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15 Biggest Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan

The challenges of women’s empowerment in Pakistan include the conservative fabric of Pakistani society, economic dependence, fewer opportunities for education and work, and patriarchal backlash

Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan

Women in Pakistan face numerous socio-economic, political, and psychological challenges. From lack of education and dearth of opportunities to sexual harassment, pay disparity, and exploitation in the workplace, they have a plethora of things to handle in order to survive in the conservative society of Pakistan. Although men have no easy life in this cash-starved country, things get from bad to worse when it comes to women. Therefore, it is pertinent to address and redress the deepened challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

Credit for this video goes to CSS Forum: The challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan include the conservative fabric of Pakistani society, economic dependence, fewer opportunities for education and work, and patriarchal backlash

Following are the challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan

1. Gender Discrimination in Pakistan

One of the challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan is gender discrimination. Around 70 to 90% of women in Pakistan face domestic violence including mental, psychological, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

Women’s rights in Pakistan are often compromised because of issues such as honor-killing, sexual harassment, fewer opportunities for education and job/work, misogynistic treatment of society, domestic violence, minor role in the decision-making process at home, not having opportunities for entrepreneurship, etc. It explains why Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country for women.

Causes of Gender Disparity in Pakistan

At the core, the patriarchal mindset is the major cause of gender disparity. Women in Pakistan face potential issues such as mockery, violence, discriminatory policies, intimidation, incivility, exclusion, and others all stemming from patriarchy. They face gender discrimination at almost all levels, from family to the state level, which is one of the dire challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

In the family, they face issues like honor-killing, no role in the decision-making process, early marriages, and not getting a due share in the property. Besides, misogynistic treatment of society, getting no opportunities in productive fields like entrepreneurship, facing sexual harassment at work, and many more.

“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”

(Muhammad Ali Jinnah)
Quoted from Hector Bolitho’s Jinnah – Creator of Pakistan

2. Bullying and Insult in Workplace

One of the grievous challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan is mockery and insult at the workplace. A woman is more likely to be bullied, ridiculed, derided, or insulted mainly because of their junior roles in the workplace. No more than 20% of women are CEOs across the globe.

In managerial roles, men outnumber women by approximately 17 to 1. In other words, women face extreme bullying mainly because they have menial jobs as compared to men.

An interesting point is that bullying women is less caused by their gender and more because of their menial jobs. The Workplace Bullying Institute found women in roles such as senior manager or CEO bully other women up to 80% of the time. Hence, providing equal opportunities for women in the workplace is the best way to tackle bullying.

Psychological Effects of Bullying

Bullying has serious consequences on the state of mind. In fact, it is a form of mental torture since it can bread crippling depression, anxiety, dejection, and negativity. Women work no less or no worse than men do, but their work is often discriminated against or criticized unfairly. They become a laughing stock among their colleagues when they make some mistake in their professional life.

Making the matter worse, women do not have many doors to knock at if anything heinous happens to them at the workplace. Hardly any firm or business has a forum where women can go and record their protest, let alone get justice.

The state also lacks the much-needed infrastructure to help women facing gender discrimination at jobs. The court procedures are time-taking, tedious, costly, frustrating, and complicated; therefore bullying remains a serious issue.

This is absolutely terrible behavior because, on the one hand, female workers face sexist remarks, and on the other hand, they do not get their issues addressed or redressed.

”Women and girls, everywhere, must have equal rights and opportunity, and be able to live free of violence and discrimination.”

Goal 5 of United Nations’s Sustainable Development Goals

3. Discriminatory Policies

 The discriminatory policies such as unequal pay for male and female workers are one of the potential challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan. It is a serious matter, especially knowing that all this is happening in 2020 when the world is aiming at Mars and para-terrestrial life.

According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2018 released by World Economic Forum (WEF), Pakistan stands at 148th position out of 149 in the world in gender disparity and inequality. This is a terrible situation in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, women face worse gender inequality.

Women are not the children of a lesser God; therefore, they must be given pay no less than a male gets at work. It not only will improve the socio-economic condition of women, but it will also have positive impacts on society in general. Therefore, it is a need of the hour to give women equal opportunities as well as equal pay in the workplace.

4. Sexual harassment in Pakistan

Sexual harassment is one of the potential challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan. Sexual harassment means harassing or intimidating women. In other words, they may be molested or coerced to favor the person in a particular way. Making sounds, gestures, or acting with the intention of intruding upon the privacy of the woman is also a form of sexual harassment.

This is quite prevalent in Pakistan and throughout the world. According to Mckinsey’s 2018 report, no less than 35% of women face sexual harassment in the workplace. It may include any offer for sexual favor or threat to use force or the use of force in the first place.

