Findings from recent grass roots research led by the Government of Pakistan focusing on the heavily populated province of Punjab shows that around 73% of the youth is unemployed and 71% receive no training to enable them to seek employment. Awareness about labour rights amongst the workforce remains abysmally low at around 21%. Surprisingly only around 8.6% are aware of the existence of anti-harassment laws in the workplace.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG’s) number 5 focuses on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Pakistan is party to some of the fundamental international human rights conventions, including Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESR), international labour Organisation (ILO) and various UN Declarations, Over the years Pakistan has undertaken to uphold the universal human rights standards and their implementation.
These instruments hold the State responsible for protecting the people of Pakistan from the State and non-State actors, while ensuring that individuals, groups and organs of the society are also able to pursue peaceful activism for the full realization of human rights without fear and hindrance.
In Pakistan, women constitute 50% of the population and it is now a well-known fact that without their meaningful participation, SDGs are not achievable. In today’s world, inclusion of women in the work force is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing to do. This article considers how investing in gender equality will benefit other key sustainable goals of the UN such as peace, justice and strong institutions, education, economic growth and health to name a few.
Gender equality is recognised as one of the key accelerators that affects and benefits achievement of other SDG’s concerning education, poverty, economic growth and health etc. A recent comment by a UN official confirmed that SDG 5 is the key accelerator and investing in it will create ripple effects in attaining other UN Sustainable Goals on poverty, economic growth, education and health.
For gender equality to be powerfully ingrained in the social fabric we still need to find an effective way of ensuring women’s active participation in the work force. There is a need to examine the reasons that continue to limit women’s access to resources in several parts of Pakistan. Measures undertaken to achieve gender equality should not only address the lacunae in law and its implementation but it should also be directed towards changing societal attitudes that discriminate against women.
To achieve gender equality in its true sense women’s access to the economic, social and cultural rights guaranteed to them under international law is inevitable. In this regard, access to finance for women could be one of the stimulators and the accelerator that could drive the SDG goal of achieving gender equality.
In some countries such as Sweden, gender equality is the corner stone of every political reform. The GDP of Sweden is twice that of Pakistan and this is mainly due to the fact that 74% of women in the country are part of the work force and majority of the policies are geared towards equalizing opportunities and enabling women to participate meaningfully in the economy.
Whilst we see many structural hindrances in attainment of gender quality in Pakistan, girl’s education sits at the heart of it all. Across the board education is considered a key accelerator to gender equality. Policies aimed at bringing girls who dropped out from school back to classrooms have been a part of the mandate of the successive governments in Pakistan.
But these policies could not be effectively implemented either due to lack of data of out of school girls or lack of resources.Majority of the Punjab budget and development expenditure is not aligned with high priority SDG target 5 and its indicators. There is lack of adequate resources allocated for gender justice and economic empowerment of women.
It is critical to focus on raising awareness about violence against women and conducting workshops to sensitise men, especially the youth so that gender equality reforms are not performed in isolation without taking in to consideration the deeply rooted biases and prejudices against women prevalent in society.
Moreover, it is essential that any reform effort are geared towards on raising awareness and bringing behavior change among men, especially young men to improve women’s access to opportunities is essential for achieving sustainable gender equality These policy initiatives will increasingly improve overall women’s access to opportunities and well being in the society.
Beneficial legislation including the quota system, despite its shortcoming in terms of quality of intake and presentation of women, is effective in enhancing women participation even in countries like Norway.Flexible work timing, access to transport, safety, child-care etc. have been effective interventions in ensuring women’s economic empowerment.