Can Pakistan afford to ignore women?

Published: December 18, 2011

The writer is the Pakistan head of the UK’s Department for International Development

This year’s 16 days of activism to end violence against women has just come to a close. This time allowed us to reflect on the progress which has been made in Pakistan and throw a spotlight on what remains to be done.

Change is happening. Reserved seats for women in national and provincial governments have been a real success, putting more and more women in positions of power, who are championing women’s rights and pushing for more legislation.

The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act and Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill were unanimously passed in the Senate, promising punishments for those who force women into marriage, deny women their inheritance, or harm them with acid. Legislation is already in place to protect women from harassment at work. Important legislation on domestic violence is pending. Passing legislation is a critical first step, now we must all continue to push for it to be effectively implemented and to change some entrenched mindsets.

Despite this progress, Pakistan is still bottom of the league (ranked 133 out of 135 countries) in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report published last month. And earlier this summer, Pakistan was labelled the third most dangerous place in the world for women by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, due to the prevalence of domestic violence, so-called ‘honour’ killings, forced marriages, rape and physical and sexual abuse.

Millions of women in Pakistan do not have access to basic education, health care, family planning, finance, or jobs. Two-thirds of women can’t read or write.

As well as being unfair, Pakistan is missing out on the talent and productivity of half its population, holding back economic growth and opportunity: more equal countries have higher rates of economic growth.

The founder of Pakistan, Jinnah, didn’t think gender inequality was acceptable even in the 20th century and neither does the UK; that’s why the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) is doing all it can to support Pakistan in empowering women and girls and ending violence against them.

To this end, DFID will work to do this by strengthen legislation on marriage rights, inheritance rights and domestic violence; and try and get more women and girls involved in decision-making at both local and national levels so that they can demand their basic rights.

We’ve already made a start. Recently, I met women who were victims of injustice or violence — often both. They had been helped by a project, funded by the UK, which has provided more than 300 women in Chakwal district with legal advice or other support, so they can escape domestic violence and claim their rights.

Over the next few years, other priorities for the UK are to help Pakistan get two million more girls into school; prevent thousands of women dying in childbirth; allow women to choose when and how many children they have; and empower women to access financial services such as micro-loans so they can earn money and lift their families out of poverty.

This will help Pakistan further harness the skills, talent and productivity of half of its population. That’s about 60 million women of working age — the size of the entire population of the UK. The growth and competitive potential of better utilising this is obvious.

The UK will help another 1.5 million poor people (more than half of them women) to access microfinance loans by 2013, so they can set up or expand their own small enterprises.

We believe that investing in girls and women is truly transformational — for themselves, their family, and their community. Women invest nearly all the money they earn back in their family, educating and nourishing their children, and girls who go to school go on to have fewer and healthier children and to earn more money, helping to lift their families out of poverty.

The UK government is committed to supporting Pakistan do everything it can to further empower women and girls over the coming years. This is not only good for the individual women but good for the community, economy and wider society, leading to a happy, healthier and more prosperous country.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Sajida
    Dec 18, 2011 - 12:13AM

    Very true. But as a British paper revealed, men have to be made ready for this. Please see article on Bangladesh:

    “The attack is the latest in a series of acts targeting educated women in the Muslim-majority company.
    In June, an unemployed man gouged out the eyes of his wife, an assistant professor at Dhaka University, apparently because he could not stand her pursuing higher studies at a Canadian University.”
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2075435/Husband-chops-wifes-fingers-stop-studying-degree.html
    ‘I’ve got a surprise for you’: Husband blindfolds his wife…. and then chops off her fingers to stop her studying for a degree

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  • Sameer
    Dec 18, 2011 - 6:54AM

    Thanks for the lecture George but the bill doesn’t really make anydifference until it is implemented.the domestic violence against women in our country has a lot to do with the financial situation of the families.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 18, 2011 - 8:17AM

    Great work, George, but don’t expect any thanks.

    Here’s what you should expect for all your efforts: UK is the enemy and the Taliban are our enlightened friends. You need us more than we need you. This is a conspiracy to malign Pakistan. Does DFID have agents on the ground in Pakistan — they are all CIA agents. This is a plan to steal our nuclear bums.

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  • yousaf
    Dec 18, 2011 - 11:11AM

    Very good analysis of why and what is ailing our economy,though women,both in urban and rural areas do a great deal of physical work but do not get their due share due to suppressive attitude of the society.As for the word”rape”,most do not even understand what it stands for,so I suggest that its local equivalent should be used to express its gravity.

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  • R.A
    Dec 18, 2011 - 3:16PM

    Pakistan ignored women for 64 years
    Another 64 years will pass and then
    WOMEN WILL GIVE UP
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  • alicia
    Dec 18, 2011 - 3:32PM

    Pakistani women are one of the most dependent creatures in the world. They depend on men for everything from economic reason to driving them to the market etc. Its not their fault since independence in women is seen as taboo in our culture. This dependence makes women tolerate any abuse which the males around them inflict. However I agree the more educated women become the lesser they are to tolerate abuse and more likely to stand up for themselves.

