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Gender inequality in Pakistan October 20th, 2010 Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, proclaimed in a speech given at a meeting of the Muslim University Union, in Aligarh, on March 10, 1944, the following: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners.
There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live. ”1 Six decades have gone by since the independence of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and despite the Quid-e-Azam’s words of empowerment and the initial achievements made towards diminishing gender inequalities, true equality -social, political and legal- between gender remains a mere dream for the majority of Pakistani Women. The road towards emancipation has proven to be long and hard for this developing nation.
The progressive efforts advanced by both the Muslim Family Ordinance of 1961 and the later Constitution of 1973 (which were respectively meant to ensure women’s rights in divorce, inheritance, and polygamy, and prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex), were curtailed by the installation of the Ziad Regime in 1979 and the subsequent passing of the Shariat Bill. Many activists argued that this law “would undermine the principles of justice, democracy, and fundamental rights of citizens, and…would become identified solely with the conservative interpretation supported by Zia’s government. 2 An example of the degradation of women’s status during this period is found in the 1979 Enforcement of Hudood Ordinances, which failed to discriminate between adultery (zina) and rape (zina-bil-jabr). “A man could be convicted of zina only if he were actually observed committing the crime by other men, but a woman could be convicted simply because she became pregnant. ”3 As many scholars have acknowledged, the discrimination faced by Pakistani women has no sanction in the Islamic scriptures, but rather is embedded in this historically patriarchal society’s customs, values and norms, and in the conservative reading of the Holy Quran. 1 US Library of Congress report “Pakistan – A Country Study”. Retrieved from http://memory. loc. gov/frd/cs/pktoc. html 2 The Status of Women and the Women’s Movement. U. S. Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://www. countrydata. com/cgi-bin/query/r-9804. html 3 The Status of Women and the Women’s Movement. U. S. Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://www. countrydata. com/cgi-bin/query/r-9804. html 4 Rashid, J. Women’s Struggle in Pakistan. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 22, No. 49 (Dec. 5, 1987), pp. 2112-2114.
Pakistan Gender Issues
Retrieved from http://www. jstor. org/stable/4377822 1 Gender inequalities in Pakistan vary greatly between the different provinces, the rural and urban settings, and the different social classes of the country. The key determinant of these inequalities rests on the perception that it is the man’s responsibility to provide for the woman, who is considered inferior and subordinate to him. On the other hand, the woman’s role, as if prescribed by nature, is limited to domestic duties; and she carries the family’s honor and respect (izzat).
In order to reduce the probability of honor violation and to ensure the status quo remains untouched, Pakistani society has segregated the sexes by veiling and secluding women from nonrelated men (purdah); and has placed restrictions on women’s mobility, behavior and activities. 5 In 2002, in rural Pakistan “ninety-six percent of females aged 15-24 needed permission to travel to a nearby health outlet”, a village or a relatives’ home. The obstacles that these traditional perspectives and practices present to women as they continue to limit their opportunities to access health services, decent salaries and work conditions (if any at all), and education, has translated into high gender inequality, predominantly amongst the Pakistani urban and rural poor. The disparity between women and men’s labor force participation, literacy, and school attendance rates is reflective of this situation.
In 1981 only 5. 6 percent of all women were employed. Although the policies romoting economic growth, and the high inflation experienced by the country in the past decades has increased the number of working women, it still remained very low at around 15 percent in 2003 (compared to male participation of over 80%). 7 Most women working in the rural areas and in the industrial centers bare the double burden of housework and outside work, and they experience discrimination “arising either from job segregation or unequal pay for equal work or less investment in training by employers or lack of support services for working mothers. 8 More often, the women remain at home and sell manufactured goods to a middleman for very low and disproportionate compensation. Women have also fewer education opportunities than men. In 2005 the literacy 5 The Status of Women and the Women’s Movement. U. S. Library of Congress. Retrieved from http://www. countrydata. com/cgi-bin/query/r-9804. html 6 Coleman, I. Gender Disparities, Economic Growth and Islamization in Pakistan. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D. C, 2004.
Retrieved from http://www. cfr. org/publication/7217/gender_disparities_economic_growth_and_islamization_in_pakis tan. html 7 Women Empowerment and Youth Perception in Pakistan. European Journal of Scientific Research Vol. 39 No. 1 (2010), pp. 7589. Retrieved from http://www. eurojournals. com/ejsr_39_1_07. pdf 8 Ghaus-Pasha, A. GENDER INEQUALITY IN DEVELOPING COUNTRIES: A CASE STUDY OF PAKISTAN. (1999). Social Policy and Development Center, Karachi. Retrieved from http://www. spdc. org. pk/pubs/rr/rr24. pdf 2 ates for women were 36 percent, while for men were 63 percent! 9 In 1997, out of 172 professional colleges, only 10 existed for women; and the school attendance rates remained lower for girls (27%) than for boys (73%). 10 Diverse groups including the Women’s Action Forum, the All-Pakistan Women’s Association, the Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association, and the Business and Professional Women’s Association, have been supporting projects throughout the country that focus on empowering women since independence.
The government’s commitment to reducing gender inequalities (rising the age of marriage, passing the Protection of Women Bill in 2006, extending micro credit to women, increasing the number of government seats held by women, etc); has not yield the necessary results because of the problems with implementing policies in the country, and the resistance put forward by traditional and extremist beliefs.