Women Rights in Pakistan
Throughout history, the role of women has always been determined by the men in society. They have had very different experiences in different times. In some societies and times, the women were able to be powerful leaders and warriors. Yet, in other societies, they have had strict expectations placed on them that forced them to be seen as inferior to men. It wasn’t until recently in the 20th century that women began taking charge and determining what roles they want to play in society. They began leaving behind the ideologies of their only role being housewives and taking care of the children. They began demanding rights equal to men, to be given position in government, and to make contributions economically and socially.
However, in certain parts of the world today, women still struggle with securing these roles and contributing to their societies in the ways they would like. This conflict is very prominent in Pakistan where women remain to be objectified. The question of what their roles are in Pakistan remains and how their assimilation in society is prevented. This paper will focus on the gender discrimination in Pakistan by exploring the culture, politics, religion, and economic situation. This paper will also examine how these all relate to the violence and discrimination brought against these women.
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Pakistan’s conservative and patriarchal society has prevented women from fully integrating in government and economics. It is a patriarchal society where men are the primary authoritative figures and women are subordinate. Of Pakistan’s 190 million population, women consist of half and are a big part of the labor force. According to the article, “The Economic Role of Women in Pakistan,” by journalist Tariq Hussain, the female employment rate in Pakistan, which is 4.3%, remains the lowest in the world. Pakistan is among the “five worst countries in the world” to allow women economic cooperation and integration (Hussain 1). The societal perception of women as a lower status plays a huge factor in this issue. Although many women do wish and seek to contribute to society by becoming doctors, engineers, journalists, or professors, many do not work or continue to try and achieve this after marriage. 65% of female doctors and 80% of business graduates do not work once they are married (Hussain 1). Certain factors such as lack of education and cultural practices account for this gender disparity.
Gender disparity and discrimination against women, as seen in Pakistan, is a global concern. According to the article “Gender roles and their influence on life prospects for women in urban Karachi, Pakistan: a qualitative study,” by Tazeen S. Ali, more than 50% of the women lack basic education and about 30% do earn some income. Majority of the women in Pakistan remain at home to do housework and care for the children. This excludes them from any main decision making. Because they are home raising the children, society makes them responsible for maintaining the honor in the family while the men are out working or in school. To ensure that they do not dishonor their families, society limits women’s mobility, places restrictions on their behavior and activities, and permits them only limited contact with the opposite sex.
Cultural practices such as purdah and the dowry system are the types of restrictions placed on the women in Pakistan that enable them from fully assimilating in society. Women are expected to live under the constraints of these systems to ensure they are keeping the family honor and reputation. It is the way society defines a women’s place in Pakistan. These restraints impact the status, division of labor, and dependency of the women on the men in their families. Purdah, meaning “curtain”, is a set of practices that impose gender segregation and the seclusion of women. Women’s “access to employment is constrained by purdah” (Coxhead 1). It constrains their ability to work outside their home. This limits the women’s labor force participation and mobility. The female labour force participation rates (FLFPR) in Pakistan is the lowest in the world. In contrast to the average for low and middle income countries FLFPR of 48%, Pakistan has a 23% FLFPR (Coxhead 2). Despite having a very large population of women, Pakistan’s FLFPR suggests that it is a far less labor rich economy.
Although the female labor force participation rate in Pakistan is low, there is still a need for females in certain professions. Professions such as medicine and teaching have a high demand for female clientele because of the highly sex-segregated society (Papanek 517). Females are not able to see male doctors or be taught/teach the opposite sex in school. Purdah enforces this practice. The reason for purdah and rationale behind it is to provide security for the women, as advised by the religion of Islam (Ali 1). This is a huge misconception of the religion for that it never restricted women’s freedom, education, and empowerment. The Quran, holy book for Islam, states ‘Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah (God) has given the one more (strength) than the other.” The Quran also states that the men are to, ‘live with them (the women) with kindness and equity'(4:19). The misinterpretation leads to women’s role as a subordinate to men and their role is confined only to the house and child care.
The restrictive interpretation of Purdah is not only a social issue but also has economic costs. Because there is some demand for women in certain professions as mentioned, they are often employed in low-productivity and informal occupations (Coxhead 3). They are paid a lot less than men, have little to no job security, and no financial independence. This forces many females to neglect pursuing their careers and education. Furthermore, Pakistan has the world’s second highest number of children, more than 5 million, not attending school. More than 3 million of those not in school are girls (UNESCO Institute of Statistics). The low education levels leaves the economy at a disadvantage because there are benefits for educating women and girls. Educating girls and women improves the economic development of communities in Pakistan. According to the article, “Crisis in Pakistan: Educate Women and Girls for Long-term Solutions,” by Rebecca Winthrop, every “1% increase in women’s education generates a 0.3% increase in economic growth. According to the modern economic theory, an increase in education leads to an increase in economic growth. Education expenditure measures long-term investment that indicates higher production level for the economy.
However, in Pakistan, there is very little investments on education. The government of Pakistan “invests $11 per capita in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA)” and “$25 per capita” for the rest of the country (Winthrop 3). The education of females in the northern parts of the country are lower than in other areas. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are areas of Pakistan outside the four provinces. The women in these areas face even more issues than the women in other more modern parts of Pakistan. They are deprived of basic necessities and are in desperate need of the government’s attention. There are no higher education schools for the women and young girls are forced to abandon school every day only to fetch water for their house while the men are out working (DunyaNews).
