How to Address Gender Disparities?


How to Address Gender Disparities? 

Indices are like black boxes. Before looking for the reasons behind Pakistan’s dismal performance on gender parity front, it would be enlightening to peep into various components of the Global Gender Gap Index. The Index examines the gap between men and women across four fundamental categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

Looking at the gaps, rather than the levels, has the advantage that the country rankings are independent of the development level of a country, and are determined exclusively by gender disparities.Gender Equality Scale Concept

What are the drivers of such gross gender disparities? Research has highlighted several factors, such as individual characteristics, social norms and economic deprivations. However, the failure of the state is the most critical reason behind gender disparity. Why does the state directly and indirectly create and exacerbate gender disparities?

In Pakistan, a clear manifestation of gender disparity is the preference for the sons. This is an ages-old norm with roots in the distant past.

Discrimination against women continues to take many forms. While some types of discrimination, such as discrimination in the distribution of inheritance rights, are evident and are routinely reported and observed, some other forms of discrimination may not be as visible. Sons getting quality education while daughters end up in low-quality schools or no school at all, is a common form of discrimination. Research has highlighted that gender of the family member influences the quality of food consumed within a household.

Human beings are assumed to be rational. Though this assumption has remained the subject of many a lively polemic and academic debate, human irrationality and bounded rationality being presented as alternative assumptions about human nature, we might like to stick to the assumption of human rationality for illustrative purposes.

If human beings were not assumed to be rational, then no one can be held accountable for one’s actions. In social sciences, a rational person is assumed to have specific attributes, such as an aversion to taking risks, a distinct preference for profit and a responsiveness to incentive system, etc. It can be shown that when the state fails to play its expected role, the rational human beings respond in predictable ways, leading to undesirable socioeconomic outcomes.

The problem arises primarily from unequal power relationships. In social sciences, power is the ability to influence or control the behaviour of others. Economic independence is the most obvious measure of power. A vast majority of women are economically dependent on men (fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons). The state has a crucial role to play in maintaining the status quo in economic power relations. When opportunities are denied to women, their dependence further increases. For example, the share of women in government jobs is abysmally low. The female labour force is disproportionately concentrated in the informal sector.

Most women have to brave circumstances to achieve the things which most men take for granted. For example, going through harassment on one’s way to school or college is a daily fact of life for a large number of young women. Taking a stroll in the park is a big challenge because of social taboos or because the facility has been encroached upon. Women’s physical mobility is also severely curtailed. While men can drive bikes, a woman on two wheels is still considered a deviation from the norm.

In many cases, men nearly exclusively occupy the business place. In a nutshell, the opportunities to excel in the business world are highly constrained for women. They are more likely to be employees than employers. This situation has a lot of economic implications.

Pakistan’s Performance on Global Gender Gap Report 2020
Pakistan ranks third-to-last (151st) on the 2020 Global Gender Gap Index, having closed only 56% of the gender gap. This performance represents an improvement from the previous edition (55.0), but it is insufficient to prevent Pakistan from falling in the rankings, as new countries have entered the rankings at a higher position. Pakistan ranks in the bottom 10 in three of the four main categories of the index and below the 100th mark in 12 of the 14 individual indicators composing the index. Encouragingly, however, Pakistan improves on a majority of them—sometimes markedly and is stable in the others. The gap remains cavernous in terms of economic participation and opportunities (32.7, 150th). Only one-quarter of women participate in the labour force (i.e. working or looking to work) compared with 85% of men (148th). Only 5% of senior and leadership roles are held by women (146th), twice the rate of 2016. It is estimated that only 18% of Pakistan’s labour income goes to women (148th), one of the lowest share among countries studied. While a majority of countries have bridged or nearly bridged the educational gender gap, Pakistan’s still stands at almost 20%. Less than half of women are literate, compared with 71% of men, while the share of women enrolled is systematically lower than the share of men across primary, secondary and tertiary education. The political gender gap has narrowed markedly over the past two years but remains wide (15.9, 93rd). In 2017, there was not a single female minister. As of 1 January 2019, there were three women in the 25-member cabinet.

