Economic and social limitations continue to be a hurdle in women’s struggle
akistan has struggled with gender disparity for decades, with women facing numerous challenges in various aspects of life. However, in a typical Pakistani household, women are not active participants in political discussions. This is not due to any cognitive limitations on their part, but rather because they are overshadowed by male members of the household. Women are often relegated to menial tasks, with little opportunity for thoughtful participation. When it is time to vote, women tend to follow the direction of their male relatives, just as men are often held captive to the whims of the more influential individuals.
The situation does not bode well for the prospect of a thriving democracy. The issue of gender disparity is further compounded by the fact that Pakistan cannot be considered a democracy no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise. Democracy, by definition, involves an informed decision-making process where all arguments are carefully considered, leading to conscious and informed decisions. Unfortunately, much of Pakistan operates on a biradri system where decisions are made based on personal influence rather than merit. This system cannot be seen as reflective of a true democracy.
In terms of political representation, extreme disparity is evident in the quota system. The Provincial and National Assemblies have reserved seats for women. This is an acknowledgment of the underrepresentation and marginalisation of women in politics. Women hold only a handful of leadership positions. At one point, only two women were elected to the National Assembly on general seats at one time, with the rest being appointed against reserved quotas. This could indicate that political campaigns led by women are weak or fruitless. It is often assumed that women politicians are not as invested because they have to manage domestic responsibilities, including raising children, which makes politics a second thought.
It is evident that many women are not very keen on women’s participation in politics. This could be due to the prevalent notion that politics is better left to men. Even when women do enter politics, they become the subject of tabloid journalism, with the media focusing more on their appearance and belongings than on their performance. Hina Rabbani Khar, the former foreign minister, was an example of such reporting. Such reporting reinforces the idea that women in politics are not taken seriously, and that their appearance is more important than their competence.
Gender disparity is a long-standing issue in Pakistan, especially in terms of social freedoms. Women are often restricted, treated as objects of pleasure and discouraged from speaking out. The notion that boys will be boys has placed a disproportionate burden of responsibility on women as caregivers and nurturers, while men often shirk their responsibilities.
Gender disparity in Pakistan is a long-standing issue in terms of social freedoms. Women are often restricted, treated as objects of pleasure and discouraged from speaking out. The notion that boys will be boys has placed a disproportionate burden of responsibility on women as caregivers and nurturers, while men often shirk their responsibilities.
Economic disparity is also a major problem. Women are often not given the opportunity to earn or are prevented from spending their earnings as they see fit. Women who work as domestic workers are particularly vulnerable. They may have no control over their earnings and are often expected to contribute to running a household.
Legislature designed by men to protect women is problematic in that while they may sympathise with women they do not always fully understand their experiences. Most men cannot fully comprehend the sufferings of women. Therefore, laws related to women need women’s input to ensure rationality and empathy.
Some cultural norms also reinforce stereotypes and promote trivial matters like skin complexion and body image that can undermine women’s self-worth and hinder provision of equal opportunities to women. Women are often raised with the expectation of becoming brides, homemakers and mothers. While there is nothing inherently wrong with these roles, such expectations are a sign of limited imagination and do not encourage women to embrace their full potential as people who can make a difference in the world through their ideas and actions. As a result, nearly half of the population is disempowered and kept away from crucial decision-making.
The biggest challenge in Pakistan towards achieving gender equality is the idea of self-identity. Women are often treated as objects that belong to someone and are not given a chance to develop their own personalities. Equality will not be achieved as long as they are seen to be belonging to their fathers and husbands. Women need to accept themselves as complete human beings who do not require a male presence to validate their existence.
The writer is a Senior Teaching Fellow at the Lahore School of Economics. Her research interests include gender, farming theory and social minorities