HYDERABAD: Differences between women and men are socially and culturally constructed.
This was stated by MNA Dr Nafisa Shah during a two-day conference, titled 'Youth Empowerment: Women's Leadership Conference', with a theme titled, 'Let's drop the gender mask'.
Organised by the Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences (LUMHS) in Jamshoro, the conference concluded on Sunday.
"For [equality], men and women have to be treated equally - culturally and socially," said Shah, who was the chief guest at the event.
Women and men should be given equal access not only in the health and education sectors but also in the economic sector, such as employment opportunities, she emphasised, adding that once women are empowered to make choices in marriages, jobs, number of children, we can move ahead as a democratic nation.
Shah found fault with the prevalent concept of leadership, even in a country like Pakistan where a woman, Benazir Bhutto, was twice elected as the prime minister and also headed a national political party.
"The notion of masculinity and the belief that men make better leaders than women is still common today," she said. "The top leadership is viewed as a masculine domain."
According to her, both the print and electronic media continue to reinforce gender stereotypes, which manifest into further discrimination. A code of ethics, which sensitises the media regarding gender equality, is required to stop the ongoing practice, she believed.
"Let's drop the gender mask and dignify the role of women in our society," said LUMHS vice-chancellor Prof Dr Noshad A Shaikh. "Let's work together and respect each other, regardless of gender." He added that it is high time that public spaces and decision-making be opened to women.
"It's time for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal participation," said Shaikh, pinning his hopes for attitudinal reforms for gender parity in the youth.
Globally, one in three women experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. In the developing world, one in seven girls is married before her 15th birthday, said LUMHS pro vice-chancellor Prof Dr Aneela Attaur Rehman, adding that while women make up more than 40% of the agriculture labour force, only a fraction of them are landholders.
Talk of women leadership is often confused with feminism, contended Rehman, describing it as an incorrect and fairly one-sided perception.
Democracy is more likely to flourish in a society that treats men and women as equals, said special assistant to Sindh chief minister for youth affairs, Mir Abid Hussain Bhayo, asserting that women empowerment is a core driver of democratisation.
MPA Mahtab Akbar Rashidi, Masarrat Misbah, gynaecologist Dr Pushpaa Srichand and Air Commodore (retd) Shabbir A Khan also expressed their views among others at the conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 14th, 2016.
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