The role of women in the progress of a nation cannot be denied and it is a proven fact that the countries where they are not in the mainstream are struggling to keep pace with those where they are. Unfortunately, discrimination against women has been a major factor in the way of Pakistan’s quest for prosperity and the well-being of its citizens. Their importance is often undermined and their role in the development process is often not acknowledged.
To make matters worse, planning here has mostly not been evidence-based and one major reason for this is the lack of credible data related to different sectors. Many women-friendly initiatives were launched in the past but there was very limited or outdated information available to base these policies on.
Against this backdrop, the need to look at the development in different sectors with a gender basis has always been there. From time to time, individual case studies and success stories were spotted and shared with the masses to show women were challenging the status quo, breaking stereotypes and assuming strong roles. But the accurate or close-to-accurate data on the status of women in terms of their total participation and the existing and emerging trends in this regard has been non-existent.
After two days, the International Women’s Day will be celebrated like every year with a declared resolve to change the situation altogether. The government sector, the civil society, feminists, rights activists and others will raise their voices like always for the empowerment of women.
Things will be the same and so the demands. However, a major change will be that these demands will hopefully be based on the evidence-based research carried out recently. It will be easy for people to point out the exact situation in different sectors and make specific short-term and long-term demands. The government will also be in a better position to identify the problems and priority areas and set milestones, targets and timelines.
This will be possible due to the launch of Punjab Gender Parity Report (PGPR) 2016 that is a document that will serve as a comprehensive analytical aid for women’s rights issues in the Punjab. Carried out by the Punjab Commission on Status of Women (PCSW) and The Urban Unit with the financial support from DAI, the report contains data under 330 indicators that were finalised for study, says Fuzia Viqar, Chairperson, PCSW. The Gender Management Information System (GMIS) developed as part of the project will be a repository for the data in its entirety, a comprehensive web-based databank that will complement the report, she adds. Data collection now will be a continuous process and information will be accumulated in the GMIS throughout the year.
The study mainly confirms insufficient participation of women in the workforce and especially in decision making; redundancy of certain support mechanisms such as legal aid bodies; extremely poor and worsening conviction rates in crimes against women; disparity in wages, concentration in lowest wage brackets etc. Though the PGPR 2016 is limited to figures obtained from Punjab, and therefore does not speak about the situation in other provinces, it will serve as a useful template for developing similar studies for others. This data will also be crucial to reporting on international commitments such as CEDAW, Sustainable Development Goals, GSP Plus status and other human rights instruments, Viqar adds.
Some new and interesting information gathered in this regard follows. For example, women’s vehicle ownership is too low, considering that many of them drive, women in decision-making positions even in the government are few, there is misinformation regarding demographics i.e. there are actually around 48 per cent women and 52 per cent men instead of vice versa.
There were six priority areas of the study that are mentioned here along with some findings that will definitely interest readers, researchers, students, planners and others.
Demographics and governance
The Punjab’s population is projected as 101 million (52 per cent males and 48 per cent females). Approximately 63 per cent of the population is under 24 years (49 per cent females and 52 per cent males).
The judiciary has 14 per cent female judges as compared to 86 per cent males, with only three females in the High Court. Representation as heads, secretaries and directors in governing bodies is dismal. Representation of women as government officials from Grade 18 to 22 is also skewed, with 13.55 per cent in grade-18, 5.5 per cent in grade-19 and 10 per cent in grade-20 and no females in grade-21 and 22.
Life expectancy of women has improved from 62.4 years in 1990 to 66.5 years in 2015 though it is far below the target of the United Nations that is set at 73.5 years. Similarly, Maternal Mortality Ratio has reduced from 330 deaths per 100,000 births in 2000 to 227 deaths per 100,000 births in 2015. Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) is 5.8 per cent in urban areas and 8.4 per cent in rural areas of the Punjab. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in the Punjab is 3.5 births per woman while the national TFR is 3.7 births per woman.
About two thirds of women (age 15+) cannot read and write and 35 per cent girls remain out of school. Punjab fares better than other provinces in terms of educational attainment and gender equality but much needs to be achieved in terms of increasing enrollment rates and decreasing dropouts of girls.
Economic participation and opportunities
There is a considerable wage inequality between the two sexes in both urban and rural areas. Ownership of land holdings in rural areas reveals that on average female ownership is less than 50 per cent of male average value of landownership in square meters, with a Gender Parity Index (GPI) of 0.3338.
Within the justice system of the Punjab, a huge disparity is reflected in the number of females within the Public Prosecution Department (less than 10 per cent of prosecutors are females) and the judiciary (less than 6 per cent of judges in the High Court and 15 per cent of judges in district courts) are female.
Violence against women
The high number of incidents of violence against women (6,505 cases reported in 2015) is accompanied by an extremely low conviction rate (1 per cent in 2015 with only 81 perpetrators punished). In 2015, the highest incidence is that of rape, followed by murder and beatings with each having 2702, 666 and 588 reported incidents respectively. A large number of honour killings (173) also took place in addition to 22 incidents of acid throwing in 2015.
To provide support to female victims of violence, there are 196 government-run social service institutions in the Punjab where women can take shelter/refuge. The number of institutions varies per district, with Lahore and Rawalpindi having the highest (16) and second highest (12) respectively. Currently, there are over 17,000 women and girls residing in 195 social service institutions.
Dr Javed Nasir, CEO The Urban Unit, shares with TNS that historically gender parity has been associated with NGOs and feminists etc. But nevertheless, he says, it is the governments that can bring the real changes in policies and programmes that affect everyone.
On the contribution of The Urban Unit in completion of this project, he says, being a think-tank and policy and planning body of the government of Punjab it has always been aware of this issue and played its role. He tells TNS that The Urban Unit is an organisation with around 40 per cent female officers and most progressive gender-friendly policies in place.
“The issue of gender parity is a cross cutting theme in all the development sectors and The Urban Unit having its core competence in data management has supported the PCSW in data collection, data analysis, report publishing and development of the GMIS,” he adds.
Abdur Razzaq, the head of the project team, tells TNS that the thematic areas were selected as these were related to women issues. It was also easy to conduct a cross analysis on the selected thematic areas.
He says the current scenario posed challenges of non-availability of gender-wise data and during project planning, these challenges were addressed with proper preparation. During the desk research phase, a team of researchers spent about two months to determine the available data sources to extract available gender-wise data.
He says a data collection team Research Assistants (RAs) was also created and mobilised for data collection in all 36 districts by allotting each of them two to three districts. These RAs visited the District Coordination Officers (DCOs) and Additional District Collectors (ADCs) of each district and with their guidance and support identified and visited the relevant departments for each theme. The DCOs marked one focal Executive District Officer (EDO) to facilitate the RAs. At the same time, the available credible data sources such as EMIS (Education Management Information System), and HMIS (Health Management Information System) were also made part of the available data sources, he adds.
An interesting spin off of this initiative, in view of PCSW’s chairperson, is that various institutions have begun data collection on new indicators (of their own initiatives) and started collaboration with them. PCSW currently hosts a data sharing group that includes the High Court, PITB, Police, Prosecution, Prisons and Home Department, she concludes.