Pakistan’s gender gap has widened over the years
akistan, according to the World Economic Forum Report 2022, is among the five countries with a gender gap greater than 5 percent. The report states that Pakistan closed the year at 56.4 percent parity. This is the highest level of gender parity ever reported by the country since 2006.
There has been significant improvement across several sub-indices like economic participation and opportunity (where Pakistan is now ranked 145); health and survival (143); education (135); and political participation (95). There has been a considerable increase (around 4 percent) in women’s earnings since the previous year. Since wage equality is one of the important gender gap indicators, increase in women’s earning is a good sign. However, the report notes that women’s participation in the workforce declined in 2022.
Pakistan presented its second Voluntary National Review (VNR) of the SDGs at the UN high level political forum in July. The focus of the second VNR was on highlighting the inclusive development approach taken by the government, and how the SDGs have contributed to expanding social protection coverage, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For a country struggling to maintain a growth trajectory and contain its macroeconomic imbalances, the pandemic had an enormous impact. Almost 44 percent of the population was potentially vulnerable. The Pakistan Bureau of Statistics’ Covid-19 survey showed that 27.31 million working people were affected by Covid-19; 20.6 million could not work during the first wave of the pandemic.
The VNR 2022 report said poverty had been consistently declining for the last decade and a half. Poverty estimates based on the national definition showed an improvement by 2.4 percent during 2016 and 2019. During 2019-2022, there was progress on indicators measuring the resilience of the poor and vulnerable during a crisis. There was significant mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources and a successful roll out of social protection programmes to support lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable population and programmes for youth to generate more jobs. The government took significant measures to ensure food security for all. The national Index Value for SDG rose from 27.47 to 62.92 between 2015-2020.
The 2017-18 national census report states that labour force participation among women of all ages is 14.52 percent; the male participation is 48.32 percent. This disparity translates into an income inequality. The average Pakistani woman’s income is only 16.3 percent of an average man’s. The high inequality in the wage structure limits women’s choice to work.
Women workers employed in the informal sector (which accounts for 74 percent of the economy) remain vulnerable. Home-based work and domestic care work are considered an ‘acceptable’ choice for women who need additional income to support their families. According to some estimates, there are more than 12 million home-based workers and 8 million domestic workers. The number of women employed in the home-based sector is rising at a rate of five percent a year.
Covid-19 severely disrupted labour markets around the world, including Pakistan, due to workplace closures driven by lockdowns and mobility restrictions. The effects of labour market disruption brought about by the pandemic have been disproportionate. It increased the vulnerability of already marginalised segments of the workforce, including the informal economy workers. It is worth noting that 81 percent of home-based workers in Pakistan are women.
Prevalence of violence against women and the dominance of patriarchal attributes account for Pakistan’s 159th place on the SDG index. It is ranked 153rd out of 156 countries on the Global Gender Parity index. The gender gap has widened over the years. It dropped 0.7 percent in 2022. Despite several pro-women legislations and initiatives for social and economic sustainability, societal conditioning is causing many women to consider the private family unit their primary place. Prejudices against women in general further reinforce inequality.
While Pakistan has many challenges, it is not without opportunities. Circumstances and needs of several communities are changing to pave the way for women to participate in social and economic spheres of life. Adhering to the commitment to the SDGs implementation framework, several government departments and non-governmental organisations have introduced various interventions focusing on women economic empowerment. Hundreds of women have graduated from such programmes. This indicates the willingness of communities to engage in productive activities.
The government’s efforts to create synergies between its development agenda and SDG indicators, localising the targets and indicators related to amplifying women’s voices and creating impact on the ground remain challenged due to several impediments and systemic barriers.
Several women’s rights organisations are monitoring and assessing the ground situation and are committed to advocating and lobbying for need-based recommendations for effective and sustainable policy frameworks based on peoples’ representation. In Pakistan, development projects are not always demand driven. Given a lack of reliable data, implementation can be ineffective.
The initiative for the recognition of the informal economy, specifically women’s participation in home-based and domestic care work remains an important issue for the workforce.
The development agenda in the context of privatisation programmes is a part of the economic and structural reforms agenda of the government. Privatisation, deregulation and promises of good governance seek to enhance growth and productivity of the national economy by harnessing the private sector as its engine of growth. This framework, supported by policies of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have aggravated the crisis. Neoliberal policies are allowing businesses to take over major thematic and constitutional obligations of the government like health, education, housing, energy, water supply, sanitation and solid waste management. This has disproportionately influenced the lives of the poor. Women are the most vulnerable in this regard. There is a need for a collective discourse on addressing and reducing the gender gap and bringing the various stakeholders on board.
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