Wednesday October 04, 2023

Women in the mainstream

September 29, 2016

Women are conventionally tasked with the grueling responsibility of educating our children. What we need is a deeper sense of appreciation that women can also be trusted with other mainstream roles.

According to a report published by UN Women, a UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women, the male employment-to-population ratio stood at 72.2 percent, while for women it was 47.1 percent in 2013.

The report further says that when paid and unpaid work are combined, women in developing countries work more than men, with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care. Despite some improvements over the last 50 years, in virtually every country, men spend more time on leisure each day while women spend more time doing unpaid housework.

More women than men work in vulnerable, low-paid, or undervalued jobs. As of 2013, 49.1 percent of the world’s working women were in vulnerable employment, often unprotected by labour legislation, compared to 46.9 percent of men.

Women were far more likely than men to be in vulnerable employment in East Asia (50.3 percent versus 42.3 percent), South-East Asia and the Pacific (63.1 percent versus 56 percent), South Asia (80.9 percent versus 74.4 percent), North Africa (54.7 percent versus 30.2 percent), the Middle East (33.2 percent versus 23.7 percent) and Sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 85.5 percent versus 70.5 percent).

Women are responsible for 85-90 percent of household food preparation worldwide. In developed countries, women contribute more in their economies compared to developing countries. Similarly, women in developed countries get a chance to perform mainstream roles more consistently than those in developing countries. Fundamentally, a number of factors – education, culture, societal behavior and the social fabric of a country – provide women the opportunity to get a mainstream role.

Women in Pakistan are no exception to the plight of women in developing countries. There is a lot of trumpeting of women’s empowerment by various quarters these days but in substance Pakistan still needs to go a long way to achieve its long-term goals to this end. While Pakistan is still lagging behind in its targets of achieving an improved literacy rate, retain enrolment and increase net primary enrolment, there is no visible effort to educate the 25 million children who are presently out of school; the majority of them being girls.

According to the UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report, approximately twice as many men as women receive a secondary education in Pakistan. According to the UNDP’s 2010 report, Pakistan ranked 120 in 146 countries in the Gender-related Development Index (GDI) and it ranked 92 in 94 countries in terms of Gender Empowerment Measurement (GEM) ranking.

According to a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization in 2015, women farmers in Punjab lack authority in decision-making due to the patriarchal society that limits their role. Women spend 12 to 15 hours a day in agriculture-related work. This work done by women is usually ignored, unpaid and not regarded economic activity.

Owing to the lack of a holistic approach in the enfranchisement of women, progress on of the idea of women assuming mainstream roles has been lackadaisical thus far. Although Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world that voted a woman into office as prime minister, the majority of our female population is still disenfranchised.

Some women holding mainstream roles in Pakistan are doing no less better than their male counterparts; and some of them have outperformed their male peers. The recently appointed chairperson of Ogra,. Uzma Adil Khan, has completely turned around a previously dysfunctional public authority. After her assuming office, a marked improvement in the work environment of Ogra was witnessed. The public authority’s building which previously looked like a deserted army bunker, is now resuscitated to a contemporary workplace without incurring any major expense. Likewise, Ogra officials are more disciplined now in terms of punctuality and other workplace ethics, and a renewed sense of responsibility can be seen amongst them. The overall efficiency of the public authority is improving significantly, and the entire midstream and downstream oil and gas sector of Pakistan will eventually benefit from the exuberant and coherent approach adopted by the newly appointed chairperson of the regulatory authority.

Similarly, Dr Maleeha Lodhi, the permanent representative of Pakistan to the UN has outperformed most of her male peers by any rate. Her diplomatic acumen has not only served the cause of Kashmir but also furthered the interests of Pakistan on many other fronts.

From the private sector, Jehan Ara, president of the Pakistan Software Houses Association for IT & ITES is running a Google-funded incubation space and is a staunch supporter of cyber freedom and net neutrality.

In the same vein, many other women holding mainstream positions are doing commendable work. That being said, a number of mainstream roles assumed by women in Pakistan are still there to be taken up.

One of the major reasons behind women not having assumed sufficient mainstream roles is the lack of a coherent and lucid policy on women’s participation at the national level. Although some steps are being taken in the right direction – such as legislation against harassment of women – a more goal-driven and object-oriented approach is yet to be unveiled.

Empirical evidence suggests that economies perform better when they have significant women’s participation. The state alone cannot shoulder responsibility for this; every citizen has to appreciate the role of women in all spheres of life in an individual capacity. This will eventually benefit the economy on a national scale. Such a sense of appreciation can only be nurtured by educating all of society.

Furthermore, our education system also needs to be reformed so as to encapsulate the material significance of the benefits of women’s participation. The social fabric of our society needs to evolve in tandem with the changing requirements of the present day.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: