PakistanGender Issue

Pakistanconstitutes a federation of four provinces NWFP, Sindh, Balochistanand Punjab, which are adjoined to the federal capital region, theFederally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Azad Jammu and Kashmir,and Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). Just like in othercountries, differences in access to resources and opportunities amidwomen and men exist. Being a developing country, Pakistan facesextensive differences in the way males and females access resourcesand get opportunities. Inequality amid men and women takes differentforms. The issue cannot be considered a homogeneous phenomenon, butrather a collection of interlinked and unrelated problems. Thisreport will cover different areas that exhibit gender inequality inPakistan and gender issues will be compared to those in othercountries from South Asia. The areas of focus would be the socialstatus of women, education, health, employment and opportunities forwomen, gender-based violence and “missing women”, economicgrowth, as well as political position and participation.

SocialStatus of Women

InPakistan, the social and cultural context is primarily patriarchal.Women and men are abstractly divided into two different worlds. Homeis seen as a woman’s rightful ideological and physical space whilethe man dominates the world that is outside the home. In the socialcontext, the Pakistani women lack social status and value due to thenegotiation of their duty as producers and providers in the differentsocial roles (Spevacek et al. 64). The preference for sons because oftheir productive duty determines the allocation of householdresources in their favor. Male individuals of the family are offeredbetter education and equipped with skills that would enable them tocompete for resources in the public field. Alternatively, femalemembers are offered with domestic skills that enable them to becomegood wives and mothers. The Pakistan society is not different fromany parochial and male-obsessed nation, where the dominantpatriarchal set-up rarely provides an opportunity to the other halfof human population to flourish as well as stand up for its own cause(Weiss 28). According to the World Economic Forum’s Global GenderGap Report in 2012, Pakistan became ranked 134thout of 135 nations among the worst place for women in the globe.There is a low participation rate for women in the economic, socialand political activities. Women in Pakistan are not in a position toachieve their rights and compete for available opportunities in thesociety. Women are considered inferior to be “reined in” by menin the majority of cases. They are not allowed to raise their voiceagainst violence by men that is brothers, fathers, and husbands aswell as the male relatives (Spevacek 82). There is a skewed view thata daughter has no responsibility in the family since she cannot be aprotector or a provider, which leads to discrimination and violence.In Pakistan, men are entrusted with safeguarding the family honorthrough their control over female members. When a woman’s conductis perceived to threaten the patriarchal order, her body is punishedwith beatings, sexual abuse, burnings, or even murder. Pakistaniwomen face exclusion and seclusion because of socio-cultural normsbased on patriarchy that ultimately denies access to developmentbenefits.


Althoughthere have been significant improvements in both girls’ and boys’primary school total enrollment since the year 2003, the netenrollment for girls at the primary level that is grades 1-5,remains low since 67% of girls become enrolled in primary schoolcompared to 81% of boys. Since the enrollment for girls at theprimary school level is low, the same case applies to the femalesthat enroll for secondary and tertiary education. Overall, theliteracy rates among females are improving, but a large gender gappersists in literacy. In Pakistan, girls are regularly not allowed toattend school unless they have a female tutor however, there arefewer female teachers compared to the male counterparts, especiallyin rural areas (Spevacek 22). Also, absenteeism among femaleinstructors is higher compared to that of male tutors. Because ofthis scenario, in a government school system where schools for girlsand boys are different and where only men teach boys and women teachgirls, the higher absence rate amid the female teachers may limitaccess to schooling for girls more compared to the boys. Such asituation can aggravate existing gender inequalities in accessingprimary school education. Furthermore, the percentage of femaleteachers who are trained to teach, in primary schools, is lesscompared to that of trained male teachers. In addition, there is aninequality in the payment of teachers, where female tutors(especially in private schools) are paid less compared to their malecolleagues. The access to education by girls is disproportionatelyimpacted by distance, poor or lack of sanitation facilities atschools, and security issues in conflict-affected regions.


InPakistan, females experience gender disadvantage in healthcarecommencing from birth. Females receive less nutrition and access tohealthcare compared to the males. This results in a variety of poorhealth outcomes for the Pakistani women. Such poor health outcomesmay include vitamin deficiency, anemia, and a higher incidence oftuberculosis. In accessing healthcare, most poor and rural women haveproblems due to the traditional attitudes that limit their mobility.Also, Pakistani women have a risk for suffering from psychologicalillnesses because of their exposure to domestic violence andexperiencing gender disadvantage from a young age. Overall,adolescent females and women are in much greater need of informationconcerning their reproductive health and ways of accessinghealthcare. Boys are indicated to have more knowledge than girlsconcerning pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, family planning,and puberty. The gap in health, based on gender, is significant giventhat there is institutionalized gender bias in the health systememanating from a lack of female service providers. The low healthstatus for females in the country can also be considered to originatefrom the economic, social, as well as cultural position of Pakistan(Spevacek et al. 76).

