Gender In Pakistan

By: Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen

Gender! the word is quite in vogue now a days even in Pakistan where it is yet to be recognized as an issue officially. As far as the mushrooming CSO sector is concerned, most of the organizations have adopted the agenda as a fashion rather than passion.

As a student of life I have attempted to understand this hippodrome of a social construction called Gender which is supposed to be different from a mere biological accident called Sex. Though I am still in the process of identifying the intricate details of the subject certain ground realities make me sad and I ask myself: have we Pakistanis entered the 21st century or the new millenium?

The constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan gives equal rights to both men and women. However, in practice men are more equal than women are. The reality gives a picture where women rarely appear in positions of power. According to the Human Development Report 1999of UNDP the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) rank of Pakistan among 185 countries registered with UN is 100. The GEM quantitatively measures the empowerment of women on a country basis. This indicator includes the measure of inequality in control over earned economic resources, participation in political decision-making and economic decision-making.

Supporting the GEM is the low Gender Related Development Index (GRDI) rank of Pakistan among the UN registered countries. It would not be out of place to mention that GRDI reflecting gender inequality is the counter indicator of the Human Development Index (HDI) which is equivalent to life expectancy, educational status and income of a country.

It is incredibly shameful though not at all surprising to find HDI rank of Pakistan as—- out of the 185 nations of the world. Adding to the irony and gravity of the situation is the fact that many Arab Islamic states bestowed with the Oil Wealth have bagged lower ranks on such development indices.

Renowned Muslim woman scholar Dr.Riffat Hassan has rightly concluded in one of her articles that in spite of the fact that the Holy Quran is particularly solicitous about women’s wellbeing and development, women have been the targets of the most serious human rights violation in Muslim societies. Not Islam but the contrariety that exists between Quranic ideals and practice of a number of women -related issues contributes to a large extent the present status of women.

Rashida Patel, an eminent Pakistani lawyer, while analyzing political rights and participation of Pakistani women in democratic institutions in the light of Islamization and laws since 1979 has found that discriminatory laws have caused suffering to women. She made recommendations that were in conformity with the spirit of Islam and Quran. However, such voices are so far unheard in the corridors of power and politics.

The typical subjugated image of Pakistani women mirrors the centuries old patriarchy in the sub-continent and legacy of the military regimes in the country. Empowerment and emancipation, though documented in the government reports, is yet a dream for the majority of Pakistani women. Even the first female Prime Minister of the Muslim world, twice elected, could not bring about any dramatic change for women.

Considering the diversity of Pakistani society, female empowerment has different meanings for women from different strata. Her status is always lower than the male partner. She is underprivileged in getting education, food, health care and freedom of choice of partner, number of children and other essentials of life. No wonder Pakistan is among those countries where women live shorter than men do. According to the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) 1992, there are 108 men for every 100 women which however is an improvement compared to the 1950 figure of 117:100. The unfavorable ratio is mainly a consequence of excess mortality of young girls and young women of childbearing age. Mortality rates for women in their twenties are twice as high as those for men of the same age.

I want to give more facts and figures revealing the state and lamenting the status of women in Pakistan. But I will refrain myself from doing so, as I do not wish to promote the common mistaken notion of equating Gender with women deprivations only. Of course gender includes and encompasses men too. Men as the masters of women’s destiny in a patriarchal society assume an even critical role and sensitive responsibility in changing the face of a plightful situation. Not only in Pakistan but almost all over the world men are social gatekeepers and are entitled to certain privileges by virtue of their superior duties. It is inevitable for them to identify, understand and analyze the socially determined discriminations, rules and roles for men and women both.

Like many other legitimate and logical issues, in Pakistan gender issues in general and of men in particular are an untapped area of research and occupy no position in the policy and snatch no place in the planning process. Consequently the human predicament is presenting a sorrow picture for those who love this land and creating a mockery in the anti-lobbies.

The need of the hour is to define, interpret and apply Gender in a purely Pakistani context. Only then we would be able to reduce the disparities and loses in vital areas of national development named as education, economy and health. Converting the gaps into gains in such areas would take us as a nation on the path to development. That development would not be reflected in the stock exchange only but in a society marked by gender harmony, sensitivity and human dignity.