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.