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Still a long way to go in women’s empowerment

Still a long way to go in women’s empowerment

Hitting the nail on the head, this year’s Annual Report by Mehbub ul Haq Human Development Centre has come back after 15 years, with not such a rosy progress of women in Pakistan. Mehbub ul Haq’s revolutionary philosophy of human development has had three essential components: equality of opportunities, sustainability of these opportunities, and empowerment of people. Its last gender analysis was published in 2000, and 15 years later the centre has revisited the progress of women in South Asia, revealing the continuing debilitating situation at home.

Viewing human development through women empowerment lens, the report shows that even though every country in South Asia has made progress in developing women’s capabilities and empowerment, women are still living in an unequal world.

In short, while some efforts have been made, and even some successes have been achieved, women empowerment in South Asia is still an unfinished agenda. The column will now look Pakistan’s 15-year journey, and will devote another piece for comparative progress in South Asia.

It has not been complete darkness; women in Pakistan have seen advancement in their roles against male counterparts, intellect and competence. Over the past decade, women have seen greater participation in areas like politics, economy, media and judiciary besides serving as teachers, entrepreneurs, health workers, and scientists. Technology has also played a pivotal role in bringing women to the fore. However, women empowerment is more than these isolated victories, and this is what the report has also tried address.

The gist of this is that while individual progress has been tremendous, many challenges persist in accepting women empowerment in a much holistic manner. Lack of basic rights such as equal access to health and education services still persist due to patriarchal culture. Lagging way back on the UN’s Millennium Development Goal of maternal mortality, and being placed at the second last spot in the Gender Gap Index by World Economic Forum are no good progress at all. Moreover, the little progress made in these 15 years has been much uneven. The advantageous group of women is just a small percentage of the total; women from low income group from economically marginalized backgrounds fare much worse, and that too in basic right to health and education.

Women’s economic and political participation is also marred by their inability to get greater access to financial resource. Discrimination at work pushes women down another rung on the progress ladder. Two out of every 10 women participate in the labour force in Pakistan, with the majority working in low-quality jobs, compared to seven out of every ten men. According to the study, there are two million women home-based workers in Pakistan, and more than three million concentrated in urban areas and 8.5 million in rural districts; rural women do 4.9 hours of unpaid care and domestic work per day, compared to only 0.5 hours for men

The report also highlights the concerns over the legislation especially over the healthcare provisions. Even after the devolution of the sector, healthcare is still marred by delayed policy response with Balochistan being worst hit by such issues. In general, the report indicates that the provincial level health-departments have limited women health empowerment to reproduction health and population control only.

Having said that, there a great need for policy revision and stance on women empowerment. Instances of women abuse and violence continue to show the lack of tolerance in the society. As per the report, Pakistan has witnessed the highest number of laws being passed or amended for women over the past 15 years. However, successful implementation of laws, and accountability and enforcement of legislations is what is missing immeasurably.

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