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Does Pakistan really empower women?

Gender equality is considered a vital factor in determining the overall wellbeing and growth of a nation, country and society. In Pakistan, the economic empowerment of women can help in reducing many socio-economic problems in our society. It has been observed that with the passage of time, women are changing their priorities due to the increasing rate of literacy, new inventions and the trend of migration to urban areas.

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Despite the UN Resolution 1325 over-emphasizes gender equality and women’s empowerment, it has always remained a contested issue in the complex socio-demographic and cultural milieu of global societies. ​​According to some studies, Pakistani women are ranked lower than men on all vital human development indicators. But, is it a myth or reality? To answer that, let’s explain what women’s empowerment is.

Women’s empowerment can be defined as promoting women’s sense of self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others. There are several dimensions where we can assess the empowerment status of women such as psychological, community, organizational, economic, social and cultural empowerment. Based on this definition, is it only Pakistan that struggles with women’s empowerment issues or do other countries also sail in the same boat?

Read more: Women’s education in Pakistan: An important need of hour

What do the statistics say?

If we look at the top ten countries according to the World Power Index 2021 report on female representation in the parliament, Costa Rica stands at number one followed by Rwanda, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Nicaragua, Andorra, Norway, Mexico, New Zealand. Not a single powerful country that raises a huge hue and cry in terms of women’s empowerment stands there except for New Zealand. Countries like the UK is ranked as 39 with 33.8 % female representation in the parliament, Australia 50 with 31.1%, Canada 52 with 29.6%, US 67 with 27.3%, Israel 71 with 26.7%, China 86 with 24.9%, Pakistan 116 with 20.2% and India 148 with 14.4%.

If we dig deeper and look at women’s empowerment status in Pakistan, overall in 2020, the literacy rate in Pakistan is 62.3% with the female literacy rate as 47%. The Government of Pakistan runs Ehsaas and Benazir Income Support Program where 70% financial assistance is provided to females only.

I tried to investigate the Faculty numbers of female representation in my School of Social Sciences and Humanities (S3H) NUST. I found that the S3H Staff is 60 in total with 37 females as faculty members. Student Females ratio at NUST various schools such as at S3H is 57%, SADA 80%  and NBA 57-58%. However, the Engineering Schools at NUST have higher male student representation.

The list of well-recognized Pakistani women based on their expertise is quite lengthy but here I will drop a few famous names. Benazir Bhutto who served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice, Fehmida Mirza served as Speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, Lieutenant General Nigar Johar as the first-ever female Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps, Ambassador Maliha Lodhi who served as the longest Pakistani Ambassador in the UK, US and at the UN, Sharmeen Obaid Chenoy who received Oscar Award for her special documentaries, Bilquis Edhi well-known for her humanitarian assistance, Malala Yousafzai for her courage, Abida Parween for her Sofi singing, Dr. Nafees Sadiq served at WHO, Samina Baig for setting a record for climbing Mount Everest the 7 highest mountain ranges, Naseem Hameed for receiving Gold medal for being the fastest woman in South Asia …

Read more: Tech, human Factor and gender parity: Prerequisites for economic growth

Is Pakistan moving towards a positive change?

All these inspiring Pakistani women are breaking the stereotypes from politics to education, from sports to music, culture to flying airplanes, from medical to every walk of life, but still, there is zero recognition for them at global levels! And they are simply brushed under the carpet despite their marvelous achievements. I think they served as a role model for all other women in Pakistani society to come forward to prove their potential.

When I studied the Parliament of Pakistan, I found that currently, 88 women are sitting in the parliament. That makes them 20% of the total seats. Article 59 of the constitution of Pakistan requires at least 17 women members in the senate. But, Pakistan has 18 women senators in 2021. In the bureaucracy, where the passing rate is only 2%, 1,246 females are serving in the Federal Secretariat. In the year 2021, around 18,553 appeared in the CSS exam and 2% passed the exam. That makes 376 of the total. Out of 376 passing candidates, 226 were male while 138 were females. That makes 38% of the total passing number. The final results show that 221 candidates were appointed as Civil Servants out of which 79 were females, making them 36% of the total appointed candidates.

Pakistani Females are not left behind their male colleagues in the field of Peacekeeping Operations. Today, Pakistani Female Peacekeepers from the year 2016 to 2021 are on a rising trajectory. By 2021 the local female participants are around 48%, which is higher than ever.

The question is are these numbers sufficient to sustain women’s empowerment? The simple answer is NO.

According to the UN Women in Politics report 2021, despite an increase in the number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist. Progression in women holding ministerial portfolios has slowed with just a small increase from 21.3% in 2020 to 21.9% in 2021. The number of countries with no women in government has increased and only 25% of national parliamentarians are women compared to 24.5% a year ago.

Read more: Safe water and sanitation: A challenge for gender equality

Then what could be the reasons behind such a low representation of women in politics? Research indicates that women’s non-inclusion in politics is less political and more based on social, cultural and personal reasons. Their socio-cultural norms restrict women from seeking empowerment in terms of getting positions in the government machinery and other non-governmental organizations.

Hence, it will not be wrong to mention that women empowerment is a work-in-progress but so is the case with other countries across the globe where Kamala Harris became the first US vice-President since independence. Calling Pakistan a low-ranking country without mentioning what powerful women in Pakistan have achieved so far will be biased and unjust. At this juncture, the important thing is that the trajectory of women’s progress like all other countries is positive and forward-looking.

Read more: Nestlé Pakistan celebrates International Day of Rural Women

But here credit should be given to all those determined women and young girls who not only stand for their rights but fight to the very end to achieve their larger women’s empowerment goals! The above facts appear that Pakistan performs much better in terms of women’s empowerment and setting a gender-balanced approach, especially the circumstances that the Pakistani state has confronted in the past several decades. Pakistan should keep it up!

Dr. Farah Naz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Public Policy at the National University of Sciences and Technology. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy

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