#EmbraceEquity – 08 Mar 2023

INTERNATIONAL Women`s Day celebrates the achievements of women in their battle for gender equality; of course, every society on account of its unique history is at a different point in that quest. Nor is there always linear progression in this struggle. In our own neighbourhood, Afghan women`s rights have waxed and waned over the years; at present, the violently misogynistic Taliban regime is trampling on the gains they made during the two decades preceding. Across the world as well, the trend is rather disheartening. According to a new World Bank report, the global pace of reforms towards equal treatment of women under the law has fallen to a 20-year low, with only 34 gender-related legal reforms recorded across 18 countries the least since 200L At the current rate, women in many countries entering the workforce today will retire without gaining the same rights as men. Essentially, the game of catch-up for them will never end. In a speech on Monday, the UN secretary general said the goal of gender equality will take 300 years to achieve.

Encouragingly however, as per the World Bank report, Pakistan registered a higher score this year because it enacted legal reforms in the entrepreneurship sector that enable women to register a business in the same way as men. Specifically, since December 2021, a married woman no longer needs to present her husband`s name in order to register a business. Such changes of course augment a woman`s agency, which has a salutary ripple effect on many other aspects of her life, and they deserve to be lauded. At the same time, this is where the relevance of this year`s theme of International Women`s Day, #EmbraceEquity comes in. Equal opportunities alone aren`t enough to raise women`s status, because each woman starts at a different place.

For females in a patriarchal society, day-to-day challenges hamper their ability to be productive citizens, let alone be in a position to start a business. Domestic violence, underage marriage, sexual harassment in the workplace, restrictions on choice of career or having a career at all these are some of the issues that prevent many females in Pakistan from reaching their full potential. To address these gaps, equitable measures must be taken to provide a level playing field. These include implementation of pro-women laws, expansion of financial access for women, provision of safe public transport, etc.

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