A Global Issue, Actually
Life is awesome, yet challenging for the women of the world. No matter where we live, women are the homemakers and the building blocks of any society. But unfortunately, no matter where we live around the globe, we have gender specific challenges to tackle. It may be outright gender discrimination to reduced employment opportunities to sexual harassment. The range of challenges that women face is globally common at one end of the spectrum and totally diverse and society specific on the other.
I, being the Pakistani representative of the “weaker sex” (a perception that is being negated by modern women all over the world) will focus on the challenges faced by the women of Pakistan and how we are tackling them.
Where The Challenges Began
It is important to understand that the challenges faced by Pakistani women are embedded in the limited social acceptance of female off-springs, social taboos, cultural discrimination (inherited from Hinduism), illiteracy and misinterpretation of religious commands. Some of the issues are unique to Pakistani while others we share with the global community of women (such sexual harassment although it may manifest in different ways).
Gender discrimination: This is perhaps the most serious challenge that we face in Pakistan. It manifests in a number ways including limits to working in diverse fields, gender-specific social restrictions (such prohibited from travelling without a male member of the family), moderate dress code and public behavior expectations.
Limited employment opportunities: Women in Pakistan face a serious employment dilemma in terms of diversity. It is not to say that we do not work or are denied access to higher education. We are welcome in fewer (and typical) employment fields such as medicine, nursing, beauty care, entertainment industry, flight attendants and teaching. Apart from these fields of employment, it is unusual to find a female lawyer, architect, business woman, executive, an accomplished sports celebrity or a pilot.
Entrepreneurship: There is almost no scope for female entrepreneurs to run active and independent field businesses in Pakistan. The few women entrepreneurs are limited to beauty care and fashion designing. Any woman outside these sectors are part of a family run (male family members dominated) enterprise where they work in management positions under the protection of their clan. Government-sponsored schemes to promote women in business can be described as half-hearted at best. The social implications and upbringing issues restrict the ability of even the most ambitious and determined women entrepreneurs.
Tackling The Challenges – Way Forward
The solution to all these challenges is embedded in a single dimension – woman empowerment.
It would be ambitious or unrealistic, if I claim that woman empowerment endeavours in Pakistan are likely to materialize in the near future. The social structure, cultural dogmas and gender biases are just too deeply rooted in the society for this to happen any sooner. But, that does not stop from predicting a brighter future for Pakistani women as we are increasingly getting more educated, being hired in “unusual fields” in increasing numbers and our “social voice” is getting louder with more and more women challenging what is “unjust” in the social order.
An example of the change that is slowly coming, one of the horrific ways that the challenges we face – the throwing of acid on women. A ray of hope is that there are fewer acid burnt women now than what has been just a decade back.