Gender Inequality and Deflating Socio-economic Development


Saher Liaqat
Gender inequality insinuates discrimination based on gender, which can be assessed in terms of education, economic, political, legal, and social rights provided to the members of both genders. The third world countries like Pakistan exhibit greater gender inequality ? in education, employment, and health sectors which greatly undermines their social and economic development.
Article 25A of the constitution of Pakistan obligates that free and compulsory education must be provided to all the citizens of Pakistan irrespective of their gender. Likewise, Article 37-B of Pakistan’s constitution also states, “The State shall remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within the minimum possible period.” Since the inception of Pakistan, considerable progress has been made in terms of women’s social, political, economic, and legal rights. However, gender discrepancies are still there in the educational sector, and females face exclusion at all levels of education.
Traditionally, Pakistani society is durably patriarchal, where men increasingly come out as breadwinners and women are considered vulnerable. Despite the long-enshrined legislation that provides both genders equal social, political, and economic rights in the Constitution of Pakistan, gender inequality ? remains a predominant phenomenon in the country. Almost thirty-two per cent of primary school-age girls are estimated to be out of school, compared to twenty-one per cent of boys. At the secondary level, fifty-nine per cent of girls are out of school, compared to forty-nine per cent of boys in Pakistan. Pakistan comprises one of the largest populations of 22.5 million out-of-school children worldwide. Most of them are girls, with the country’s total GDP expenditure on the education sector of around two per cent only.
Various factors contribute to increased gender inequality in Education in Pakistan. Inadequate access to middle and high schools for females, lack of proper sanitation facilities, and lack of public funds are significant barriers to girls’ education in rural areas. A widely accepted perception that investment in girls’ education does not contribute to uplifting the families’ social status also dissuades parents from letting their girls acquire education. In addition to socio-cultural restraints, political instability, the military’s influence on governance, suppression of media and civil society, and intensifying ethnoreligious tensions also, in a way, diverts the government’s focus from delivering indispensable services like quality education through which the girls suffer the most.
It is essential to consider that gender inequality ? negatively impacts the outcome of education, adversely affecting a country’s social and economic development. In Pakistan, this argument leads us to a question: What impact does gender inequality in education have on Pakistan’s socioeconomic development?
Studies reveal that educational inequality lies at the root of socioeconomic issues. According to the World Bank, the female labour force participation value in Pakistan is estimated to be approximately 22.18 pc compared to 51.90 pc of the world average based on 182 countries. While reducing the average human capital, gender bias adversely affects the country’s economic growth. In Pakistan, the inequality between female and male participation in education and the unequal access to critical inputs, technologies, and resources has deprived the country of the major portion of the potential female workers as a competitive advantage in an export-oriented growth strategy. This condenses the country’s average productivity and ability to capitalize, lowering GDP and per-capita economic growth.
Gender gaps in education also lead to gender gaps in employment. When educated and employed, women can have greater bargaining power in their families, which not only benefits the women’s concerns but can also have a range of growth-enhancing effects. These could include higher savings, more productive investments and use and repayment of credit, and higher investments in the health and education of their children, thus promoting the next generation’s human capital and socio-economic development. Moreover, discrimination in education also indirectly affects female labour participation by weakening the development goals, i.e., increasing fertility and infant mortality rates and poor health, reducing female employment, and averting the education of the next generation, thus increasing the gender gaps in education and employment. The infant mortality in Pakistan is estimated to be about 55.7 deaths per 1000 live births and a 3.51 per cent for fertility rate.
The UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in 2015, highlighting 17 fundamental goals as its core, with a considerable focus on gender equality. SDG-4 emphasizes inclusive and impartial quality education for all genders. SDG-5 focuses on gender parity and women’s empowerment, ensuring women’s equal participation in social, political, and economic spheres. SDG-8 encourages a conducive work environment for women, thus promoting sustainable economic growth. The National Assembly of Pakistan, since 2016, has declared the SDGs as the country’s National Development Goals. However, despite several efforts to localize and mainstream the SDGs with the help of SDG Supporting Units at the Federal and Provincial levels, various gaps are still there in its implementation.
Following the famous African proverb, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation,” women’s education is the most productive pathway for plummeting the disparities between men and women by ensuring the maximum participation of women in the socio-economic development of the country. The discrepancy in women’s education in Pakistan can be improved by relaxing the socio-cultural traditions that relegate women only to reproductive and breadmaking roles. In this regard, federal and provincial governments shall prioritize female education by increasing women’s educational opportunities. This will also help expand women’s employment opportunities in the formal sector, thereby plunging gender inequality. SDGs recognize gender equality as a crucial area, and Pakistan needs to work more on this goal by helping to grant equal access to education and economic and political bodies for women that will ultimately help flourish the country’s socio-economic development and make a more sustainable and inclusive society for future generations.