This Women’ Day Let’s Advocate Change In The Patriarchal Mindset
Every year on the 8th of March the women of the world come together to commemorate and celebrate the spirit of gender equality and millions of women across the globe are reminded that they are not alone in their fight against misogyny, gender disparity, pay gap and the glass ceiling.
This year United Nation’s theme for the year 2017 is Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030 – in line with the Sustainable Development Goal Number 5 that envisages providing women and girls with equal access to education, healthcare, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes. The steps are specifically to be taken for the signatory states to ensure framing of such policies that would enable sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.
While the world witnesses rise in women empowerment, emancipation from socio-economic male control and increasing calls for equal-pay-for-equal-work, the Pakistani state struggles with a regressive culture of patriarchy which subsists at the cost of women’s life. Unlike their sisters elsewhere, women in Pakistan must pay the price for daring to speak up for their rights guaranteed to them under religion as well as the Constitution.
Year after year Pakistan’s ranking has been slipping in the international gender indices. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) 2016 ranked Pakistan at a dismal 143 with a 0.556 score. Pakistan ranked just above Yemen among 144 countries.
Pakistan was ranked at the 141st position in the Global Gender Gap Report in 2014 and slipped three place to rank 144 in 2015. In 2016 it rose slightly to 143rd position. Pakistan has been ranked the second worst country in the world for gender equality for a second year in a row.
The yearly report measures progress toward gender parity in four areas including educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment. Pakistan’s scores on the four pillars of the Global Gender Gap Index have not improved much from last year. Pakistan scores at 143rd rank on economic participation and opportunity while its education attainment is slightly better at 135th. Overall, however, the country has not changed from the last year according to the report.
What’s Holding Back Pakistani Women?
Pakistan’s poor ranking presents a bleak portrait of the state of modest progress made on female empowerment and gender equality. The narrative of women empowerment is an exercise in futility in the patriarchal culture of honor killing, female infanticide, rape and violence.
Given this sad reality, achieving the targets set for gender equality and empowerment of women by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) appears to be a distant dream. Whilst Article 38 of the Constitution of Pakistan and international conventions such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) make it incumbent upon the state to ensure gender parity in terms of socio-economic standing of men and women, the deep-rooted patriarchal mindset is a major hurdle in the path of an egalitarian society. Even when the Pakistani woman has overcome structural and social barriers to overcome employment economic vulnerabilities such as the pay gap and glass ceiling in managerial positions, the patriarchal mindset continuously threatens to keep her underpaid, overworked and demotivated.
Being the second most dangerous country in the world for women, it takes immense strength and courage to break through social barriers and glass ceilings in Pakistan. Pakistani women have fought a long battle to win the rights guaranteed under the Constitution, and yet they are still relegated to being second class citizens.
Honor Crimes Continue Unabated
It is unimaginable for the male-dominant society to allow its women the right to choose. Perceived as property, a woman’s body is associated with honor of the male, who is the guardian of the family honor and may reprimand the woman for not toeing the line. A woman exercising the right to marry out of free will is perceived as a threat to male authority – freedom of choice is thus policed.
Honor killing is a barbaric custom that has claimed many innocent lives in the country. As per the UNICEF National Report titled Situation Analysis of Women and Children in Pakistan, almost 25 percent of the total honor killings in the world occur in Pakistan alone.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, around 512 females, and 156 males, were killed in 2016 by their relatives on so-called “honour” grounds. Moreover the Aurat Foundation’s annual report of 2016 showed 7,852 cases of violence against women. Reportedly there has been a 70 percent increase in honour killings in the past year.
An amendment to the law on “honour-based” killings was introduced to end impunity for such crimes. Though it allowed for death penalty as a possible punishment, it also allows for perpetrators to have their sentences reduced if they secure pardon from the victim’s family. It remained unclear how the authorities will distinguish between “honour killing” and other murders, or what standards of evidence would apply, or what penalties would ensue. Human rights NGOs and activists were concerned that the penalty imposed should not depend on whether or not the victim’s family had pardoned the crime.
Due to the state’s apathy and utter disregard for the life of its citizens, there is a culture of impunity and while police reports may be filed, there is often little follow-up, particularly in rural areas. Such murder of women is a domestic issue in the country as per the Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who also said, “It is hard for us (the government) to intervene since majority of these cases are handled domestically.”
In the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa alone as many as 23 incidents involving violence against women have been reported since the start of the year 2017, including the murder of Hina Shah Nawaz, an MPhil scholar from Kohat, being the most high profile incident that garnered big media frenzy. The case brought to light the struggle of women who dare to declare economic emancipation from their male guardians.
The Economic Battle For Survival
Given the deeply ingrained practices of female infanticide and preference for the male child, gender equity becomes a strong moral and humanitarian issue. The birth of a girl in many Pakistani families is perceived as a financial loss. Several studies conducted in the region have revealed the existence of “food discrimination” in families, where the best food is reserved for the male child.
Despite the advancement in education and more avenues opening for women, the glass ceiling still persists for leadership roles for women in both public and private sectors.
Ranked 143rd in economic participation and opportunity according to the Global Gender Gap Report, Pakistan is one of the three countries with the lowest percentage of firms with female participation in ownership. In fact on the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index Pakistan has experienced one of the highest negative percentage change.
The country ranks 119th on the Health and Survival sub-index and 85th on the Political Empowerment sub-index according to the report. The global ranking for Women in Ministerial Positions is also dismally low at 139.
Fostering education, skills and entrepreneurship can help transform the labour market and access to information, communications and technology can help develop marketable skills, secure quality work opportunities and forge a better working world for women.
The state must enact legislation and policies to encourage a more inclusive, gender equal society where women and men’s contributions are valued equally. Private entities can also play an important role in creating an inclusive flexible work culture where gender parity is encouraged.
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) – in its 2016 status report on Women’s Economic Participation and Empowerment – emphasizes the need for improving girls’ access to education and dealing with early or forced marriage of girls.
The development of Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) Index will help policymakers in making informed policies, taking appropriate actions and to measure progress.
The word “change” being the major theme for women’s day across the globe, the change of attitude and mindset not just in the work place but generally throughout the society is the need of the hour. Women are not victims, they are agents of change, drivers of progress and makers of peace. All they need is a chance to prove their mettle. The rights of women and girls remain the unfinished business of the 21st century.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which she might be associated.