An erroneous belief in Pakistan is that women should not pursue certain fields because people will not hire them as they cannot be trusted with undertaking positions where there is high stakes decision-making. The recent joint report by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, entitled ‘Gender Equality in Public Administration’ confirms that societal attitudes such as the former discourage women’s involvement in many spheres of economy and politics, such as public administration. Acknowledging that women’s participation in the labour force has increased by 50 per cent in the last decade and a half, there is still ample work to achieve in order to increase the figure of only 20 per cent of women participating in Pakistan’s labour force.
Benefits to a country’s economy when women are actively involved in its labour force are evidenced by research that elucidates such countries have higher GDPs. This alone should trigger our money-hungry government into actively developing gender-based programming, as the report mentions, and create better environments for women. Contrarily, the women development ministry was dismantled, eliminating one of the few platforms women had to lobby for their rights. Although Pakistan has already had women in high-profile positions, such as foreign minister, human rights activist and prime minister, there appears to be a regression. Women who currently have some advocacy platforms are offspring of men who wielded and abused power, and their belligerence is only to return power to their fathers, completely remiss of their responsibilities as women of authority.
Once women become empowered, there will be change to other aspects of society; for example, women will be less financially dependent on spouses and not forced to remain in abusive marriages. A conscious effort needs to be made to create space for women to advocate for their rights. Simultaneously, primitive mindsets need to be ousted, reminding citizens that it is a basic human right for women to be able to earn a living for themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2018.
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