The education system had found difficulties in reaching girls and women to attend school. However, the cultural systems like purdah, don’t help in this matter. Furthermore, the illiteracy levels amongst the women force them to be even more dependent on the men in the families. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap report, in FATA alone, more than half of the eligible grade 1-12 girls have never stepped foot inside a school and only 1 in 10 girls can read. The female literacy rate in FATA is only 3% and in the rest of the nation it has an average of 32%. This is much lower than the male literacy rate which is 30% in FATA and 54% on a national level (Winthrop 3). However, this issue can be resolved by having more expenditures and invests on education in the nation, but especially in FATA.
Female education can lead to the reduction of poverty and can lessen the population and fertility growth rate (Hassan 83). Female’s education is negatively linked to fertility rate and positively to marriage at a higher age. As for the women who are engaged in education, they are married and give birth to children at an older age hence the fertility rate declines. The fertility rate has a significant and dramatic impact on the economic growth. Income per capita increase as there is a reduction in fertility rate in the developing countries (Hassan 84). The low fertility rate is essential for economic growth. By educating females, it would make them more aware of the gender disparities and injustices they face. However, because of this very low rate of female education, they are forced to remain dependent on the men in their highly patriarchal society.
The low earnings and inability to have financial independence, and inability to be educated makes it difficult for the women to fight back against the injustices and gender discriminations such as purdah and the dowry system. The dowry system, like the purdah system, is another way to make the female a subordinate to the male. The dowry system is the practice of “marriage payments by the bride’s family to the groom’s family to compensate for lower female earning” (Coxhead 3). It can be paid in the amount of cash, jewelry, or household items and equipment. In a country that lives below the poverty line and have difficulties obtaining crucial things such as clean water, electricity, health, and education, the dowry system makes things even more difficult for families. It discriminates against unmarried girls whos worth and value is determined by how much her family can contribute toward her dowry. It is also the reason why many families feel cursed when they give birth to a daughter. When the negotiations regarding dowry aren’t satisfied by the groom’s family, often time the bride is subject to abuse and torment by her in-laws (Gulzar et al 4). In many cases, the bride is even murdered. The dowry system endorses greed and conflicts in Pakistani society.
As mentioned, the cultural practices and systems such as Purdah and dowry often lead to violence against women.Violence against women has been an ongoing issue that’s seen in many countries around the world. The term “violence against women” can be defined as the range of sexually, psychologically, and physically coercive acts used against women by male intimate partners. It is the most prevalent but least recognized human right violation and abuse in the world. This type of violence can also be described as domestic violence. In Pakistan, domestic violence is considered a private matter, as it occurs in the family, and therefore not an appropriate focus for assessment, intervention or policy changes. Women have to face discrimination and violence on a daily basis due to the cultural and religious norms that Pakistani society embraces. Some of these violences which can be physical, mental and emotional abuse include honor killing, spousal abuse including marital rape, acid attacks and being burned by family members.
Violence against women is a persistent and widespread issue in Pakistan. It comes in the forms of physical and verbal. In most cases, men, specifically the husbands, fathers, and brothers commit the domestic violence. Often times, these violences lead to the deaths of the women. According to the article, “Ending Violence Against Women in Pakistan,” by Dr. Tahmina Rashid, Pakistan ranked 150th out of 153 in the Women, Peace and Security Index. About “27% of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence in their lifetime and only 51% perceive themselves to be safe in their communities” (Rashid 1). The systems of Purdah is misused to push the social isolation of women and thus, women are more confined to their homes, they are not allowed to go outside, or even to seek any medical help or meet any relative. Although the women are aware of these restrictions, it is hard for them to prevent it because they are usually too young and often believe the treatment is normal.
The lack of education amongst these women, lack of being financially independent, and being strictly confined to the house forces women to be heavily dependent on the men in their families and husbands. Their status and worth is often defined by the men based on the dowry and societal norms. They are expected to be nothing more than the worth of their dowry and their role as birth givers and house keepers. With the lack of education comes the lack of awareness. Their inability to be aware of this issue and realize it is not normal despite how common it is, prevents them for bringing an end to it. According to the constitution of Pakistan, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone’. Women are not only unaware of their rights and roles defined by the constitution of Pakistan but they also don’t have access to even report any type of abuse against them.
The very low opportunities for women to participate in political activities is another factor in why there isn’t an end to the discrimination and violence against women. As it is a male dominant society, men carry out any type of violence against women as a means of suppressing them and giving women lower ranks in society. Women who seek out to gain political empowerment are never encouraged by their family members. Not only are they discouraged and restricted by their husbands, but also by their parents. This is because it is seen as a dishonor and would bring shame to the family (Ali 30).
The role of women is very limited in Pakistani society. They face many challenges and restrictions that enable them from fully assimilating in society. Their isolation from men in public prevent them from being allowed to gain basic necessities such as education. Pakistan would benefit greatly, economically and socially, by allowing women to reach their full potentials. By getting rid of systems like purdah and dowry, as well as increasing investments on female education, the economy of pakistan will improve greatly.