Employmentand Opportunities for Women

InPakistan, women have legal rights to own as well as inherit propertyfrom their families however, there are few women who have controland access to these resources. Women lack the ownership of productiveresources. According to a survey done in Punjab in 1995 involving1000 rural households, only 36 women were found to own land in theirown name, and only 9 had control over it (Patel 74). From thecultural context of the country, women’s wage work is perceived asa threat to the male ego and identity thus, women’s involvement inmultiple home-based economic activities results in under-remunerationfor their work. In most cases, Pakistani women and girls spend longhours doing laundry, fetching water, carrying out agriculturalduties, and preparing food. These activities are usually demandingand deny girls the opportunity to study.

Realeconomic empowerment for women remains an elusive aspect because ofthe lack of attention and resources awarded to the issue of women’seconomic empowerment. Although women are increasingly working in thelabor force, their voices are usually excluded from internationaldebates. The unemployment rate for women is higher for every agegroup since they are the last to obtain jobs and first to lose them.In Pakistan, there are no legislations that contain explicitprovisions for equal remuneration for equal work for women, orprotection of labor rights of home-based workers (Patel 98). Themajor barriers responsible for low female participation rate entailinsufficient recognition of their contribution, ignorance aboutopportunities, societal perception of women, and women’simmobility.

Gender-BasedViolence and “Missing Women”

Theoccurrence of gender-based violence in Pakistan is substantial. In astudy carried by WPF (2011), three-quarters of the Pakistani womenthat participated in the study indicated to experience physicalviolence by an intimate partner, 84% reported psychological violencewhile 66% indicated to experience sexual violence. Women experienceprevailing forms of social evils at times under the array of religionand sometimes due to the custom. The situation may also be identifiedin terms of gender violence meted out to women in the form of forcedmarriage, bride burning, honor killing, child marriage, and acidattacks among others. In Pakistan, the majority of the people aredriven by the dogmatic interpretation of local customs, and thismakes forced marriage to be common, but this is an indication of maleviolence against women. Honor killing has become an evil that isallowed by the community as well as the state’s judicial system,where it is deemed as a legitimate defense for murder (Alston 86).According to HRCP (2012), 913 girls and women became killed in thename of honor in 2012. This number shows an increase from previousyears. Women have also been treated as commodities that attract aprice. The tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan supportthe sale of girls as brides under the Walwar custom. Girls areusually sold to the highest bidder without regard to age orcharacter this is demeaning to the girls and women. In the case ofthe dowry of death, when hassles for dowry are not congregated, thebride is subject to torture, which even results in death. The customlegitimizes such heinous acts. Violence against women is perceived asthe most powerful mechanism that is used by family, society, andstate in silencing voices of resistance to the already existinggender-associated social order. This emerges as a fundamentalinfringement of the human right to life, dignity, self-respect, andphysical safety. Also, it is a manifestation of historically unequalpower relations amid women and men. Although different legislationshave been developed in the country to curb violence against women,gender-based violence continues to be seen as a substantial problemin Pakistan.

“MissingWomen” of Pakistan

InPakistan, being born a girl is viewed to translate into an immediatedeath sentence because of the culturally embedded and broadpreference for boys. This has resulted to an incident referred as“missing women.” The term is utilized in illustrating the deficitin the number of women because of sex-selective abortion or femaleinfanticide. Around 100-160 million women are considered “missing”in Asia. Alternatively, the data for the “missing women” inPakistan show that approximately 6.1 million is considered tocomprise the “missing women” (Bhattacharya 96).


Theemployment picture for women, in Pakistan, in the informal and formalsectors, can be considered bleak. This is because they usuallyexperience irregular socioeconomic development, and the effect oftribal, capitalist social formations, and feudalism in their lives.The female labor force increased by approximately 6.4% from2000-2010 however, the gap remains one of the biggest in the SouthAsia region. Accessing formal work is exceedingly problematic formost women in Pakistan, chiefly due to social barriers affectingtheir mobility in the public field. The labor force participationrate for youthful Pakistani women remains lower compared to that ofyoung men this reflects the cultural traditions and the lack ofopportunities for women in combining work and familyresponsibilities. From the World Bank statistics, 16.2% of Pakistanigirls are economically active compared to 15.6% of boys.Approximately 75% of the country’s female labor force is inagriculture (Bhattacharya 74). The female agricultural workers arepaid low wages, lack basic property rights, and work for long hours.The Pakistani women earn less compared to their male counterparts.The wages of the females tend to increase less over time. Althoughthere are discrimination laws that have been developed in thecountry, most of the employers do not adhere to the laws. Thediscrimination of women in the economic field is considered as aserious problem and limits economic growth.

PoliticalSituation and Participation

Thesocial condition of Pakistani women has support for the politicalaspect. Different social problems have restricted women toparticipate in the political field. Local customs that are based onsocial stigma such as the Pakhtuncode of conduct discourage the political empowerment of Pakistaniwomen strongly. The dejected societal norms result in an organizedexclusion of women from political partaking and assertion of theirrespective political choices. This shows that a woman’s place ofhonor is the house. The restriction of women is not based on theIslam religion, but the-Islamic customs of the land. The set-ups ofreligious supporters are a major hindrance to the participation ofwomen in politics. When religious parties block legislation plannedto protect women, the future of women’s rights in the country seemsbleak. Religious leaders and parties have incredible influence inPakistan and countering them can be hard as it can be seen as anattack on Islam rather than against the misinterpretation and grossmisuse of Hadithand Quranicverses.

