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Absence of women from governance

The current Pakistani government is making a number of task forces as well as a number of committees on various issues ranging from economics to Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM). However, one thing is common in all of these initiatives: a conspicuous absence of women. The federal government recently issued a new Federal Cabinet notification for a newly formed task force on science and technology. Out of 13 members, the task force has zero women. Earlier, as Pakistan celebrated International Day for Women and Girls in Science, 20 female scientists and science communicators were panelists at the National Dialogue for Women in Science in Lahore on February 11, however, not a single one of them could make it into the task force.

This is rightly making many women around Pakistan very uncomfortable. It is as if women with accomplishments are invisible to the ruling class. As emphasised many times, Pakistan is already at the bottom of the gender equality index and has been surveyed to be one of the ten most dangerous countries for women.

When Pakistan voted in the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) government in July last year, many hoped that it signaled a time of change.

However the new “change” oriented government could not find any women representatives competent enough to run any of the four provinces that make up the federation of Pakistan. Moreover, not a single woman was appointed to the Economic Advisory Council (EAC). Pakistan is also the only country in South Asia that has never appointed a woman Supreme Court Judge, and has no plans on doing so in the near future.

The same goes for women in STEM. Conditions for women in STEM are already very difficult. According to the British Council’s report on understanding female participation in STEM subjects in Pakistan at the higher school level, 46 percent of girls and 72 percent of boys were enrolled in at least one STEM subject. At the university level, it was 26 percent for women and 51 percent for the males.

Pakistan is also the only country in South Asia that has never appointed a woman Supreme Court Judge

In Pakistan, girls comprise 57 percent of all out of school children and face systematic discrimination. Though data suggests that the rates of enrolment at the tertiary level have almost reached parity in recent years , World Bank data confirms that gender parity remains elusive at all levels of education. Women complete far fewer PhDs than men and are subsequently seriously underrepresented in STEM careers. Research indicates that in the Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) field, women report feelings of isolation, hostile male-dominated work environments, and lack of effective sponsors as factors that cause them to leave the industry.

While the STEM workforce remains dominated by men and many a times women choosing to join the workforce are subjected to a toxic work environment, long inflexible hours and a never ending struggle to balance work and home life. In this back ground, women of Pakistan who still persist and manage to excel in STEM as both professionals and entrepreneurs when denied representation at the policy level adds insult to injury.

Women in Pakistan have rarely been given opportunities to be part of any process of change. However, a government that has come to power in the name of reform and progress can make an effort to change this.

Firstly, inclusion of women in STEM and other fields in respective task forces is needed. Not doing so gives the impression that women are not considered worthy of inclusion in change processes despite their progress. Secondly, no matter whatever initiatives are taken at the government level, if women are excluded, they will not work for 50 percent of the population. Therefore it is imperative that inclusion of women in governance be given prime importance.

It is time that the Prime Minister of Pakistan and his party empower women to be catalysts of this change for women. No reform that excludes women is sustainable in the long run.

Quratulain Fatima is Cofounder Women4PeaceTech and a policy practitioner with a focus on gender inclusive development and conflict prevention

Published in Daily Times, February 25th 2019.

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