The report also claims that 48% of women in the technical fields face sexual exploitation. In Pakistan, the situation is no better. According to the National Commission for Children, no less than 70% of women and workers have experienced sexual harassment in general, especially in the workplace.

This number skyrockets when one sees exploitation in public places where the number is a staggering 93%, which is one of the grave challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

This is a whopping figure knowing that Pakistan is the Islamic Republic and not a banana republic. The same reports reveal that more than 9000 women make emergency calls each year for help. It is reprehensible to even imagine that this kind of system is prevalent in Pakistan.

5. Intimidation in the Workplace

One of the under-discussed challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan is intimidation in the workplace. Intimidation means using various tools, especially coercive ones to get sexual favor. Based on a quid pro quo strategy, they get ugly and reprehensible offers, asking for special favors to get a promotion or permanent job.

In other words, they are demanded sexual favors to get a promotion, pay increase, or have a permanent job. This is a common form of sexual harassment. Dawn in a recent survey of 300 women in the workplace showed that over 35% of women get offers of sexual favor for promotion or pay increase.

Notably, not a single woman reported the harassment and remained silent. It is a clear indication that women face manifold more and more grievous issues in the workplace than reported.

Despite having Pakistan Penal Code Section 509 and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010, women continue to face sexual exploitation at the workplace and in general which is one of the dire challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

6. Exclusion of Women, a Social Dilemma

The challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan include the exclusion of women from work. It means the family does not allow them to go out of the four walls of the house and do a job. The majority of patriarchs especially in rural areas exclude women from jobs. In some cases, businesses prefer male workers to females.

Another form of exclusion is being biased in the promotion or equal pay for women, a sort of stagnation. It means women do not get high-paid jobs or do not achieve promotions. It is a miserable condition because inflation has gone skyrocketed while there is no substantive improvement in their wages. This is nothing else but sheer exploitation of the female workers if they face stagnation.

There are many reports that women face severe exclusion in the workplace in Pakistan. The workforce participation of women is only 24%, which is one of the staggering challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

Sadly, women are more likely to get a job in agriculture, a low-wage job, another form of exclusion. Not surprisingly, the International Labor Organization declared Pakistan the worst country in terms of the gender pay gap.

7. Economic Dependence on Patriarchs

One of the major reasons behind the socio-economic and psychological challenges of women is the economic dependence of women on patriarchs. A woman is only supposed to perform home chores rather than doing any work for economic independence.

She should meekly ask her father, brother, or husband to give her money for her basic needs which automatically makes her a passive rather than active and powerful member of the family. Women are more vulnerable if a family is facing economic constraints.

In Pakistan, less than 2 percent of young women own physical assets. Of all young women (married or unmarried), only 3 percent own agricultural land, and 2 percent own a house, one of the pressing challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

Since a woman is dependent on men, she becomes an enfeebled and subjugated character. It is a common form of exclusion in Pakistan and if Pakistan wants to survive and thrive in today’s world, it must do away with this evil at the earliest.

8. No Women Entrepreneurship

A recent report by the World Bank says that female Entrepreneurship in Pakistan is one of the lowest in the world, at only 1%. In stark comparison to it, the male has a ratio of 21% in entrepreneurship, which is a healthy figure. Of the estimated 20 million Home-Based Workers in Pakistan, 12 million are women.

Entrepreneurship is a business that is highly profitable and ever-increasing but women are almost non-existent in this business.

9. Incivility

The challenges of women’s empowerment in Pakistan include incivility or disrespectful treatment, and the negation of their opinions. Their opinions are hardly taken into consideration, regarding them as less mature or less-intelligent beings.

In general, they are not made a part of decision-making. It is because of the toxic patriarchal mindset that women are emotional, fickle, and docile. It means the male chauvinistic mindset that leads to misogynistic feelings, causes serious concussions to women.

10. No Role in Decision Making

Naushin Mahmood in “Women’s Role in Domestic Decision-making in Pakistan”, published by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, Islamabad regards the issue of not giving women a role in the decision-making process as the most daunting challenge in women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

From the marriage of children to doing or not doing a job, having or not having a relationship with the maternal family are serious issues that are neither addressed nor redressed ultimately leading to gender discrimination and disparity.

In terms of decision-making and independence, 24% of young women make the decisions about their schooling and occupation on their own. Besides, only 1% can decide on their marriage, which is alarming.

One-fourth of young women need permission to seek medical help, and another 71% do not want to go to the doctor alone, which is one of the serious challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

Roughly a third of the population has the ability to make decisions regarding food and clothes purchases. Only 9% of married employed women have control over their monetary earnings, while 49% have influence over how their partner’s earnings are spent.