TheConstitution of the country does not place any restrictions onwomen’s participation in politics however, their presence in thepolitical parties and in the political structure at the national,local, and provincial level remains insignificant because ofstructural as well as cultural barriers. From the 2013 electionreport, it has been indicated that there continues to be asubstantial gender gap in the number of registered women voters thereport indicated that there were 11 million fewer females compared tomale voters in 2013. The difference is largest in FATA, where womencomprised 34% of the total number of voters (Bhattacharya 68).Although women do not have a responsibility in the formulation ofmacroeconomic and social policies, they have borne the impact of suchpolicies. The exclusion of women from decision-making bodies at thelocal, national, and provincial levels does not offer them anyopportunity of voicing their concerns or promoting their ideas ongovernance. The male-dominated structure of governance can beconsidered to create gender inequalities.

Comparisonwith Other South Asian Countries

Pakistanhas one of the South Asia’s highest levels of gender inequality.However, it ranks ahead of Yemen and Chad on the Gender Gap Index.Pakistan women constitute 4.6% of board members in Pakistani firms,which is marginally lower than the emerging Asian markets’ 4.7%average. However, it is higher than India (4.1%) and Indonesia(4.2%). In all the South Asian countries, women are regarded lowly(Bikhari and Ramzan 92). The low gender equalitarianism in thesecountries can be explained with the reasoning that women grow uplearning that their salvation lies in watching the commands of thefathers during childhood. Also, these countries have commonality inthe way they view women in the workforce. Both men and women in thesecountries have traditionally low gender low gender equalitarianattitudes towards having women in the workforce. In terms ofeducation, all the South Asia countries have a gender gap since womenare less literate compared to their male counterparts. The enrollmentof males in primary schools is high in all the countries. Inaddition, the participation of women in politics is low in theregion however, Bangladesh has a unique situation in womenleadership in the political arena since the ruling party as well asthe opposition party leaders have been women for approximately twodecades. The percentage of women in parliament varies, where Nepalleads with around 33.2%. Afghanistan is second with around 27.7%while Pakistan is third with about 22.5%. The political culture,structure, and practices are dominated by men in South Asia (Bikhariand Ramzan 95). These undercut the willingness of women to enterpolitics. Even most educated women, who have resources and ability,do not have the interest of joining politics due to its existingnature and perceptions.


InPakistan, scheduled development has failed to tackle genderinequalities because of the gap amid policy intent andimplementation. The lack of political will, weak and corruptgovernance structures, inadequate technical and intellectual capacityof institutions and resource constraints have emerged as the primaryimpediments to policy implementation. Gender indicators depict thatthere exists immense gender inequalities in the field of health,education, social status, political participation, and employment andopportunities. Different recommendations can be made so as to ensurethat the issue of gender inequality is eliminated in the country.

Oneof the recommendations is that men need to be sensitized to supportwomen in taking an active part in politics. This would ensure thatmen support the idea of women taking leadership positions in thepolitical arena. The initiative would assist in increasing the numberof women taking part in politics (Weiss 49). Also, by having a largenumber of women representatives, it would be possible to addressdifferent issues affecting women in the country since fellow womenwould be capable of handling issues that affect other women. Anotherrecommendation is that the government and civil society need to worktogether on a long-term basis so as to draw strategies for policyimplementation (Bano 28). The major problem that results to genderinequalities in the different areas is the poor implementation.Therefore, proper implementation of policies would curb the genderinequalities. Hence, a long-term collaboration with the civil societyand the government would ensure that policies that work towardseliminating the gender inequalities become realized. Furthermore,another recommendation entails empowering institutions. Theempowerment of institutions would be a critical move since it wouldsupport the empowerment of women.


Pakistanfaces gender inequalities in different areas. Such areas include thesocial status of women, education, health, employment andopportunities for women, gender-based violence and “missing women”,economic growth, as well as political position and participation.Compared to other countries in South Asia, Pakistan has high levelsof gender inequality. However, it ranks ahead of Yemen and Chad onthe Gender Gap Index. The percentage of women in parliament varies,where Nepal leads with around 33.2%. Afghanistan is second witharound 27.7% while Pakistan is third with about 22.5%. The politicalculture, structure, and practices are dominated by men in South Asia.In order to eliminate the issue of gender inequalities facingPakistan, it can be recommended that men need to be sensitized tosupport women in taking an active part in politics. Also, thegovernment and civil society need to work together on a long-termbasis so as to draw strategies for policy implementation. Inaddition, empowerment of institutions should be considered so as togive power to women.


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Bhattacharya,Sanchita. Statusof Women in Pakistan.J.R.S.P., Vol. 51 (1), 2014. Print.

Bikhari,Farah Yasmin and Ramzan, Muhammad. “Gender Discrimination: A mythor truth Women status in Pakistan”, Journalof Business and Management,8(2): 88-97, 2013. Print.

Patel,Rashida. GenderEquality and Women`s Empowerment in Pakistan.Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

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