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March 8, 2018

A day for women


March 8, 2018

As in other nations across the world, the International Women’s Day will be marked today in Pakistan, the event having been given greater official recognition in the country than in previous years. Both the federal and provincial governments have organised special events to celebrate the day and draw attention to the issues of women. The focus this year for the day, also observed globally by the UN, is the role of women in the workplace. While recognising the International Women’s Day officially may be a step forward, the fact is that in most cases this is merely symbolic. According to findings in the recent UNDP-led surveys, Pakistan has a ratio of only one in every five women engaged in the labour force. This is among the lowest in the world. Pakistan’s report card on women also does not look good in other spheres. The maternal mortality rate of 178 for every 100,000 live births is higher than in most other countries including all those in the immediate neighbourhood and many in Sub Saharan Africa. Despite improving rates of enrolments Pakistan still has a female literacy rate of just over 45 percent. This falls under one percent in some parts of the country including Fata and some regions within Balochistan. According to official figures, some 10,000 women suffer violence each year and each day 18 women across the country are subjected to heinous crimes including murder, rape or honour killing.

These figures have been with us for many years, even decades. Some attempts have made through legislation and awareness building to change them. Success has however been limited, partially because violence against women is an entrenched part of the patriarchal system backed by state authorities. Changes in the behaviour of law-enforcement agencies, administration and other bodies are crucial if any real difference is to be made. There is no doubt we will hear a great deal said about this at the various seminars and TV talk shows conducted today. The real question however is if we possess the will to create a difference in the lives of girls and women by freeing them from the hold of traditions and the obsessions that this so often brings. The question is one that needs to be debated and discussed far more openly than is currently the case. Women need control over their own lives as well as a bigger share in decision-making within the state and in all spheres of power if they are to claim their right as equal citizens and escape the various forms of repression and deprivation that have held them back for far too long.

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