Gender equality for growth and development

Her access to resources, even to her legitimate rights, demands struggle

Durdana Najam March 10, 2022
The writer is a public policy analyst based in Lahore. She tweets @durdananajam


This year International Women’s Day theme is gender bias. The idea is to raise awareness about the impact of bias on the lives and careers of women. Starting from home, where boys are given special treatment, women face discrimination at every part of their lives. Girls are expected to sacrifice if the choices are limited, in which scenario it should always be the boy making the first move. Unfortunately, the trend continues throughout her life. Her access to resources, even to her legitimate rights, demands struggle. What might come easy to boys becomes a chore for girls in most cases.

The purpose of highlighting the importance of gender equality is to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women in public and private spheres.

For a long time, Pakistani women have suffered from this bias, sometimes imposed on them in the name of religion, even though Islam had given women equal status to men long before the concept of human rights and gender equality were codified.

It is pertinent to mention that Islam encourages women to engage in socio-economic activities and have financial independence. Pakistan may have come a long way in eliminating gender bias, but a large segment is still loath to give women the right to live a life of their choice hence the widespread criticism bordering hatred against the slogan ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ meaning ‘my body my choice’.

The statistics gathered by the UN show that out of 1.3 billion poor people in the world, 70% are women. Therefore, women will have to be liberated, empowered and emancipated for their respective countries’ economic development.

Women’s equality and empowerment are among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that seek to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere.

Gender equality denotes women’s rights to access economic resources, financial services, justice, ownership, and control over property, inheritance, natural resources, and, importantly, to get equitable pay and representation at the boardroom. However, these goals would fail to reach any far without considering a gender-equal world’s complex and multifarious nature.

There are various tenors to gender quality, and one among them is Women Empowerment. So far, many definitions of women’s empowerment have been framed. The one the Unicef has identified states: “Empowerment of women and girls concerns women and girls gaining power and control over their own lives. It involves awareness-raising, building self-confidence, expansion of choices, increased access to and control over resources and actions to transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality.”

Professor Naila Kabeer from the London School of Economics Department of Gender Studies defines women empowerment as: “A process by which women gain the ability to make and enact strategic life choices. Critically, women are the agents of the change process.” Kabeer further says that to be truly empowered, women must have the freedom to make choices and decisions for themselves, their families, communities, and the environment.

Financial inclusion has been an integral element of the global development agenda for women. In this regard, women’s access to financial services is rightfully ranked as one of the leading sustainable development targets, encouraging many countries, including Islamic, to adopt financial inclusion strategies.

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) draft policy ‘Banking on Equality Policy: Reducing the Gender Gap in Financial Inclusion’ states: “Women customers, especially entrepreneurs, feel intimidated to visit a bank branch and are not facilitated effectively. Therefore, to cater to women inclusivity and targeting women clients, institutions will have to improve their inter-gender imbalance.”

According to a scientific study by the Center for Creative Leadership, having more women in an organisation brings more job satisfaction, dedication, meaningful work, and less burnout. Therefore, Human Resource departments should go the extra mile to hire a substantial number of women and retain them. For higher retention of women, organisations would have to make flexible policies, especially regarding maternity and paternity leave and remuneration. Similarly, family-friendly policies should be developed to provide a better work-life balance, such as flextime, job sharing, part-time work from home, and on-site childcare. Usually, mentoring, training, and networking programs and opportunities are reserved for men, and breaking into this club is not always easy for women.

Women empowerment does not concern women alone; it is a social dilemma that affects a large segment of society with serious repercussions. Empowered women and girls contribute to their families, communities, and countries, creating a domino effect that benefits everyone. Various researches have corroborated that sustainable development cannot be achieved without women’s empowerment. Generally, what is suitable for gender equality is also good for the economy and society.

Pakistan still has to travel miles before giving its women an environment to make choices for themselves with full legal support.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2022.

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