Shahid Sattar and Amna Urooj
The role of women in any societal setup has remained a crucial pre-requisite for not only the economic, social, political uplifting of that particular society but also contributes to the general progression globally. However, coupled with this fact is the unfortunate existence of the notion that impedes women from gaining the aforementioned emancipation. This can be encapsulated by the fact that half (49.2%) of Pakistan’s population remains underutilized regardless of a huge stockpiled economic as well as social progression potential in them. This bisected population is a representation of the Pakistani females that practically remain majorly out of the policy equation of the country in all spheres.
In order to acquire a well-informed analysis of the contemporary situation of women empowerment in Pakistan, it is pertinent to highlight some important statistical aspects in this regard. These range from Economic Participation of the women to their health and well-being. According to The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 by The World Economic Forum, the Global Gender Gap Economic Participation and Opportunity reflected a value of only one quarter of Pakistani women participating in the workforce i.e. employed or looking forward to be employed. On the contrary 85% of Pakistani men are involved economically. Likewise, only 18% of the labor income goes to the women in Pakistan (World Bank, 2020). Moreover, the similar statistics for Bangladesh, being the best performer in South Asia, stand at a rate of 38% of women actively participating in the labor force in 2018. Furthermore, it can be noted that the annual GDP per capita growth rate of Bangladesh in 2020 was 1.35% whereas for Pakistan it stood at a rate of -1.44% for the same year (World Bank). This capitulates the stark difference between the economic participation and opportunities available for the women vis à vis the economic growth rate in return of that as can be seen below.
GDP per capita growth (annual %) – Pakistan, Bangladesh
Source: World Bank
One of the crucial policy steps taken to empower women in Bangladesh was the provision of microcredit. Various studies have shown the positive impact of microcredits such as it being a significant instrument for the generation of income, development of human resources, poverty reduction and women empowerment (Kessey 2005). Microcredits in Bangladesh strengthened the rights related to the economic decision making in women along with the establishment of a wider law acumen base (Debnath et al., 2019).
Political Empowerment is another central indicator for women empowerment which comprises of leadership roles taken up by women. The World Bank reported in 2020 that only 5% of senior leadership roles are taken up by women in Pakistan which makes it attain a rank of 146 out of 153 countries analyzed by the World Bank in its report. This score is perilous to start from. The political gender gap has however tapered noticeably over the previous two years but yet remains wide, placing Pakistan on the 93rd position country wise.
Additionally, Education Attainment, also reflects the level of women empowerment for any country. It is very unfortunate for Pakistan that a large number of countries have already or almost evaded the literary gap based upon gender however Pakistan stands still at a 20% figure. What is more appalling is that less than half of the women are illiterate in comparison to 71% of the Pakistani males. Furthermore, the differences in the enrollment across the primary, secondary as well the tertiary education are also stark (World Bank, 2020).
Literacy rate, adult female (% of females ages 15 and above) – Pakistan
Source: World Bank
The combination of feeling content with national setup and functioning well of any nation goes a long way. This typically is crucial for the women – the birth givers and the care takers. Physical and psychological well-being is directly linked to the successful rates on professional, personal as well as inter-personal levels. The Maternal Mortality Ratio (per 100,000 births) stood at 189 in 2019 (Pakistan Maternal Mortality Survey). Moreover, with a burgeoning population and a growth rate of 1.9%, which is turning into an existential crisis, Pakistan’s contraceptive prevalence rate remained sluggish at 34% for women aged 15-49 in 2019 (Ministry of Finance, Pakistan). This makes it the fifth most populous country in the world. A projecting population with other economic issues such as a low GDP growth rate, increasing food insecurity, unemployment and other factors add layers of inefficiency at a national level, crippling the economic as well as the health structures. On the contrary, the population growth rate of Bangladesh remained 1% in 2019 (World Bank). Not only this, their fertility rate stands at a value of 2.3 in 2011 mainly due to availability to and usage of contraceptives to the Bangladeshi females (The Guttmacher Institute, 2011), taking it a step ahead towards becoming a role model in women’s health improvement.
The aforementioned paragraphs depict the contemporary situation of the women in Pakistan which typically is a sad state of affairs for not only the women but the entire nation. The downward trajectory of the indicators mentioned earlier are directly influencing certain national level indicators such as national success, sanity of the nation and finally the happiness of the Pakistanis. These are directly affected by the economic development, rationality and knowledge diaspora and finally social well-being respectively. A positive economic development ensures a national success in the form of economic uplift of the country. In such an uplifting women play an important part being a significant portion of the population just like Bangladesh whereby the women played a major role as a consequence of a liberation of their economic choices and control. Their labor force participation increased tenfold during the year 2003 to 2016. Moreover, their gender wage gap also reduced with an introduction of positive societal perspectives related to women land ownership. Overall result of this turned out to be an increased financial inclusion of the women which had other trickle down effects. The Human Development Index (HDI) of Bangladesh stands at 133th place in 2019 out of 189 countries and territories. However, for Pakistan the HDI value for 2019 stands at a position of 154/189. Similarly, Pakistan ranked 105 out of 149 countries on the Happiness Index (World Happiness Report 2021 by The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network) whereas Bangladesh ranked 101.
Women emancipation in Pakistan requires curated policy measures in order to move towards making Pakistan a successful, sane and a happy nation. These policy measures revolve around some basic core efforts to improve the indicators involved. The foremost step would be the providence of targeted access to education attainment of higher education in females. This revolves around the notion of personalized solutions problem wise. An increased literacy rate still faces issues when sustainable job pathways for women are not available in alignment with societal gender roles of the females.
Once on the field, the women come across a glass ceiling which simply means an unacknowledged barrier to progression in the profession faced by the females based upon their gender. For a practical emancipation the glass ceiling has to be shattered. This needs subtle efforts from the top tier of the relevant organizations.
The issue of political empowerment can easily be resolved through a more transparent and accountable political system. Laws and policies to ensure substantive women participation in the political arena are well documented, however, the problem lies in their implementation which is hindered by political motives of certain strata of the society.
Most importantly, the women of Pakistan have awaited the awarding of their reproductive rights since a long time now for better health and well-being. Given that they are the life givers and care takers, it is time for the country to prioritize female reproductive health for the nation under the umbrella of basic human rights including but not limited to right to life, a life free from torture, privacy rights, attainment of dignified health and education and finally an educated consent to choose between healthier reproductive alternatives leading to a toned population count for greater benefit thus giving a multiplier effect to the economy. All we need is sincere efforts from policymakers.