I was fortunate to have grown up in a family where gender equality was not just a notion but a reality. My mother studied in Gordon College, one of only three women amongst three hundred men, became a doctor in 1962 and served the Pakistan Army for 35 years, a longer service to the country and community than my father.
The division of work in our household afforded my parents a more equal partnership; both were able to pursue their professional dreams, and my sisters were raised as independent economic participants in the same way I was. The experience provided me the lens through which to view women at work place for the entirety of my professional life. Gender parity has not been an acquired idea to me. It has been the only way I know.
Parliament recently unanimously approved the anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills. The move is encouraging, and one long overdue. One hopes against hope that these laws will be implemented. The women of Pakistan need to be safe in the knowledge that violations against their safety and well-being are of crucial importance not just to other women but also to the men of this country.
The majority of Pakistan’s recent accomplishments on the international stage have come from women. From Samina Baig scaling the worlds’ seven tallest peaks, to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy winning her second Oscar, the talent and commitment of Pakistani women is a force to be reckoned with. However, attitudes on the micro-level do not reflect the visible strides our women have made nationally and globally.
As men, we are often unaware to the struggles of women that work beside us, and ahead of us.
If the world starts investing in women and girls, and gender equality becomes a reality, the dividends will be exponential. Studies show that on an average, women re-invest 90 cents of every dollar they earn in family education and health. There is just not a moral and social case for gender equality; it is now an economic imperative. McKinsey estimates that full gender parity would add $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025. According to UN Women, increased educational attainment accounted for 50 per cent of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past five decades, of which over half is due to achieving gender parity in higher education.
However, the Gender Gap Index 2015 ranked Pakistan second from last among 145 countries in terms of the prevalence of gender-based disparities in earnings.
To counter this trend, it is essential that we build robust organisations with cultures that elevate and support women towards their professional goals and maximise their workforce participation. This can be as simple as ensuring women representation on panels and conferences to ensure a greater proportion of women in decision-making roles. Another effective measure is the provision of transport to women. Designing internship programmes for women if they are interested in re-joining the work force after a hiatus would help them soft-land back into their careers.
Women also need to know that if they contribute to the work force, they can do so with society as a whole ensuring that they will not have to face safety hazards when they step out of the house to work.
With men at the helm of most business and public enterprises, the situation cannot improve without bringing them on board, neither with regard to social attitudes nor in the sphere of economics.
In 1965, Margaret Thatcher had roared to a thunderous applause at the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds Conference the famous words that “If you want anything said, Ask a Man. If You want anything done, ask a Woman.” Behind this slick comment was a serious insight – that women in positions of authority deliver as effectively as men.
Thatcher had many detractors as well as admirers, but all agree that she changed the trajectory of her country. It is impossible to think of modern Britain without the influence of Prime Minister Thatcher. Similarly, it is impossible to de-link Pakistan’s history from Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Benazir Bhutto.
For our women’s rich contribution to translate into a prosperous and secure present, a synergised approach of the two genders is required – with men as the allies of women – to dismantle the entrenched patriarchy and fully utilise the potential of the Pakistani women.
The writer is the CEO of the Aman Foundation. He tweets AhmadJalal_1