11. Gender-Based Violence

One of the most menacing challenges of women’s empowerment in Pakistan is gender-based violence. Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in 1996 but practically no efforts have been made to implement it.

For instance, article 16 of this convention declares it every woman’s right to marry her partner of choice. Only the patriarch has the prerogative to make a so-called perfect match for his daughter. As earlier mentioned, only 1% of girls can decide on their marriage.

Although feminist movements are not aptly able to highlight the underlying causes of the down-and-out condition of women in Pakistan and some of us may not like their language and strategies, there is no doubt that gender-based violence in Pakistan is alarmingly high.

Various Forms of Gender-Based Violence

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan data (2004-2017) shows that the scale and types of violence women face are almost unheard of in most parts of the cultured world. The challenges of women’s empowerment in Pakistan include burning women, acid attacks, honor killings, kidnapping, sexual violence, and underage marriages.

For instance, there were 2024 cases of female burning, which is disgusting. Notably, over 1800 cases of women burning were in Punjab (a comparatively more enlightened area in terms of women as compared to tribal KPK and Balochistan or rural Sindh).

There were about 2528 reported cases of extreme domestic violence where Punjab take lead (nearly 80% of all reported domestic violence cases are in Punjab), one of the dire challenges of women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

12. Honor Killing in Pakistan

Another sickening fact is that over 9000 cases of honor killings were reported from 2004 to 2017. People make a robust defense of their socio-cultural norms and repel feminist movements but they hardly speak against these issues and merely nonchalantly condemn them in a deja vu manner.

Regardless of circumstances, there is no honor in an honor killing. Human Rights Watch data shows that almost 1,000 women are slain in Pakistan in the name of honor each year. The lame excuse of an ‘unacceptable’ amorous relationship can excite any chauvinist male, much like an insecure political power to viciously murder his sister, wife, or even cousin.

On the other hand, a male has never been killed in the name of honor. The same hypocrite society does not give them the same bad name as a woman gets in case of any such affair.

I was trying to think of male equivalents for the word “slut” but I could not which shows the deep roots of misogyny in our society. As a matter of fact, our society happily sweeps premarital or extramarital affairs of males under the rug.

I was trying to think of male equivalents for the word “slut” but I could not which shows the deep roots of misogeny in our society.

13. Sexual Violence, Rape, Kidnapping, and Suicide in Pakistan

The challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan include sexual violence, rape, kidnapping, and subsequent suicide attempt. There were 7200 reported kidnappings of women, more than 2000 cases of sexual violence and 9000 reported suicide cases. In Pakistan, 9.1% of deaths are due to suicide which is very alarming.

According to the World Bank, the data suicide rate in Pakistan is about 7.28 per 1000. It is pertinent to mention that most suicide cases are due to sexual violence, rape, kidnapping, acid attacks, and other such crimes.

Married women and single men under 30 are likely to commit suicide (accounting for about 66% of all suicides) which shows the issue of domestic violence and lack of self-respect and basic rights of women at home.

Men may face crippling depression due to economic constraints and subsequent hopelessness but women (especially married ones) face manifold more serious challenges.

14. Acid Attacks

Yet another egregious issue is acid attacks, one of the challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan. Throwing acid on women mainly for rejecting proposals is reprehensible, to say the least.

According to the Acid Survivors Trust International, 80% of acid attack victims are women who dare to reject a proposal. Despite the ban on the open sale of acid, anyone can get bottles of acid at Rs 150-200.

Every year, there are about 400 acid attacks. A good thing is that Marvi Memon introduced the Acid and Burn Crime Act 2017 which has reduced acid attacks by 50%. The crimes will further be reduced if the maximum penalty (life imprisonment) is given to the perpetrator.

15. Child Marriages

Child marriage is one of the many challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan. The Child Marriage Restraint Bill 2018 (ratified in 2019) also is mainly a piece of paper with no practical implementation.

The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (2017-18) shows that 3.3% of girls are married off under the age of 15 while over 18.3% of girls become a bride before turning 18. In tribal areas, more than 35% of girls are married off before the age of 18.

Making the mockery of the national laws on marriage, the 64-year-old Maulana Salahuddin Ayubi, a JUI-F lawmaker married a hardly-14-year-old girl. Not surprisingly, nearly all underage married girls belong to impoverished families while the groom (mostly aged and affluent).

In most cases, money-starved parents take money from the groom’s family ranging from 0.5 to over 2 million. Even if they do not make money, the parents are fine to marry their daughter to a rich old man.

Many such cases have been reported from Chitral, Malakand, and erstwhile FATA. Early marriage is a collective effort of the tribal lords, religious leaders, and the local government machinery.

