- By: Iftikhar Ahmed
- The writer is a research scholar at the Institute of Management Sciences (IM Sciences) Peshawar
- “Ending all discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, it’s crucial for a sustainable future; it’s proven that empowering women and girls helps economic growth and development”. (United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
In the drapery of Pakistan’s pursuit of sustainable development, woven into the threads of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the quest for reducing gender inequality stands as a pulsating, intricate pattern. While a noteworthy advancement has been realized, unadorned patches of inequality have been revealed on the canvas, emphasizing the importance of sustained and rigorous efforts.
The Pakistan SDGs Report 2021, the nation’s first official report on progress towards these global goals, offers a nuanced look at the state of gender equality. The then Federal Minister, Ministry of Planning, Development and Special Initiatives, Pakistan, Asad Umar highlighted that Pakistan was the first to adopt the SDGs as its national development agenda through a unanimous National Assembly Resolution in 2016. He added that the country has made considerable progress since then by mainstreaming these goals in national policies and strategies, provincial growth strategy, and Pakistan’s long-term development perspective.
Glimmering threads of progress, Pakistan can boast of concerning Gender Equality including education, economic participation, and political representation for both males and females. Although the gap persists, female enrollment in primary education has climbed to 97%, exceeding the national target. This surge signifies a crucial step towards empowering future generations.
Economic participation is yet another area of interest. Though the female labor force participation rate remains low at 22%, initiatives like the Benazir Income Support Programme have supported women’s economic agencies, empowering them to break free from the shackles of poverty.
Obvious efforts to enhance the political representation of females in the political landscape of the country have been made. Against the same backdrop, Pakistan’s constitution has reserved sizeable quotas for women in both the upper and lower houses of the parliament. It ensures 17 percent of the seats for women in both the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan.
This augmented presence promises a more inclusive, gender-sensitive policy landscape. Regarding civic participation, women’s political engagement is limited; during the 2018 elections, of the 46 million women registered to vote, only 40 percent voted.
These brightened glimpses accompany the darker shades of inequality. Whereas enrollment in primary education is encouraging, the number of females who complete higher levels lags far behind the baseline as envisaged by the “Agenda 2030”. Reducing this disparity is vital for dismantling entrenched patriarchal ascendancy and revealing women’s full potential.
Unequal opportunities may be credited to barriers such as insufficient access to skill development, an underprivileged female education system, and a lack of dedicated transportation and childcare facilities. Together, these barriers continue to restrict female economic participation, hampering their involvement in national growth. In addition, the wage gap between males and females, unfavoured discrimination in the workplace, and incidence of violence targeting females, in all their capacities, are entrenched in the social and cultural structure of society. In Pakistan, women receive 34% less wages as compared to their male counterparts for providing similar work, resulting in a pervasive inequality that asks for remedial policy frameworks and vigorous enforcement mechanisms for the same policies.
The physical and sexual violence faced by one-third of women in their lifetime paints yet another grey picture of gender-based violence in the country. Nurturing social awareness among females of their rights, formulation, and enforcement of stringent laws, and provision of elaborate and easily accessible support mechanisms along with social and religious taboos barring gender discrimination are indispensable to combat this menace.
Navigating the path forward involves prioritizing girls’ education, creating job-friendly environments, promoting equal pay and fair treatment at the workplace, combating violence, and fostering equality and a legislative framework supported by an effective enforcement mechanism.
The statistics in the Pakistan SDGs Report 2021 characterize the real lives, expectations, and scruffles of about 48.54% of the country’s total population. These are the most cherished dreams witnessed in the bewildered eyes of the young girl longing for quality education, the woman yearning for economic freedom & financial inclusion, and the resilient survivor seeking justice after suffering atrocities.
Their unforgettable tales restate that the quest for gender egalitarianism is not just about realizing numerical goals; it’s about transmuting lives, building a society based on justice and fairness as its hallmark, and last but not least, uncapping the full potential of Pakistan for sustainable growth.