According to the Gender Equality in Public Administration (GEPA) report case study on Pakistan (2016-17) — which has been jointly released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) — Pakistani women have made significant progress over the past 15 years. Indeed, their participation in the labour force during this period has increased by over 50 percent. Parity between men and women has also been achieved at the tertiary education level. In addition, recruitment of women through the federal service commission has also seen a five-fold increase.
However, Pakistani women’s journey towards emancipation is far from over. Even today, only one in five women is part of the public administration workforce — meaning that the majority is still deprived of the chance to achieve financial independence and upward social mobility. Not to mention that the country itself is missing out on benefitting from this under-utilised talent pool. Predictably, the GEPA report has found that Pakistani women continue to face hurdles stemming from entrenched societal attitudes. The study points to policies such as the wedlock policy, rotation policy and policies for unmarried women which provides options to stay closer to their families; that is, husbands or parents. No mention appears to be made for those women who may have neither. While these are intended to ‘safeguard’ women — the very fact of their implementation highlights just how far Pakistani society still has to go.
The case study recommends engaging in meaningful dialogue with Parliament on how to translate the increased induction of women into the civil service to society at large. Unfortunately, the Women Development Ministry (MWD) — which should have played a fundamental role in this regard — was dissolved back in 2011. Furthermore, the participation of women in the legislature has also gone down since 2013. This means that any such discourse will be a male-dominated affair.
Thus the authorities must not spend too much time patting themselves on the back over the positive developments reported in the GEPA report. For what is needed now is action to consolidate the gains made over the past 15 years. To do this, the patriarchal views that permeate our society need to be addressed; especially those that view women as homemakers and vessels of family honour. The importance of educational reform cannot be ignored here.
Harassment is also a major obstacle that keeps women out of the workforce. The recent Aurat Foundation report, “Women’s Safety Audit in Public Transport in Lahore”, found that up to 90 percent of women face sexual harassment when travelling on public transport in Lahore. It also noted that more often than not — the police do not play their due role preventing such incidents. Elsewhere, a faculty member at Karachi University — the country’s largest varsity — last year reported receiving threats after she came forward to report an incident of sexual harassment. The fact that women confront this type of aggression from the streets to institutions of higher learning is an issue that cannot be ignored any longer. And, as such, it must be addressed on an emergency basis so that women enjoy the fundamental right to security when they leave their homes to pursue professional careers. *
Published in Daily Times, March 4th 2018.