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Barriers to women education, health and gender equity in Pakistan

On International Women's Day 2021, the writer highlights the problems faced by women in Pakistan with regard to health and education. Despite social policies, women continue to be a victim of gender inequality.

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On this International Women’s Day, the theme sets to offer a hashtag #ChooseToChallenge. This year 2021, in the post-COVID-19 world, women empower, and gender equity has been given a core priority in various global agenda. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that institutions, policies and services for wellbeing, protection and empowerment have been failing girls and women and that women’s empowerment and wellbeing is a global priority.

Read more: Women’s empowerment- choose to challenge

Despite the robust structure and policies to support women in various countries, Pakistan is among the countries on the list that needs to accelerate and scaleup its efforts towards women health, protection, wellbeing, and empowerment. Women continue to have compromised status despite the improvement in legislation.

The issues stem from the lack of systems strengthening capacity where there is a justice on the paper and policy, but its implementation is seen far below at the ground level. Systemic changes are required to reform the institutions and institutional thought towards women with concerted efforts in improving access and services for women’s health, education, employment, and human rights.

Addressing the gender gap in Pakistan

Pakistan is not performing up to the mark when it comes to women health, education and wellbeing status. In a recent gender gap report, Pakistan was ranked 151 out of the 153 countries. Gender is one of the elements that are at risk at all levels.

Read more: Gender gap: Pakistan ranks second worst in the world

Starting from the micro-level at home where women have faced several domestic challenges for example restrictions to education, employment. They all range from societal pressure of predefined standards for women to lack of policies and systems initiative at the macro level.

Several resources mentioned that 14% of qualified and skilled women are not contributing to their field of work due to the lack of support from their families. According to one of the reports by the Asian Development Bank, there are still disparities in recruitment processes and equitable pay to support women to opt for leadership positions.

There are structural gaps in promoting women to lead business, institutions and empire as there are few supports available regarding childcare, domestic support or work time schedule. These factors heavily contribute to either woman not taking leadership positions or dropping out of the existing ones.

Read more: Domestic violence, political participation: How can Pakistan protect its women?

Gender gaps can only be addressed if we provide a conducive and safe environment for the women, allow them alternative support to take care of domestic responsibility and opening child care and old age parent daycare centres.

The dire state of women’s health

The status of maternal health is also in a vulnerable state. Pakistan is amongst the third highest country with the burden of the high prevalence of maternal morbidity and mortality. There is a high maternal mortality rate where there are 186 deaths for 100000 live births.

Adolescents girl’s high prevalence of anaemia and malnutrition is alarming. There is an increase in non-communicable diseases and the rise in cancers in Pakistan as per a report from WHO.

Read more: 48% of Pakistani Women have no say in their health matters

There are many contributing factors to this state of women’s health which includes lack of health care facilities in remote areas, low care-seeking behaviour, poverty, malnutrition, early marriages, and lack of reproductive health education.

Empirical evidence is available to resolve this issue by ensuring that every woman has fair, approachable and equitable access to health care. There is also a need for massive public advocacy and education to provide awareness of basic health issues using various mediums like radio, community focus groups, television and social media programs.

Importance of education

Talking about education, as per the equal times 2019 report, Pakistan only has close to 50% literacy rates for women, which means half of the women population living in our country are illiterate.

This also calls in to precipitate investment and efforts to ensure every single woman is educated. Access to education is thwarted for girls and women in Pakistan by several factors including access, educational cost, safety and security and opportunities for gainful employment and economic independence.

Read more: Why is the female literacy rate in Balochistan the lowest in the world?

Education directly benefits girls and women and opens opportunities for success and prosperity. Higher education can further empower women in many aspects including financial stability and freedom of expression.

Furthermore, education can also promote gender equality and empower women by reimagining and reshaping gender roles in social norms. Education is one of the most fundamental steps in bringing significant positive change in society.

This women’s day as an individual and nation let us all choose to challenge the barriers that do not allow women and their families to provide them responsive opportunities for gender equity, health parities, and education for all.

Dr Shelina Bhamani works at the Aga Khan University as Assistant Professor and Researcher at Lead Parenting Education Program, Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. For correspondence connect with Shelina.bhamani@aku.edu .The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

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