There was something unusual in a picture published a few months ago, at least for Pakistan: a man handcuffed, escorted by female police officers. Why was it unusual, you might ask? Because even after seven decades of independence, misogyny is still very much rampant in Pakistani society. Although in the case of this classic camera click; of a father accused of physically abusing his daughter, it was rather apt that female cops nabbed the culprit, it is rare to find women here leading or replacing men in any capacity. Rather, it is an omnipresent trend in our world that some positions of power are withheld from women due to cultural, traditional and religious reasons.
According to a recent study by the World Bank, women are barred from certain jobs in a 104 countries. This means that they are officially not allowed to apply for certain posts. Some countries publish lists of jobs deemed too dangerous for women such as Russia, where women cannot drive a train or steer a ship. Similarly in Kazakhstan women are not allowed to bleed or stun cattle. Other countries have rules against women working in specific sectors, or at night or in ‘morally inappropriate’ jobs. In four countries, women cannot register a business under their own name. In eighteen countries around the world, a husband can stop his wife from working. These restrictions function under the guise that it is for the protection of the ‘weaker sex’. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) concluded that these so-called blanket protective prohibitions are becoming ‘increasingly obsolete’.
A Human Rights Watch report this year expressed its concern over the widespread use of gender discriminatory job advertisements in China. Titled, “’Only Men Need Apply’: Gender Discrimination in Job Advertisements in China, ”the 99 page report analysed over 36,000 job advertisements posted between 2013 and 2018 for Chinese recruitment and company websites and on social media platforms. Many of the ads specify a requirement or preference for men. Some job posts require women to have certain physical attributes — with respect to height, weight, voice, or facial appearance — that are irrelevant to job duties. Others use the physical attributes of a company’s current female employees to attract male applicants.
Allocating jobs to women according to their physical traits is a common phenomenon in Pakistan as well. This is not surprising, for women are still predominantly looked upon as sources of comfort and pleasure, whether as a home maker or for sexual gratification. Sadly, while a good number of Pakistani females are beginning to achieve recognition and success after proving their mettle in mentally and physically challenging jobs, others still have to depend on their ‘good looks’ to bag a position.
As the number of television news channels is increasing rapidly in Pakistan — an industry to which I belong, the demand for professionals in all departments is naturally also on the rise. Although, women’s participation here, as human resource to news packaging, production and post-production categories, is encouraging, with some corporations even giving preference to female applications, women are more visible in positions where on camera appearances are required, like news reporters, news anchors and hosts. The reason is a preference for an agreeable presence on screen rather than content. And this is why, while for a journalist in more developed countries — whether male or female, to appear on screen in any capacity requires a minimum number of years in experience and possibly also an age group, in Pakistan, fresh graduates — particularly attractive young women — manage to get an on camera appearance within months of being hired! With exceptions of course, it can be seen that these women usually have a weak command over language and content.
On the other end, while the print media in Pakistan has had and still has few women heading publications, in the electronic media women are almost nowhere to be seen as far as top managerial or decision making positions are concerned.
Last year, Pakistan being ranked the second last country in the Global Gender Gap Index was owed to lesser economic participation and opportunities for women. In 2015, the country was at a mere 22percent;having the lowest female labour force participation rate in South Asia.
Historically, women around the world have remained largely limited to low-paying and poor status occupations for the past two centuries, or have earned less pay than men for doing the same work. Until recently, women’s lack of access to higher education excluded them from the practice of well-paid and high status occupations. The prestigious Cambridge University fully validated degrees for women much later on in 194, that also after an opposition and debate.
In many regions, women still contribute mainly through agricultural work. In South Asia, West Asia, and Africa, only 20 percent of women work have paid non-agricultural jobs, although worldwide, women’s rate of paid employment outside of agriculture grew to 41 percent by 2008.
Discrimination on the basis of faith is also no exception. Amongst most religions, representatives of a faith religious clerics are all men. Some rituals are performed only by men. Few dare to disagree.
In France, a woman Rabbi is one of the only three preachers in a synagogue hidden in a parking garage and guarded by the police. In a country where Jewish life is overwhelmingly Orthodox, Delphine Horvilleur remains unrecognised by France’s central Jewish authority and extremists regularly threaten her on social media.
In India, Jamida also received extreme backlash on social media for leading Friday prayers for Muslims in its southern state of Kerala, as various schools of thoughts differ on whether a woman may be imam or leader of a jamaah, a congregational prayer. Muslims in India also witnessed their first few female Qazis or Muslim judges last year, a role traditionally assumed only by men.
While gender disparity and gender pay gaps still continue to haunt women across the world, in many countries even the number of occupations open for employment remain limited for women. In Pakistan, where women are actively joining the growing resilience and manage to make waves by riding a cab, piloting a plane and sometimes leading corporations, they have to pay the price for breaking stereotypes with questions regarding their capabilities, and morality. The only heartening aspect of this is that for these women no price is too high to pay for their ambitions and right to choose.
The writer is a senior media professional with experience in Broadcast Journalism. She can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Daily Times, September 1st 2018.
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