Pakistan’s scorecard on women would give nightmares to any sane person. The unfortunate story of the country’s 107 million women includes domestic and sexual violence, harassment, and glaring lack of equality in every sphere of life. The latest report released by the World Economic Forum, Global Gender Gap Index, shows Pakistan on a dismal 145th place out of 146 countries included in the survey, with only Afghanistan falling behind Pakistan. Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka are all placed ahead of us. Needless to say, if any change is to be seen in women’s lives in the country, state-led efforts will be needed to ensure it.
On individual rankings within the index, Pakistan stands at 135th place as far as educational attainment is concerned, at 143rd place in health and fares better only as far as political empowerment is concerned, finishing at a more acceptable 95th place. This may be due to the reforms brought about in the 2000s which brought more women into parliament and provincial assemblies on reserved seats. The Election Act 2017 also requires political parties to have a fixed five per cent quota on election tickets for general seats. The success of the legislation became more apparent in the 2018 elections when a record high number of women – 171 – contested on general seats. And while only eight women managed to win seats, it was refreshing to see women leading their election campaigns, some even as independent candidates. But though Pakistan is seemingly moving in the right direction, little has been done to erase the toxicity from the country’s political space, which makes it difficult for women to remain in politics.
Pakistan is one of the five countries in the world including Qatar and India with gender gaps greater than five per cent. This is not a trivial matter. The gender gap report is a dark reminder of just how much more is left to do before Pakistani women can claim something resembling equality. With a decline in workforce participation in 2022, increasing gaps in wages, and very little representation in senior level workforce, there is a need to go beyond seminars and policy reports and tackle the deep-rooted discrimination women face – whether at home or at the workplace. Alarmingly, the report says that even globally the gender gap has been closed by a little over 68 per cent – and that it will take around 132 years to reach gender parity. Pakistan’s ranking in almost every gender-related index is hardly surprising for the country’s women. But this is something that cannot afford complacency. It should not be business-as-usual for the Pakistani woman. A combination of legislation, education and a thought-out awareness campaign aimed at changing social values is the only way all women from all socio-economic backgrounds can claim more rights than are presently available to them in the country.