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  • Tin
    Dec 18, 2011 - 3:41PM

    I am slightly confused here. Women equality and violence against women are two different things. Even in developed countries like the States, even though women are given equality, the violence against them is MUCH more than in Pakistan, On the other hand, the mentality of Pakistani society does not allow women to be equal to men. Even if we were given our rights, I feel many women would still want more educated, richer and more successful husbands (AS A MUST) than themselves. It makes them feel better as much as it makes their husbands feel better, Over here, the single women is still an absolutely unacceptable concept (not just uncomfortable).

    So while this article is great from an economical point of view, but I don’t agree with the solutions or any of the organizations that are there to help the women BECAUSE they are inaccessible. I am one of the privileged ones who has access to education, and even then I don’t know how to approach these organizations, who to contact and how they will help me. And if God forbid something bad ever happens to me, I know how to contact concerned authorities for help. But the women who do not have enough exposure will not know who to contact and where to go from there and they are the ones who actually need help.

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  • Alami Musafir
    Dec 18, 2011 - 7:56PM

    Perhaps the root of the problem of female inequality, as well as the more general problem of underdevelopment is the deliberate under-education of the masses by the Pakistani elite, for them to continue enjoying their privileges, using the masses as their serfs. This is essentially a continuation of the state of affairs in colonial India. Whereas India cast aside these colonial systems and embraced policies required for economic, political and other development, we in Pakistan continue living in a time warp, forced upon us by the feudal class. Sadly for the elite, under-education eventually kills the nation, producing incompetent leaders and workers. These results are widely visible throughout our society.

    For all the demonising of Iran as a theocratic dictatorship, much of it unfortunately true, its emphasis on education as well as gender equality in the workplace are commendable qualities. Iran is the exception that destroys the myth that Islam and backwardness are synonymous. These good qualities of Iran are directly transferable to Pakistan.

    The situation is so hopeless and the inertial so profound that only a revolution by the masses for better rights can change our frankly dysfunctional society.

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  • Dec 18, 2011 - 9:53PM

    There is a silent social revolution taking place with rising number of women joining the workforce and moving up the corporate ladder in Pakistan.

    Both the public and private sectors are recruiting women in Pakistan’s workplaces ranging from Pakistani military, civil service, schools, hospitals, media, advertising, retail, fashion industry, publicly traded companies, banks, technology companies, multinational corporations and NGOs, etc. About 22 percent of Pakistani females over the age of 10 now work, up from 14 percent a decade ago, according to government statistics.

    A number of women have moved up into the executive positions, among them Unilever Foods CEO Fariyha Subhani, Engro Fertilizer CFO Naz Khan, Maheen Rahman CEO of IGI Funds and Roshaneh Zafar Founder and CEO of Kashf Foundation.

    Women now make up 4.6% of board members of Pakistani companies, a tad lower than the 4.7% average in emerging Asia, but higher than 1% in South Korea, 4.1% in India and Indonesia, and 4.2% in Malaysia, according to a February 2011 report on women in the boardrooms.

    Female employment at KFC in Pakistan has risen 125 percent in the past five years, according to a report in the NY Times.

    The number of women working at McDonald’s restaurants and the supermarket behemoth Makro has quadrupled since 2006.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/09/working-women-seeding-silent-social.html

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 18, 2011 - 11:45PM

    there are no jobs for men and u are talking for women georgi boy.

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  • amlendu
    Dec 19, 2011 - 2:15PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Why should women wait for all the men to get jobs first? Why don’t the other way round?

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 19, 2011 - 6:00PM

    @Amlendu,
    Because there are not enough jobs availble for men so u gonna give women a job inflation and high unemployment are very high and then cultural diffrences also is hurdle for women to going outside the house and work some men dominated society.

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  • amlendu
    Dec 19, 2011 - 11:29PM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    I think you want to say two things here.

    Since there are not enough jobs for men, giving jobs to women will some how cause inflation, which I am afraid I don’t understand, how will happen. If you mean unemployment, then even if all employable men are employed but employable women unemployed, then technically it will be called unemployment. So it is a bogus point.
    Since due to cultural practices women have been oppressed in male dominated society, it will be difficult for women to go out and work. So what is your solution to this problem. Women should give up and sit at home and stop trying to be an equal part of the society or should they try to change status quo and improve their economical and social status.
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  • Dec 19, 2011 - 11:44PM

    @Ali Tanoli

    I strongly believe that working women have a very positive and transformational impact on society by having fewer children, and by investing more time, money and energies for better nutrition, education and health care of their children. They spend 97 percent of their income and savings on their families, more than twice as much as men who spend only 40 percent on their families, according to Zainab Salbi, Founder, Women for Women International, who recently appeared on CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria.

    http://www.riazhaq.com/2011/09/working-women-seeding-silent-social.html

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 20, 2011 - 12:21AM

    Amlendu,
    I guess its a personal choice if some body wanna work or staying home and its very hard question to answer specialy in the society like pakistan.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 20, 2011 - 12:54AM

    @Riaz haq
    I agreed.

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  • Zalim singh
    Dec 20, 2011 - 11:24AM

    it already ignores.

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  • Hamza
    Dec 25, 2011 - 7:51AM

    thats for us to decide not for the british
    btw we dont consider “freedom” going to nightclubs and walking around half naked

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