WOMEN in Pakistan are discriminated against due to deeply entrenched socio-cultural practices of society which are reflected in the widespread gender disparities that are quite visible. Women are by and large less educated than men; their health and nutritional status is lower; their mobility is immensely restricted; and their access to employment is kept within certain limits. Crimes against women such as child marriage, internal and external trafficking, domestic violence, sexual abuse and honour killing are commonplace. This raises questions about the rights of women especially in a country where they face violence on a daily basis and their potential is under-utilised. If there is social and economic exclusion of Pakistani women, it means half the population of the country is deprived of its fundamental rights and it is denied the opportunity to contribute to the development of the land. Therefore, gender equality is the key to national progress as was pointed out at a seminar recently. Gender mainstreaming was stressed by the participants and the secretary planning and development mercifully asserted that in future it will be ensured that gender impact was properly considered in the formulation of every development project.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment play a prominent role in the prosperity of the nation. Great strides have been made in increasing the number of women in parliament. The government is even considering increasing the women’s quota in the legislature from 18 per cent to 33 per cent. However, what is needed is a change in the status of women at the grassroots level. Poor women are the most vulnerable and marginalised segment of society. Poverty alleviation programmes aimed to help women in both urban and rural areas would improve their lot. Employment schemes which will help generate income for women should be launched by the government making them equal to men. The government must ensure that police at the district level take notice of cases of domestic violence Â— most of which go undetected – and bring the offenders to justice. On the other hand, women themselves need to ensure that they enter the public sphere. There needs to be a change in public attitude towards women who themselves need to strive harder to make their voice heard and get their due share in employment and other activities.