Women’s status in Pakistan is a complex and multifaceted issue that is shaped by a variety of cultural, social, and economic factors. While women in Pakistan have made some progress in recent years, they continue to face significant challenges and discrimination in many areas of life. These include low literacy rates, health, reproduction rights, cultural and social barriers, discrimination against women, and many more. In this article, we will explore the current state of women’s rights in Pakistan and examine some of the key issues that affect women in the country. We will also look at the efforts being made to improve the status of women and girls in Pakistan, and consider some of the challenges that remain.
1. Education and Literacy
Education and literacy are key indicators of a society’s development and progress, and they are also important determinants of individual and collective well-being. In Pakistan, women’s access to education has improved significantly over the past few decades, but there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed.
According to data from the World Bank, the literacy rate for women in Pakistan was approximately 45% in 2020, compared to a rate of around 70% for men. This gap in education has significant implications for women’s economic opportunities, as women with higher levels of education tend to have better employment prospects and are more likely to be able to support themselves and their families.
One of the major challenges facing women in Pakistan is a lack of access to education. Many women and girls in Pakistan do not have the opportunity to attend school, especially in rural areas and in poorer households. This can be due to a variety of factors, including a lack of schools or other educational facilities, cultural and social barriers, and economic constraints. In addition to these challenges, women, and girls in Pakistan also face discrimination and violence in the education system. It mostly happens in backward areas.
Steps to Curb these Issues:
Despite these challenges, there are also many efforts underway in Pakistan to increase literacy rates for women and girls. For example, there are initiatives to build more schools and provide more education opportunities, as well as programs to promote girls’ education and encourage more women to pursue higher education. These efforts are aimed at improving women’s access to education and increasing their literacy rates, which can in turn lead to greater economic and social empowerment.
Pakistan Government’s Policies:
The Pakistan Government has endorsed the new Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on Education. It is to ensure all girls and boys complete free, equitable, and quality primary and secondary education by 2030. However, the education budget was short $565 million. It was not enough to be able to provide 12 years of education for all children in Pakistan in 2015. However, public expenditures on education amount to only 2.7% of the GDP of the country.
According to Article 37 of the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, “Women’s education in Pakistan is a fundamental right of every female citizen”.
2. Economic Participation & Employment
Women’s economic participation and employment are important indicators of gender equality and can have a significant impact on women’s well-being and overall status in society. In Pakistan, women’s participation in the labor force is relatively low, with an overall rate of around 27% in 2020. However, there are significant variations in employment rates among different groups of women, with higher rates among urban women and women with higher levels of education.
This is because of a lack of access to decent employment opportunities. Many women in Pakistan work in the informal sector, where they are often not protected by labor laws. They are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. In addition, women in Pakistan often face discrimination in the workplace. These discriminations include wage discrimination and limited opportunities for advancement.
In some parts of the country, it is not considered socially acceptable for women to work outside the home, and women who do work may face stigma or discrimination. This can create significant challenges for women who are trying to support themselves and their families.
Steps to Curb these Issues:
There are also many efforts underway in Pakistan to promote economic empowerment and support women’s participation in the labor force.
For example, there are initiatives to provide skills training and vocational education to women, as well as programs to support women’s entrepreneurship and business development. There are also efforts to address discrimination and other barriers to women’s employment, including campaigns to promote gender equality in the workplace. These efforts are aimed at improving women’s economic opportunities and empowering them to support themselves and their families.
What Government is Doing?
Pakistan is the signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, as well as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have commitments to improving women’s socio-economic conditions in the country and promoting gender equality.
The National Plan of Action, National Policy for Development, and Women’s Empowerment are consistent with international gender commitments. Legislation against gender-based violence has improved in Pakistan between 2000 and 2016. The government is committed to facilitating women so that they can play a positive role in the development of the country. However, special initiatives have been taken to ensure women’s empowerment.
Some of the initiatives are given as under:
- The government has launched the Youth Business Loan Scheme, with 50% of loans reserved for females.
- The Punjab government has announced special budget allocations for the women’s empowerment package in the provincial budget.
- Under the Sindh Government’s Landless Farmers Project, of the total beneficiaries, 70.6% of land titles were given to women farmers.
- The government has established a 10% quota for women’s employment in civil services by Punjab Government. It was done under the Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act 2014.
- Women’s Ombudsperson offices have been established at the federal and provincial levels to ensure the implementation of the protection against harassment.
- An amount of Rs 2.7 billion has been proposed for women’s empowerment and their socio-economic development for the 11-Year Plan.
- The government has also started the national women transfer scheme and Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) which facilitates women providing a source of income.
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3. Social and cultural barriers
Women in Pakistan face a range of social and cultural barriers that can limit their ability to fully participate in society and realize their rights. These barriers can be deeply rooted in traditional cultural and social norms, and they can have a significant impact on women’s status and well-being. In the 2021 Women’s Rights Index, Pakistan ranked 151st out of 156 countries.
