The International Women’s Day was celebrated on the 8th of March. This is an opportune time to assess the state of gender inequality in Pakistan. There is a fairly common perception, both locally and internationally, that the economic, social and political role of women is very limited in Pakistan.
The best measure of gender inequality is the Index, GII, constructed every year by the UNDP in its annual Global Human Development Report. This index ranked 188 countries for the year 2016. Pakistan has the ranking of 130th. It may come as a big surprise that the country does better in the GII than its ranking in the HDI, the Human Development Index. The latter ranking places Pakistan at 147th. However, Pakistan has the lowest ranking in GII among the countries of South Asia.
The objective of this article is to find the variation in extent of gender inequality among the different Provinces of Pakistan. An attempt is also made to focus on different programs in the country for improving the status of women.
A Gender Inequality Index is constructed in the Pakistani setting. It has the ratio of females to males in three key indicators. The first is the ratio in literacy rate. The second is in net primary and secondary enrollment and the third in the employment to population ratio. The overall index is an average of the three ratios. This GII ranges from zero to 1. The lower the value of GII the greater is the extent of inequality in a province.
The gender inequality index is constructed for each Province from 2004-05 to 2014-15. The data is largely obtained from the surveys carried out by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The differences among the Provinces are highlighted below.
Literacy rate The ratio of female to male literacy rate is the lowest in Balochistan at only 0.41. The female literacy rate in the Province is extremely low at only 25 percent. The highest ratio is observed in Punjab at 0.82, with female literacy rate at 55 percent and 71 percent in the case of males. The corresponding ratios for Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are 0.71 and 0.49, respectively.
School enrolment The ratio of female to male net enrolment rate at the primary, middle and secondary levels also varies substantially among the Provinces. Here again, the ranking is the same. Punjab has the highest ratio of 0.94, implying, more or less, equality. At the other extreme is Balochistan with a ratio of 0.61.
Employment The biggest gender gap is in the employment to population ratio. Women have a substantially lower labor force participation rate in Pakistan and a much higher unemployment rate than men. A large number of women are forced to work in marginal occupations. This points to discrimination in the labour market. The ratio has the highest value of 0.40 in Punjab and is below 0.30 in the other three provinces.
The overall value of the Gender Inequality Index clearly ranks Punjab the highest in 2015, followed by Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The overall gap is 30 percent in Punjab, 44 percent in Sindh, 52 percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 57 percent in Balochistan.
There is need to recognize that the process of equalization is proceeding very slowly. The highest growth rate annually is in Punjab at 1.3 percent of the GII. Balochistan is catching up gradually with a rate of increase annually of 1 percent. The slowest rate of improvement is observed in the case of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa at only 0.3 percent.
The basic findings from the research are that the extent of gender inequality in Pakistan is high and declining slowly. Clearly, a more aggressive approach is required with special laws being enacted and programs put in place to enhance the status and participation of women.
The single largest programme, which targets women in families that have been identified as poor is the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP). This is a Federal Program with funding from the Federal Budget. 5.7 million households are receiving unconditional cash transfers from the Program of Rs 4700 per quarter.38 percent of the recipient families are in Punjab, 36 percent in Sindh, 21 percent in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa and 5 percent in Balochistan. It appears in particular that Balochistan is under covered.
The total budgeted outlay for BISP in 2017-18 is Rs 121 billion. It has increased by 15 percent annually since 2012-13. However, it still covers only half the poor families in the country and the payments finance 40 percent of the national poverty gap. Clearly, there is a need for up-scaling this programme which has a good record of targeting the poor.
BISP also offers four other programs. Waseela-e-Taleem gives a quarterly stipend for sending a child to school. Waseela-e-Sehat is aimed at providing health insurance, but is at the pilot stage. Waseela-e-Rozgar provides demand-driven vocational skills to famales. Similarly, Waseela-e-Haq focuses on micro-credit to women to promote self-employment and micro-enterprises. However, all these programs have very limited coverage and need to be up-scaled.
There is also a strong case for participation by Provincial Governments in programs for enhancing gender equality. In particular, Provinces like Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan need to promote greater school enrolment of the girl child through the offering a cash incentive. The Punjab Government has begun to implement such a program through its Social Protection Authority. Further, there is need to provide income supplement to poor pregnant women to improve their level of nutrition. Efforts by NGOs to expand micro-credit to women must also be facilitated through lump sum grants.
The biggest gap in gender programming is in the participation of women in the labour force. Provincial governments need to enact laws to remove gender discrimination in access to jobs and in the level of remuneration. In particular, the minimum wage legislation must also cover female full-time domestic help.
The Women’s Day was celebrated this year with a degree of pomp and splendor. But what is required is a nationwide commitment to enhance the social, economic and political role of women. This will lead to a more humane, just and progressive society.