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Pakistan’s gender gap index hits rock bottom, second worst globally

First Published: 7th July, 2024 9:07 IST

Women's rights activists have issued impassioned pleas for both state and societal commitment to address gender disparities effectively

In the latest Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Pakistan finds itself near the bottom of the list, with only Sudan ranked lower among 146 nations surveyed. This marks a further decline from its 142nd position last year, reflecting a worsening situation for women in the country, Dawn reported.
Women’s rights activists have issued impassioned pleas for both state and societal commitment to address gender disparities effectively. They emphasise the need to redefine the roles prescribed to women by Pakistani society and the government.

The annual index evaluates gender parity across four critical dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. Leading nations in gender parity include Iceland, Finland, Norway, New Zealand, and Sweden, as reported by Dawn.
“This year’s dismal ranking is not an anomaly; Pakistan has consistently lagged in the index for over a decade,” stated Bushra Khaliq, Executive Director of Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE), reflecting on Pakistan’s persistent challenges in achieving gender equality.
Comparatively, neighbouring countries have fared better in closing their gender gaps.
Breaking down the rankings across sectors reveals stark disparities. In economic participation and opportunity, Pakistan ranks 143rd, with Bangladesh at 146th. Educational attainment sees Pakistan at 139th, trailing behind Bangladesh (125th). Political empowerment remains a challenge, with Pakistan at 112th, significantly behind Bangladesh (7th).
According to the WEF report, Pakistan’s recent drop in the index primarily stems from setbacks in political empowerment, despite slight improvements in educational attainment. Gender disparities persist prominently in economic and political spheres, alongside gaps in educational attainment and health outcomes.

Reflecting on political empowerment, Farah Zia, Director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, highlighted challenges faced by women in mainstream politics. “Recent political manoeuvres have targeted women leaders and activists, undermining their role and impact,” Zia lamented, citing incidents of targeted incarceration and legal obstacles.
Despite a 33 per cent quota for women in parliament, Zia noted that genuine representation remains elusive for women not affiliated with influential political families or urban centers.
Addressing economic roles, Bushra Khaliq acknowledged some progress in sectors like textiles and fashion but highlighted pervasive exploitation in the informal sector. “Women in Pakistan predominantly work in precarious conditions, limiting their economic empowerment,” Khaliq remarked.
The health sector presents alarming statistics, with high maternal mortality rates and inadequate reproductive health services plaguing women across Pakistan. Educational barriers further compound gender disparities, with approximately 25 million out-of-school children, predominantly girls, lacking access to basic education, according to Dawn.
Farah Zia underscored the impact of unchecked population growth on women’s development, critiquing government policies that prioritise population-linked incentives over sustainable human development. “The lack of discourse on reproductive rights has profound implications for women’s health, education, and economic participation,” Zia emphasised.
Both Zia and Khaliq pointed to entrenched patriarchal norms and societal resistance, exemplified by contentious reactions to events like the Aurat March. “Society’s resistance to women’s rights exacerbates gender disparities,” Zia stated, calling for concerted efforts to challenge and transform patriarchal mindsets.
In closing, activists urged robust commitments from the state and society to redefine women’s roles and ensure gender parity. “Progressive steps are essential for integrating women into the socio-economic fabric of Pakistan,” Zia asserted, advocating for comprehensive policy reforms and grassroots empowerment initiatives.
Critically appraising governmental departments’ roles, Khaliq highlighted the need for improved data transparency and collaboration with international organisations. “Accurate data reporting is crucial for measuring progress and advocating for policy reforms,” Khaliq emphasised, urging greater accountability and transparency.
As the global community grapples with persistent gender gaps, the WEF report underscores the imperative of inclusive economic policies and structural reforms to empower women fully. “Economic gender parity is not just a social justice issue but an economic imperative,” the report concluded, urging governments to prioritise gender equality as a catalyst for sustainable development and innovation, Dawn reported. (ANI)

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