In some ways it is curious that even in the second decade of the 21st century a special day should be observed internationally for women. They, after all, form half of the world’s population and by now should have acquired equal status alongside men. Sadly, this has not happened. In a large part of the world women suffer discrimination and violence. At work and at home they still hold the place of second-class citizens. This is certainly true in our country as well and more painful. Almost every day we hear reports of women being killed, raped, mutilated and handed over in exchange to rival parties for settlement of feuds. Laws against misogynist practices are not effectively implemented and, at least partially because of this, crimes against women continue unabated. Indeed they seem to be becoming more and more brutal in nature, with women being frequently targeted to settle disputes that involve men.
All this will undoubtedly be highlighted at seminars and other forums today. Discussions will be held and proposals put forward. But we must find a way of going beyond talking and move towards action. The situation of women can be improved only by offering them greater empowerment through education and through opportunities for employment. Successive studies from various parts of the world have shown that women who bring an income into households gain greater respect and a greater say in decision making. Given that our literacy rate for women remains among the lowest in the world, we must take a step forward – indeed many steps forward – towards ensuring that every girl has a school to go to. But amidst all the gloom, there are also bright spots we can be proud of. Pakistani women have done well in many fields, reaching the very apex of success. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy recently became the first person from our country to win an Oscar; Arfa Karim, who died last month so tragically young, stood out as a Microsoft computer programmer. Others have excelled as writers, sports figures, diplomats and politicians. Today women fly fighter jets and march in military boots. This is something to build on, so that we can continue to move ahead with women too playing their role in a national life.