“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not avenge?” These are the words of the character Shylock from Shakespeare’s play “The Merchant of Venice,” highlighting societal discrimination. The prevalent gender inequality in Pakistan, in the words of Shakespeare, is a fruit of societal discrimination, and the situation remains abominable.

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recognizes two forms of gender discrimination: de jure (by law) and de facto (by practice). For instance, if we talk about de-facto discrimination, it posits that in the majority of developing countries, women are not permitted to hold a job or to fly a country without the approval of their father or husband. Similarly, de-jure discrimination entails a person holding the same position and performing similar duties.

The benefits for men and women differ. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, both forms of discrimination exist despite Pakistan’s endorsement of CEDAW.

The reasons for gender inequality in Pakistan are multifaceted, and the root cause is none other than patriarchy. A major reason for gender discrimination and women’s feebleness is the inaccessibility of finances, leading to the feminization of poverty. The existing laws in Pakistan underpin women’s right to ownership, but de-facto discrimination hinders their ownership and less control of financial assets. In addition to gender discrimination, on a wider spectrum, there is another phenomenon existing in Pakistan known as “gender blindness.”

Gender blindness exhibits gender inequality and aids in maintaining the status quo. Gender blindness is the negligence of recognition of roles and responsibilities of both genders that have been assigned to them politically, economically, culturally, and socially. Gender-blind policies and behaviours do not reinforce diverse needs or support different roles. Gender blindness, a benign menace, will not help transform and revolutionize the unequal structure of gender relations.

The cure for gender blindness is gender equity. Gender equity means to play fair rather than equal with everyone. It is to aim for a balanced outcome for everyone regardless of gender. Equity ensures that women, men, girls, and boys have an equal chance at the starting and finish lines.

The question arises: how do we eliminate gender inequality and achieve gender equity? This is not a task to be completed overnight. The liberal school of thought in gender studies, also advocates of gender equity, proclaims that education is the remedy for deeply rooted gender inequality. Hence, the state must rigorously fulfil its constitutional duty to enrol 26 million out-of-school children, particularly the 12 million girls.

Pakistan’s primary education and women’s universities could serve as a beacon of hope and change.

Education is a tool to empower women; women’s universities are an opportunity to provide higher education and encourage participation in STEM fields, especially in rural areas and cities with cultural barriers. Women’s universities inculcate leadership qualities, create awareness, and foster confidence. It provides space free from discrimination and empowers women by equipping them with vocational learning.  Furthermore, within the purview of education, gender studies as a discipline should be made multidisciplinary to overcome gender stereotypes.

Women universities in Pakistan also cultivate a progressive culture by promoting gender equality in cultural programs and highlighting successful female role models. Such role models engage in policy-making and implementation, serving as benchmarks for others. Female role models who were involved politically were Bi Amma, Fatimah Jinnah, Begum Rana Liaqat, and others who were influential for women, such as Benazir Bhutto, Maleeha Lodhi, Dr Yasmin Rashid, Dr Sani Nishtar, Dr Atiya Innayatullah and many other renowned personalities. Although none were graduates of women’s universities, they were educated and were a guiding light for generations.

An unconventional remedy to achieve gender equality in Pakistan is promoting women’s sports. Women’s participation in sports needs to be welcomed and encouraged. It will have a significant impact on gender dynamics. Participation in sports not only empowers women by building confidence, but it also inculcates leadership skills and teamwork.

The unconventional solution would serve as a foreground in breaking gender stereotypes and challenging societal norms.

Moreover, the role of media is paramount as it plays a part in shaping the public’s perception. As a fourth pillar of the state, the media must partake in mainstreaming women’s sports. Such efforts will help Pakistan take a colossal step towards gender equality.

To wrap up the entire discussion, if we analyze from a worm’s eye view, patriarchy prevails from bottom to top in all spheres of society. It has been deeply ingrained in our society. The silver lining to this ailment lies in an amalgamation of conventional and unconventional approaches. A holistic approach. Although Pakistan is on track to creating a just and more equitable society, concerted efforts would empower women, absolutely abolish patriarchy, and ultimately achieve gender equality.

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