Considering the role of women throughout the world today, it can be safe to say that change is definitely taking place. Not only do women now have better access to health services and education but jobs too are now being made available for them and with this kind of independence, the voices of women are also being raised in parliament. Empowerment of women, however, has been occurring slowly with equal opportunities and development gains not being shared on an equal basis causing there to exist further development gaps between those who are poor and those who are well off. Gender injustices and vulnerabilities can be seen to be increasing as it is mostly women who bear the brunt of violence, conflicts and other adversities.
Allowing women greater integration into the labor market is the key to end this disparity and to bring about sustainable and inclusive, equitable development while promoting the rights of women as well. While women comprise of almost 50% of the total working age population today in the Asia Pacific, their participation in formal employment is much lower than that of men with female employment to population ratios being much below 50% in some regions of various countries. In others, this ratio further drops to being much below 30%.
Gender based discrimination found in the labor force is mostly due to the cultural and social taboos which exist in society which prevent women from going out to work and which have perpetuated such traditional gender roles. With such thought however come certain costs as well; the UN has estimated that the low participation of women in the Asia Pacific has led to an opportunity cost of more than $89 billion/year to be borne. In South and Central Asia, the low employment rates of women result in almost 19% and 16% of the average national income to be lost respectively. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, if the economic activity of men and women were on par, the economic growth of the region would increase by almost 18% which is a significant increase.
While Pakistan is constantly facing a variety of issues, a small amount of importance is being given to the role of women and their empowerment in the country, which could play a role in the social reconstruction of the country. A program by the United Nations titled ‘Women leadership in social reconstruction’ highlighted this issue; the program is being financially supported by the Danish government. The launching ceremony of the program was hosted by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Social Welfare and Women’s Empowerment Department along with collaboration from the UN Women.
The Danish Ambassador speaking on the topic said that women are the ones who are constantly in the frontline to take care of families, the sick, and children and disable people when disaster strikes. It is the women who are the ones that get the most affected and yet they work harder than anyone else, which is why they need support as well. Countries such as Pakistan, which are already vulnerable to disasters and crisis need to understand just how important the role of women is with particular respect to their role in such disasters. Women leadership and their participation in the community and society needs to be promoted, which can be done by integrating concerns regarding gender into the mainstream society especially in the peace, security and humanitarian actions. Doing so will also help in further building up the communities and the country as a whole to become resilient to disaster.
UN Women Pakistan Deputy Country Representative Sangeeta Thapa said that the aim of this program was to respond to the equality principles which have been written down in our constitution. She stated that, “To us, social reconstruction process means to facilitate the reintegration of dislocated persons into their homes and villages and revitalize socio-economic activities in the region. In the context of gender, it means empowering women enough to be able to effectively participate in the decision-making process at all levels of relief and rehabilitation.”
She further went on to appreciate the work of the Danish government and the support they were giving, which would help in continuing work on the promotion of the leadership, participation and the empowerment of women in the country through actions based on peace, security and humanitarian principles.
Dr. Mehar Taj Roghani, the Special Adviser to the Chief Minister on Social Welfare and Women’s Empowerment also stated that there exist a number of gaps in emergency preparedness and the capacity for risk management. While efforts have been taken collectively in partnering up to overcome the gaps to further promote peace, security and stabilization in the country, a great deal more effort is needed for the gap to end completely.
It is undoubtedly true that society and the thinking surrounding it is changing, however, the pace at which it is taking place is still very slow considering the circumstances the country and its women are undergoing. Women can bear and do a great amount of work given the opportunity; not only do they have the capability of looking after the domestic front but by availing economic opportunities, they can look after themselves and their families by providing for them and increasing the standard of living. Similar to the way in which men help in the promotion of any country and its society, women too can contribute to the socio-economic development of the country by contributing their part. The cultural and social constraints, which prevent women from taking up such opportunities need to be rethought of and put to the side to allow women to fend for themselves and to work towards becoming independent.