Malala Yousafzia (educational activist)
All-Pakistan Women’s Association
World gender equality ranking: 146th out of 187 countries (Gender Inequality Ranking-Human Development Report 2014)
Women in the workforce: 24.4% (same as above 2012)
Pakistan has been attracting a lot of attention in the media in the last year or so, partly because of Malala Yousafzia’s campaigning. Obviously, she has been highlighting the lack of education offered to girls but there also other gender inequality issues in the country.
There is a lot of work being done in the country by the All-Pakistan Women’s Association. APWA was set up in 1949 by Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, wife of the first Prime Minister of Pakistan. This organisation aims to empower women and girls, provide services such as education and healthcare for them and increase their contribution to their communities.
The National Plan of Action for Women in Pakistan have set out seven goals for the country to work towards. These include: helping women in poverty;providing better education and health facilities; ensuring the protection of women’s legal, social, political and economic rights; and to improve the female literacy rate. In case you want to know, the literacy rate of females in Pakistan is at 39.6%, while the male literacy rate is 67.7%
Oddly enough, despite their low female literacy rate and women in the workforce rate, Pakistan was the first Islamic state to have a female leader. Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988-1990 and also came to power in 1993-1996. Although Bhutto’s popularity was mixed, she was able to use her power to lift certain constraints on women in Pakistan but not to tackle some of the more major issues.
The type of life you live as a woman in Pakistan depends on where you are living. In cities and large towns, women can tend to have a lot more freedom than those in small towns and villages. Some of these villages, set up in the mountains, are so difficult to reach that even if more rights were allowed to women, it would be very hard to enforce the new laws throughout the entire country. Areas that are bordering Afghanistan and that are still under Taliban influence may also be less willing to change their ways, This is an issue that has been highlighted by Malala Yousafzia, who is from the border area of Swat.
Pakistan only sent two women to the 2012 London Olympics but sent nineteen men. There isn’t that much funding available to women’s sports and no television coverage means that no one is willing to sponsor teams. Women in Pakistan play a number of sports, the most popular being football, cricket, table tennis, athletics and squash. In some cases, men are not allowed to watch women’s sports in the stadiums.
Bollywood films are popular in Pakistan although they do not conform with the extreme Islamic way of thinking. There are female television presenters in Pakistan but they often face criticism about the way they appear on television. Farah Hussain, a Pakistani breakfast show presenter was criticised by Islamic clerics for wearing make-up and having her hair uncovered. She, however, considers herself a devout and practising Muslim who understands her religion and follows its rules. Another Pakistani presenter speaks of having faced discouragement from taking up the career because it could mean fewer men would be willing to marry her. She took up the career and is now married.
Just before I finish I will mention a transport scheme piloted in 2012 in Lahore. It was three pink buses that operated a women only service several times a day in the city. These buses did not allow any men aboard and had female staff. Lahore transport company decided to run these three buses as a pilot scheme because of feedback received from female commuters. Apparently, women using buses in Lahore are often made to wait longer when they get on and find in difficult to get a seat because all the men take them first. Men sometimes come in to the women only section on the bus and annoy the female passengers, forcing them to stand or sit at the back of the bus. This scheme was dropped in 2013 due to not enough money being made by them but are set to be re-launched soon. I think this scheme is an interesting idea but that it could end in a situation where women fell pressured into only using these buses although there are fewer of them and they run less frequently and on only a couple of routes.
Women in Pakistan are pushing very hard to be allowed more rights, freedom, funding and participation in sport, television, politics, education and health services. The organisations I mentioned earlier are doing huge work to expand women’s contribution in all areas but I still think that Pakistani women face a long and uphill struggle before they reach their goals.