Women play a crucial role in fostering the progress and development of any country, serving as an integral part of society that is essential for its smooth functioning. In Pakistan, women constitute nearly 49% of the population, representing a diverse range of cultures, languages, and ideologies. However, the roles and participation of women in different spheres of society vary across cultures and regions and in most cases are limited to the household. Gender inequality is an issue that is common in almost every state of the world. However, Pakistan faces the worst gender equality crisis. In Pakistan, cultural norms and societal expectations limit women’s career choices and opportunities. Gender equality in the workplace is an important problem in Pakistan, as women face many obstacles to achieving full equality with men. Despite some progress in recent years, women still encounter significant challenges that prevent them from participating in the workforce equally. These challenges include cultural norms, lack of education and skills, discrimination, violence, and slow government policies.
Women face obstacles in the social, economic, legal, and political settings in Pakistan and various cultural norms and stereotypes have limited the role of women.
It is crucial to investigate the reasons behind these challenges and find solutions to promote gender equality in the workplace in Pakistan.
Women in Pakistan face the systematic hurdles that deprive them of to access equal opportunities as men. There remains a significant portion of the female population in Pakistan who is deprived of educational opportunities. Cultural constraints, prevailing stereotypes, and taboos confine women, especially those in conservative and rural societies, to their homes. The society and statecraft design does not significantly help women to break the shackles of cultural taboos and impose limitations on women’s career choices. The employment sector is dominated by the male due to various reasons. Firstly, Pakistani women don’t have access to quality and standard education as men and it has become a norm to send boys to good private schools as they grow up to become bread earners of household and restrict quality education for women as they have to marry one day and leave the family. The literacy figure reveals that the literacy for the male in Pakistan stood at 64 percent meanwhile the literacy rate for the female is at 40 percent. Thus, the gender gap is nearly 14 percent which is the highest for any country. Social taboos are the main reason behind this gender gap. The women in most of the houses are encouraged to do selected degrees like Nursing, Medicine, etc. The number of girls in the business and law degree is less than the national average. Thus, women are left with limited choices. Secondly, even if the women get a quality education, they would not be provided with equal employment opportunities. Most workplaces are dominated by males who provide no space for women. Low wages and harassment at the workplace further discourage women.
The Pakistan Labour Force published a survey between 2013 -2015 that revealed that the wage gap between gender was around 26 percent.
Moreover, one of the primary obstacles for women in accessing education and contributing to society through participation in the workforce is the issue of insecurity. There has been a disturbing increase in incidents of harassment, rape, and sexual exploitation of women when they are engaged in work or pursuing education. Furthermore, most of the work done by the women in Pakistan is unrecognized and about 70 percent of women in Pakistan are housewives that maintain the house and perform the household chore. The social taboos and stereotypes limit their role to households only and that too without any appreciation and recognition. The home has become a primary duty of women due to prevailing cultural values that men are responsible to earn bread for their families and women are obliged to stay in their homes and perform the household. Those who join the workforce to share the financial burden have to be best at both places without any support from husbands in most cases, unlike the developed states. The lack of recognition and appreciation at the house, in schools, and workplace makes the situation miserable and impacts the psychology of women who lives with an inferiority complex leading to anxiety and depression.
Also, women in Pakistan face various social discrimination and practices that limit their opportunities. Firstly, most of Pakistani society thinks that men have immense physical power which makes them superior to all of the women in society. The psychology of society and the socialization process since the early years of growth is developed in the sense that girls are to be frail, weak, and soft and boys are strong. This psychology decides the gender role in society. This masculinity in society allows the man to control every aspect of women. With these social taboos, Honor killings and domestic violence against women also persist. Pakistan is ranked as the sixth most dangerous country for women and fourth worst in economic resources according to a poll conducted by the Thomas Reuters Foundation. The ranking is also due to risks women encounter due to religious and cultural practices used against women like honor killing. The rank is 5th in the list of countries with non-sexual violence against women (domestic abuse). For example, the concept of “honour killing” is present in Pakistani society which refers to the killing of a woman by a relative, brother, or father in most cases if she is suspected to be having a relationship with someone. Statistics indicate that between 2019 and 2021, over 3,987 women were murdered, and 10,517 cases of rape were registered in Pakistan. Thus, men consider women as their personal property in most cases and take all their life decisions. Other such practices in Pakistan are ‘bride money’ in which the family of the bride has to pay money to the groom, and ‘vani’ in which the woman is used as a bargain for the crime and given to the victim family as a settlement. ‘Watta Satta’ is another practice that means that a pair of sister-brother are married to a similar pair. Other than this, some women are forced to be married to Quran. This is done to save the land of the family. Social discrimination against women has various other forms in Pakistan that vary from region to region and culture to culture, but the victim ( women) remains the same. The 2018 Global Gender Gap Index report also verified the claim by putting Pakistan at the 148th position in a total of 149 countries.
Nonetheless, Pakistani women are completely removed from the decision-making process and legal protection.
Most of the women in Pakistan are unaware of their legal protection and in many cases, the legal protection is not present.
The state law mostly discriminates the women in Pakistan. For example, one-third of Pakistani women are unable to receive their fair share of the inheritance. In the family structure, the most silent subjects are the women of the family. The patriarchal structure of society alienates women from taking the most important decisions in life like education, employment, marriage, etc. Before marriage, the father decides everything about the daughter, and after marriage husband bounds the woman to choose and decide their life independently. Even the number of children in the marriage is decided by the husband. This lack of decision-making and participation is the worst form of discrimination against women in Pakistan.
Other than this, access to basic health care is also a major issue faced by most of the women in Pakistan. The health in Pakistan is already in shamble but most of its burden is faced by Pakistani women. In the rural areas, about half of the women are deprived of any basic healthcare facilities in Pakistan. The social taboo and cultural stereotypes restrict women to get treatment from the male doctor and where there is no availability of female doctors women suffer a lot. For Pakistani women, in most critical cases like pregnancy, regular and quality medical treatment is not present in most areas especially rural regions.
These practices and discrimination against women in every sector from households to educational institutes to job sectors have limited the role of women in the workforce. Societal expectations have restricted women to pursue their careers independently and most women end-up up managing the household those who join the workforce also pursue limited options in teaching and medicine. Pakistan can only achieve prosperity as a nation when women can enjoy a safe environment and exercise their basic rights, including the right to education and the right to work. Although few women are already making significant contributions in some fields, a significant portion of them live in fear of venturing outside their homes due to the prevailing insecurity, social taboos, and cultural norms Therefore efforts need to be made to make the environment safe and secure for women. All in all, there is a dire need to bring back the country to Quaid’s vision which asserts that,
“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live”.
The Author is Researcher at the Center for International Strategic Studies, AJK, working on Comprehensive Security and Strategic Stability. She is also an M.Phil. Scholar at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad.