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The second wave

By: Mansoor Raza

A cursory look at the bus stops on the main arteries of the city reveals the increased number of women, over the last couple of years, waiting for gender-based public transports to take them home. The lower and lower middle-class women, unlike their male counterparts, have little luxury to own and ride motorcycles – the cheapest mode of conveyance that helps to reduce commutation time as well.

Widespread social taboos and an outdated transport policy are the biggest impediments in women’s aspirations to move independently. This not only results in an uninvestigated economic loss to the economy, but it also causes considerable stress at homes in the rapidly emerging nuclear families. Change is happening without any facilitation, but how is it taking place? Before coming to any conclusion related to the direction of change, one needs to look into the factors that are shaping this transformation.

Interestingly, till 1998, four million women were added to the women population of Karachi of 1951, which were approximately 480,000. Across the country, 22.7 million were added between the two census periods of 1981 and 1998 (though dated, it’s the often referred document by researchers) and the addition is greater than the actual women population reported in the census period of 1951-1961.

Women’s share in the total population increased from 46.22 percent in 1951 to 48.05 percent in 1998. This gigantic addition required adjustments in the policies of the state – a task yet to be accomplished. The increase in the proportion of urban women was also due to the integration of rural areas into urban circuits. This put high demand on, general as well as specific, women-related services.

An increase of 5.3 million young females between 15 to 24 years of age was added to the census periods of 1981 and 1998, which increased the population of young females from 6.8 million to 12 million. The intercensal growth rate was 77.94 percent and per annum growth rate was 3.45 percent. The contribution of this age to the total women population also increased from 17.05 percent to 19.35 percent for the two census periods, respectively. Furthermore, per annum growth rate of urban females was much higher, 4.21 percent than rural females, which was 3.07 percent.

There was a sharp decline in the percentage of married women between the two census periods. The total married women in 1981 were 15.5 million, while in 1998 their number was recorded at 23.1 million. Despite the addition of 7.6 million, the percentage of married women with respect to total women population of 15 years and above, dropped by 4.2 points. In 1981, the married women population was 70.80 percent, while in 1998, it was 66.60 percent. The sharpest decline was observed in the 15 to 24 year age group. In 1981, there were 46.6 percent females married in this age group, while in 1998 this figure dropped to 39.2 percent. It was also observed that the percentage of urban females of the same group declined from 41.5 percent in 1981 to 29.4 percent in 1998, while in rural areas, the decline was from 23.3 percent to 22.03 percent.

Female literacy rate has shown a tremendous increase. There were 4.2 million literate women in 1981 and 13.8 million in 1998, showing an addition of 9.6 million. The intercensal growth rate was 230.18 percent and per annum growth rate was 14.19 percent. The percentage of female literates with respect to population 10 and above was 15.60 percent in 1981, while in 1998 it was 32.60 percent.

The statistics further revealed that the achievements of women in educational attainment (enrollment from class one to university) over the last forty seven years (from 1947 to 1998) showed an improvement, with variations, at all levels. The enrollment of female students in primary schools was 0.14 million in 1951, whereas in 1998 it went up to 6.45 million – an increase of 6.30 million. The female primary school enrollment claimed 12.26 percent of the total enrolment in 1951.

Besides numbers, the pattern of women educational attainment has changed over the years. This change is due to changes in certain economic and social conditions. In times ahead, this change will become a cause for the transformation in thinking patterns and other social conditions of the society. This cause-and-effect relationship needs understanding and adjustment in social policies and the attitude of the state and its instruments.

1. A high growth rate in female labour force as compared to male is observed, which indicates the two changes in society: emphasis on female education and transition from feudal culture (reliance on agricultural mode of production, barter system, dependence on landholder and landholdings and responsibility of male members to feed the entire family with primitive skills) to market culture. Therefore, there are more economic pressures on women to work.

According to the Labour Force Survey 2010-11, between FY10 and FY11, 0.52 million women were added to the list of employed persons throughout the country, thereby increasing the figure of employed female population from 11.59 million to 12.11 million. The most significant increase was in rural areas, where 0.41 million females were added to the category. Interestingly, though the total unemployment rate increased from 5.6 percent to 6.0 percent, the female unemployment went down from 9.5 percent to 8.9 percent, when the two survey periods were compared.

By observing the abovementioned statistics, the following conclusions can be made:

1. There is an enormous pressure on the state to make socio-political space for the ever increasing number of women.

2. In most cases, the gender gap for educational attainment has narrowed down over the years. Enrollment of women in arts and science colleges has shown an exceptional improvement. The enrollment of women in professional colleges and universities, though increased, is still quite low and the male-female gap is also wide at the professional college and university levels. Furthermore, the gender distribution of enrollment at various levels of educational attainment needs further investigation, since mere observation reveals that it varies at all.

3. Deliberate efforts are required to make the environment of formal and informal sectors more conducive for the participation of women in labour force.

The phenomenon of sharp decline in marriage rates, increase in divorce rates and its social repercussions needs further investigation by researchers and academicians. The emergence of more and more women in public spheres is evident and they are asserting their aspirations. Today, the desire for job security is slowly replacing the earlier held concept of security associated with marriage. Craving for mere literacy has been replaced, overwhelmingly, by the desire to perform high in educational fields. At the operational level, this change in worldview demands facilitation and facilities. The river of change is bound to move forward and a thousand flowers will bloom. The transition will be much more painless if the policymakers would be able to facilitate it. Will they or not, only a future historian would have the hindsight to write about that.

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