Despite concerted efforts on the part of developing economies to make a significant progress in reducing gender disparity by 2015 (being specified timeframe for achieving Millennium Developmental Goals), there is still a vast gap to cover, particularly in areas of primary education, health care and equal opportunities for mainstreaming women in economic process.
However, some of the developing and emerging economies went ahead to provide level-playing field to women at household and society level, thus positive results are being experienced with regard to economic advancement particularly in emerging economies of East Asia, Latin America and South Africa.
In the context of Vietnam, where during the 1991-2000 decade poverty fell from 70% to 32% owing to sustained economic growth of 7.5% achieved; ‘Gender Equality and Development Report’ published by the World Bank in 2011 quotes observation of a person among the group surveyed in Hanoi for assessing progress in this region, who says “I think women nowadays increasingly enjoy more equality with men. They can do whatever job they like. They are very strong. In some families, wife is most powerful person. In general, men still dominate, but women’s situation has greatly improved. Equal co-operation between husband and wife is happiness. I think happiness is where equality exists between couples”.
However situation in South Asia is not promising. Serious efforts are needed for reducing female mortality at child birth, closing education gap between male and female particularly at primary level, improving access to economic opportunities and assets ownership, increasing women voice and representation in decision-making both at household and society level. In fact, glaring gender inequality with regard to access to education and health care is reflected in women getting fewer opportunities to shape their lives and get involved in household decisions.
Like other low and middle-income developing countries, Pakistan has made some progress towards removing disparity in primary education by enhancing girls’ enrolment percentage to 91 of what is of boys in urban areas. According to Pakistan’s Social and Living Standards Survey of 2000-2008, net enrolment rate of girls and boys is 54 and 61 respectively, whereas in Bangladesh it is 89 and 90. In rural areas, one out of every 5 girl children does not have access to school, and girls dropout rate at primary level is near about 40%. According to the said survey report, general literacy rate of women and men is 44% and 69% respectively, thus Pakistan has been allotted lowest ranking of 118 in the World Bank’s Human Development Report in the context of progress towards removing disparities in education.
Similarly in South Asian and Sub-Saharan countries, female life expectancy has improved a little, but taking low and middle income countries together about 3.9 million female of less than 60 years of age die every year as stated in chapter 3 0f World Development report of 2011.
Regarding status of women participation in economic process at global level statistics at World Bank reveal that owing to improvement in female education and their access to health care facilities particularly in low income developing countries almost 500 million women have been added to labour force as such female share in total world labor force has increased to 40%, but unfortunately it is global phenomenon that in general women earn less than men. Women in developing countries are conspicuously deployed in informal sector as is the case with Pakistan where 2/3rd of female work force is employed or self-employed in informal sector as home based workers deprived of protection of labor laws.
In rural areas, majority of women work on family farms, particularly during sowing and harvesting periods. They generally look after livestock and poultry farms. In view of sharp increase in cost of living and frequency of crop failures either due to ravaging floods or persistent drought conditions rural women are gradually undertaking non-farming businesses like tailoring, fancy embroidery work, food/fruit processing and also running grocery shops etc, for supplementing family income.
However in urban areas women participation in civil services, financial sector and even in armed forces is gradually improving. Self-employed women handling small businesses bracketed under shadow economy are speedily moving towards formal sector by expanding their businesses through application of latest technology, doing on-line marketing of their products and availing needed credit from easily accessible micro finance banks and other conventional banks eager to finance small and medium-size enterprises. Resultantly their economic activity is being duly documented.
Advocacy for gender equality not necessarily mean enhancing welfare of women. It is in fact aimed at closing the gap in well being between men and women, which ultimately leads to overall development of the society/country and above all reduces income poverty.
In Pakistan where according to 2009 survey report, women have representation of 19.68% in total gainfully employed workforce (excluding self-employed women) and have improved status with regard to education particularly professional and technical education, it is expected that with effective initiatives taken by government and civil society to make use of their skills and providing conducive environment to women entrepreneurs to do business, Pakistan can achieve an annual sustained high GDP growth rate not less than 8%. According to the findings of FAO report of 2011 ‘women farmers in developing countries if fortunate to have same access as men to production resources such as land and fertilisers agriculture output in these countries can increase by as much as 2.5% to 4%. Recent initiative by Government of Sindh to allot 12-acre size farms to each woman cultivator in Sindh is the most appropriate step not only to empower women economically, but also to improve agriculture output as women are universally found consistently involved in all business ventures undertaken by them.
Almost all developing countries are signatories to Convention on Elimination of All Discriminations Against Women (CEDAW). Women status of these countries regarding their involvement in decision making has been scaled up. They have started to have greater control over household resources developed through their own efforts as well as by other family members. According to World Bank Report of 2011 countries like China, Brazil, India, and South Africa substantial spending was recorded on food and education of the children due to greater control of women on household affairs owing to increasing share of their earnings in total family income.
On the other hand, socio-economic and political empowerment of women can inject true rationale in all national policies, ensuring sustained growth trends in all spheres of country life.
Enhancement of women representation in both National and Provincial Assemblies either through direct election or reserved seats has helped enactment of legislations to protect women against all exploitations and act of violence. Further legislation work relating to all development plans particularly relating to social sector is being facilitated due to presence of women legislators who by nature are more concerned with welfare of society as a whole. In the recent past when women had representation of 33% in local government tier, a significant improvement was achieved in delivery of civic services at community-level through councillors and Nazims, etc, particularly in Karachi, Hyderabad and some of the rural areas of Sindh where water and sanitation conditions have improved.
Further strengthening of women status regarding decision making at household level has direct impact on market forces and institutions who mould their operational strategies according to peculiar demand pattern of women and children relating to various goods and services and at the same time, it also shows how economic growth resulting in higher incomes of families influence gender outcomes relating to decision making both at household and society level. To conclude, one can say that in order to close gender gaps policy emphasis of government should be on human and social capital development and providing women a level-playing field in socio-economic life of the country.