One of the major social and cultural barriers facing women in Pakistan is discrimination and violence. The country has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence in the world, and women and girls are often subject to violence and abuse in the home, on the streets, and in other public spaces. Another significant barrier facing women in Pakistan is a lack of access to justice and support services. Women who experience violence or abuse often have limited options for seeking help and protection, and they may face barriers to accessing legal remedies or other forms of support.
Steps to Curb these Issues:
Despite these challenges, there are also many efforts underway in Pakistan to address social and cultural barriers to women’s empowerment. For example, there are initiatives to promote gender equality and combat violence against women. There are also a number of organizations working to promote women’s rights and to address the social and cultural barriers that limit women’s participation in society.
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4. Health & Reproductive Rights
Women in Pakistan have the right to access healthcare and make decisions about their reproductive health, but there are many challenges that can prevent them from exercising these rights. Many women in Pakistan face barriers to healthcare, including a lack of access to facilities, cultural and social barriers, and financial constraints.
There are also significant cultural and social barriers to women seeking reproductive health services. These include a lack of education about reproductive health and the importance of family planning and societal stigma. Additionally, there are laws and regulations in Pakistan that can restrict women’s access to certain reproductive health services, such as abortion.
Public spending on Healthcare:
In 2007, public spending on health in Pakistan was US $64 per capita (in purchasing power parity) as compared to US $109 in India, $233 in China, and $677 in Turkey. Given the low coverage of government health facilities, the private sector has emerged as the principal provider of health services in the country contributing to 60-70% of the health care in Pakistan.
Policies of the Pakistan Government:
In the Constitution of Pakistan, Articles 38(a), 38(d), and 25(1) refer to women’s health. Pakistan has taken certain initiatives in the health sector to redress gender imbalances. The SAP was launched in 1992-1993 to accelerate improvement in the social indicators. Closing the gender gap is the foremost objective of SAP.
4500 lady health visitors (LHVs) are registered with the Pakistan Nursing Council backed up by a community-based workforce of over 100,000 LHWs. Pakistan has also recently initiated a program to deploy 12,000 community midwives in rural areas. There is now increased access to maternal, neonatal, and child health and family planning services in rural communities. It is done through the expansion of the LHWs cadre from 38,000 in 2001 to more than 100,000 in 2010. However, there are about 5000 community midwives are under training before deployment in their own communities.
Other initiatives include village-based family planning workers and extended immunization programs. Besides, nutritional and child survival, cancer treatment, and increased involvement of media in health education are also included.
Family Planning Policy (FP)-2020 Objectives:
- Raising the Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) from 35% to 55% by 2020.
- The federal government will provide the amount for the contraceptive requirement as US $186 million over the period 2013 to 2020.
- Family planning will be a priority for LHWs, who cover 70% of rural areas.
5. Political Participation
Women in Pakistan have the right to participate in the political process, but their participation has historically been low. Women make up roughly half of Pakistan’s population. However, they have been underrepresented in the country’s political institutions. The barriers they face include cultural and social norms that discourage women from participating in politics. It is due to a lack of support and resources for women running for office, and security concerns.
There have been some efforts to increase women’s political participation in Pakistan, including the adoption of quotas for women in elected bodies and efforts to encourage more women to run for office. However, these efforts have had limited success in increasing the number of women in political office. And, women in Pakistan continue to face significant barriers to political participation. Despite these challenges, there are women in Pakistan who are actively involved in politics and working to promote women’s rights and increase their representation in political institutions.
6. Women from Marginalized Communities
Women from marginalized communities in Pakistan often face additional challenges and barriers to accessing their rights and participating in society. These communities can include ethnic and religious minorities, people with disabilities, and people living in poverty. Women from these communities may face discrimination and marginalization due to their identity, which can make it difficult for them to access education, healthcare, and other basic services.
They may also experience violence and abuse at higher rates than women from other communities. It is important for the government and society to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women from marginalized communities in order to promote their rights and well-being. This may include measures such as targeted programs and initiatives to address their specific needs, as well as efforts to address the underlying discrimination and inequalities that these communities face.
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7. Laws in Pakistan to Adopt Till Now
At the official level, the following Laws have been adopted in Pakistan to safeguard women:
- Muslim family Laws Ordinance (MFLO) of 1961.
- The West Pakistan Family Courts Act of 1964.
- Dowry and Bridal Gifts Restriction Act, 1976.
- Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2004.
- Protection of Women Act (2006)20, revised the Hudood Ordinance.
- Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2010 (on sexual harassment),
- Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace, 2010.
- Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2011.
- Criminal Law Act (Second Amendment, 2011), referred to as Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act.
- Criminal Law Act (Third Amendment, 2011), referred to as Prevention of Anti-Women Practices.
- The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011.
- Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection), Act 2012.
- National Commission on the Status of Women Act, 2012.
- Enforcement of Women Ownership Rights Act 2012.
- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elimination of Customs of Ghag Act 2013.
- Acid victims Act, Honor killing Act, and Women’s Protection Act.
In addition, Pakistan has been a party to various international and regional conventions for protecting women and giving them equal status. Pakistan is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).