The Global Gender Gap report published on October 26 by the World Economic Forum places Pakistan second from the bottom in terms of gender disparity. In many ways, the report tells us what is already well known, but it is in the detail that hard truths lie. Our position in the rankings has actually fallen three places in the last year. Women in Pakistan rank second worst in economic participation and opportunity, eighth worst in terms of equal access to education and thirteenth from the bottom for health and survival. Women are virtually invisible in large parts of the country, they are marginalised, brutalised, denied their constitutional rights and often forbidden even to vote. They have little or no control over their rate of maternity and are often little more than portable property, traded as a commodity to settle intra-familial disputes and clan rivalries. Against such a background, our poor global showing comes as little surprise.
Closing the gender gap is a tough challenge but not impossible, but there has to be cultural and political will to make it happen, both being largely absent in Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, Iceland and the northern European countries score best, countries with a strong democratic pedigree, secular, prosperous and that have placed education at the top of the social agenda for a hundred years or more. One area where Pakistan scores better is in political empowerment and representation in decision-making structures by women, where we rank 64 out of 136 countries but that is a rare bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture. In recent years, there has been some pro-women legislation enacted, but it is often a bitter fight to get women-friendly laws onto the statute books. There are some advances in education for women particularly in Punjab, but less than two per cent of women in large parts of Balochistan have basic literacy. Social scientists all agree that the development of the role of women in society is a key element in the health and wealth of that society. Pakistan remains sick and poor.