WOMEN in Pakistan face a gamut of issues from honour killing and domestic violence to illiteracy and health problems. It is widely believed that the status of women can be improved if the government spends adequate funds on the female population. Since this is not being done, women remain backward, or so goes the conventional wisdom. At a meeting on the ‘Provincial Budget Analysis from a Gender Perspective’ organised by the Aurat Foundation, many members of civil society termed the allocation in the budget for women development insufficient. They termed the allocation of women-specific funds as being an integral part of the process of female empowerment. While the government has failed to meet the financial requirements of this sector and women-specific allocations for health, education and economic empowerment are insufficient, policymakers have not focused on women either to draw them into the mainstream while drawing up plans and budgeting for the socio-economic development of the people. That is in fact what is needed to bring about systemic changes as opposed to ad hoc policies with only short-term benefits. A structural change is more desirable to overhaul a system that perpetuates a form of social organisation which is detrimental to the progress of women.
Tariq Shah, an official of the provincial finance department, made a valid point at the meeting: as women make up almost 50 per cent of the population, they should equally benefit from all the funds spent on the development sector and socio-economic schemes. This line of reasoning carries weight but only in theory. The sad fact is that women don’t really share half of what is allocated to a given sector, in view of our social and cultural set-up which discriminates blatantly against women. It is therefore essential to promote gender equality within the mainstream. Thus alone will the risk of marginalisation of women from national life be minimised. Development schemes for the benefit of women should be formulated within the broader framework. The planning process should adapt to the needs of women rather than setting aside some funds for them and relegating them to the sidelines. Women’s issues should be integrated into mainstream policy-making if equality is to be truly achieved.