“Women are half the society. You cannot have a revolution without women. You cannot have democracy without women. You cannot have equality without women. You can’t have anything without women.” — Nawal El Saadawi
Putting an end to gender-based discrimination towards women is central to achieving sustainable and prosperous societies. Women and girls represent half of the society and, therefore, half of its potential. Without gender equality, the potential and representation of a substantive part of our society remains untapped.
UNICEF defines gender equality to be ‘that women and men, and girls and boys, enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections’. Gender equality is at the very heart of fundamental human rights and a new global development agenda. However, in a greater part of world including Pakistan the gender discrimination is still holding back women from an active and equal participation in public life.
Almost 48.8% of Pakistan’s population comprises of females. Yet, only 24.93% participate in the labor force (World Bank, 2017). Globally, Pakistan ranked at 166th in the female Labor Force Participation (LFP) rate out of 181 countries. Even the active female labor force is not fairly rewarded amidst a huge gender wage gap in Pakistan. According to International Labor Organization (ILO) report 2017, Pakistan has a wage inequality score (48.4%) in the lower-middle income countries which is not only the highest in this category but also higher than the global wage inequality score of 35.5%.
Similar scenario is pervasive regarding female political participation in Pakistan with merely 20.6% of parliamentary seats being held by women. The proportion is less than the world average of 23.6%. In terms of women participation in elections, the female voters’ turnout has been consistently low in Pakistan. During the recent General Elections 2018, only 46.89% of registered women voters casted their votes compared to 56.07% of their male counterparts. This happened despite the fact that the Constitution of Pakistan guarantees equal rights and opportunities for women to participate in politics but the deep-seated gender inequality still inhibits women to level their participation in politics with that of their male counterparts.
Not surprisingly, Pakistan is the second worst country in the world in terms of gender equality, ranking 148 out of 149 countries in the latest Global Gender Gap Index. The index further ranks Pakistan at 146th in economic participation and opportunity, 145th in health and survival, 139th in educational attainment, and 97th in political empowerment. These statistics are indicative of a restricted economic and political environment for women in Pakistan, which is also confining the overall development potential of Pakistan.
Gender equality has emerged as the leading public discourse at local, national and global fronts. The Goal 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to build peaceful societies and effective, corruption-free institutions, stresses the need of women-inclusive decision making at all levels. However, Pakistan stands far behind many other countries in controlling corruption and promoting democracy – the country has been globally ranked at 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2018 and ranked as low as 112th out of 167 countries on the latest Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index. For the democracy to be sustainable and resilient in Pakistan, its political system must take into account the less heard, women voices.
On this women’s day let us reaffirm our commitment to a society where women and men can participate and have equal opportunities.