food and other agriculture production. Working women in both rural and urban areas are doing the same by adding to their family income. These tasks add to women’s workload and are an obstacle to engagement in political and social activities. This contribution of women often goes unnoticed. They are not even encouraged, not to speak of reward for women working in unpaid sector. Government must come up with policies to encourage and facilitate women so that they can play the above-mentioned roles along with taking active part in social and political activities.
Gender-based violence is also a manifestation of gender inequality. Almost every woman faces violence in one form or the other during her lifetime. Despite the existence of various laws, violence is on increase in our society. Gender-based violence is one of the main hindrances in the way of women to lead a normal life, not to speak of their socio-economic and political roles.
Gender inequalities are not confined to economic and political spheres but are reflected almost in every area of life and often in ways that are difficult to measure. The discriminatory behaviour women have to face is often grounded in gender stereotypes and patriarchal nature of society. These ideas and practices further complicate gender inequalities.
Achieving greater equality between women and men require changes at many levels including changes in attitudes and relationships, changes in institutions and legal frameworks, changes in economic institutions, and changes in political decision making structures. Without bringing these changes plight of women cannot be changed and they will be suffering, like ever, unheard and unseen.
For achieving gender equality and socio-economic development, it is important to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of societal development. Sustainable development is possible only when gender perspectives are identified and addressed. If we are interested in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals priority should be given to gender equality as an important means of attaining them.