Addressing the Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan

Although things are not as one may desire, some efforts have been made to bridge the yawning gap between males and females in Pakistan. In recent times, some substantive efforts have been made for women’s empowerment in Pakistan. According to United Nations Population Funds, Pakistan has made great progress on the issue of women’s empowerment.

The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offense of Rape) Act 2016, Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act, 2016, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and many other laws have given some empowerment albeit only constitutionally. The media has also played, to a great extent, a positive role in women’s empowerment in Pakistan.

Muslim Societies are Generally Conservative

Gender-related issues are rife in Pakistan. The troubling phenomenon is that the solution is easy when discussed on paper or explained in an ivory tower, but it is extremely difficult to solve. The challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan include modern the conservative nature of Islamic society in general.

For example, the condition of women is no better in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Oman, etc. The situation is unimaginably severe in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and some other areas.

It explains the nature of society in Pakistan where even fundamental human rights (for women) are prone to controversies and heated debates. People publicly support and even idolize misogynists who condemn women’s rights such as freedom of choice, social interaction, education, work, vote, etc.

A woman who dares to speak against the conservative attitude of society is declared a slut and an agent of so-called Western propaganda against Islam. For instance, many religiopolitical parties regard feminists as sluts who want to corrode the foundation of Islamic norms.

One might disagree with the slogan, ”Mera Jism Meri Marzi” (my body, my will) or some of the posters of Aurat March, it is reprehensible to declare Aurat March as ”Slut Walk.”

It means women are not going to fully enjoy their basic human rights in the near future in Pakistan. It is since it takes ages not just decades to change the attitudes and outlooks of people. Allama Iqbal quotes this in a verse that the toughest time in the life of generations is to change their attitudes and mindset.

Recommendations

Although it will still take decades before giving women and men equal status in society, the following recommendations can speed up women’s empowerment.

1. Awareness Campaigns by Media

The first workable recommendation is to use media for more awareness among the masses. It means media should be used to tell people about the miserable condition of females and the role Islam gives to women. The info-tech revolution and the rise of social media have made propaganda (both positive and negative) easy.

One way will be to bring forth voices of ulemas who have an enlightened approach toward women rather than propagating hardliners (the leftovers of Zia’s pseudo-Islamization).

Media not only social, and electronic, but also print media should run campaigns to do away with the wrong myths and stereotypical views about women. They are equal human beings and no less wise than men. The people should be educated that Pakistan will continue to remain a vessel state (Beggars according to Pakistan’s opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif)

2. Curriculum Reforms

Curriculum reforms mean children should be taught a positive image of women in society. Mostly, books portray women as weak-minded, emotional, and sometimes stupid characters. Portraying women as housewives while men as doctors and engineers, is rather disgusting (as in curriculum textbooks) and hence must be put out. A fine-tuned curriculum can help diminish cases of domestic violence and misogyny.

3. Severe Punitive Measures for Wrongdoers

One of the potential challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan is not to let the perpetrators go scot-free. It is important to timely nab the criminals and give them punitive measures in accordance with the Constitution of Pakistan.

Anyone who abuses a woman or rape or tries to harass a woman must be given exemplary punishments. Harassment is (under Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code) punishable for a term which may extend to three years, or with a fine of up to five hundred thousand rupees, or both.

Rapists should either get the death penalty or imprisonment of between ten and twenty-five years. It means all the perpetrators must meet the same fate as was odious Imran Ali who raped and killed 6-year-old Zainab.

Final Thoughts

Women face severe socio-economic constraints and cultural suffocation in Pakistan. Pakistani society is conservative and therefore, women have to bear cultural suffocation and economic deprivation.

The challenges to women’s empowerment in Pakistan include honor-killing, sexual harassment, fewer opportunities for education and job/work, misogynistic treatment of society, domestic violence, no role in the decision-making process at home, and not having opportunities for entrepreneurship, etc.

There have been made some notable improvements like anti-harassment laws and other steps relating to women empowerment. The only way to survive and thrive in today’s world of cutthroat competition, there is no other way but to make women work side by side and get a role in decision-making.

The media can run a campaign to further substantiate the actions related to women’s empowerment in Pakistan. Curriculum reforms and punishing perpetrators are equally important things to help women.

When these reforms are implemented, women will be a more productive part of society and Pakistan will come up as an ever-so-strong nation on the map of the world.








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By Rizwan Bosan

I am a ghostwriter and blogger. My 3.91 GPA in English graduation earned me a gold medal. I also hold a degree in advanced writing from the University of California.

2 replies on “15 Biggest Challenges to Women’s Empowerment in Pakistan”

I didn’t know women get less pay than men. I heard it from my teacher. She told me how male teachers far more juniors to her get pay more than her. She also told that she is not paid for doing extra work whereas male teachers get overtime. This system should be changed. Thanks for raising voice for this misery.

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