When the state does not defend the rights of the women, the dynamics of gender-based power relations change. When the state fails to punish a man guilty of harassing a woman on her way to school or college, parents make a “rational” decision to take their daughters away from school or college, or, marry them off early.

Adverse consequences of child marriages, and how different health and mental conditions get transmitted to the next generation, is beyond the scope of this article. In more extreme cases, when the condemned rapists evade the law with impunity and are seen roaming freely, and when the victim is stereotyped, then rational people have to make a decision to restrict their women relatives to the four walls of their homes.Gender-equality

Gender disparity also stems from the fact that the state fails to take care of the needs of senior citizens. Pension for the government employees is perhaps the only notable form of social security for senior citizens in Pakistan. Except in a few instances, where government employees retire from top positions, pension in most cases is not sufficient to meet the needs of senior citizens. One reason why pension is not enough to meet basic needs is high “dependency ratio” in Pakistan.

Older adults have to face a host of health challenges at this time. It is for this time that some people think they should invest in their sons more than their daughters because they believe that daughters will go to their own homes and sons are the only sources of support to fall back on in old age.

Investment in education requires resources. Resources being scarce, it is a ‘rational’ approach to invest more in the education of the sons rather than daughters. How realistic the expectations of the parents vis-a-vis their sons may be is another story. There are so many instances of sons miserably failing to take care of their parents, while daughters take care of their elderly parents remarkably well.

Gender Equality and Social Conditions
The notion of society in this regard needs to be understood in terms of social conditions which specified the women to particular types of works and assigns that provided them lower status than that of men. Her lower status in comparison to men is generally irrationally legitimatised on the basis of her child–bearing capacity, distinct physical attributes and a built which is shorter in height than man and in certain sense her vulnerability. In fact, the social structure was itself so arranged and patterned that its consequences led to inequality between genders. In a patriarchal society, the institutional patterns of residence, inheritance and lineage, patrilocal, patrilineal and patriarchal family structure, all represent and justify inequality between genders. There is a direct relationship between marital residence and male dominance. Researches reveal that non–male-based residence gives women more freedom of choice in mate selection, more protection from a potentially abusive husband and more freedom to end an unsatisfactory marriage. Altogether economic, legal, social and cultural beliefs generated a social definition and self image of women in a society.
Apart from these, religion as an institution, has been one of the most pervasive and persistent factor in defining women’s role and her status. Ruether identifies religion as ‘undoubtedly, the single most important shaper and enforcer of the image and role of women in society. The transcendental source–which is omnipotent and sacred–acquires extremely powerful instrumentality of legitimacy for various pronouncements affecting the status of women directly and indirectly. In behavioural and institutional forms, it governs the entire life cycle and everyday life of women in most of the societies.’ Likewise, in monotheistic religions, a woman can never have her full sexual identity affirmed as being in the image and likeness of God, whereas this experience is freely available to every man in the existing culture. The overall milieu of values creates conditions in which women work, behave and live in a particular way and it also creates a psyche and self–image which leads to development of self–perceived as inferior to men. Further, it leads to formation of belief systems regarding women and also assigns them specific roles and defines the code of their behaviour pattern both within family and outside.

What is the way out? Sadly, no magic wand can fix this problem overnight. But many effective long-term solutions exist. The state needs to re-evaluate and redefine the incentive system so that everyone has access to a minimum living standard. The elderly people should have no reason to doubt the state’s assurance that they will have a minimum living standard. Failing this, the whole incentive system would be distorted and girls will continue to be considered a liability while the sons will be regarded as an asset.

Secondly, the state must establish its writ when it comes to protecting the rights of women. As long as harassers and rapists go scot-free, parents would always be racked by fear, and will not be able to send their daughters to schools, colleges or workplaces. It is the functioning of state institutions that can considerably address the issue of gender imbalances. The short-term intervention may come from a host of stakeholders, such as NGOs and advocacy groups and even academia to sensitise the society about the enormity of discrimination against women.

Courtesy: The News on Sunday

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