To­wards Gen­der Par­ity

Southasia - - Comment -

The women of South Asia marked the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day on March 8 with mixed sen­ti­ments in face of a whole spec­trum of re­al­i­ties. There is on the one end, Sharmeen ObaidChi­noy who has be­come the first Pak­istani and South Asian woman to win the cov­eted Os­car Award. On the other, there are mil­lions of op­pressed women across the re­gion in In­dia, Pak­istan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Mal­dives, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan who suf­fer from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, lack of ed­u­ca­tion, in­ac­ces­si­bil­ity to health fa­cil­i­ties and much more on a daily ba­sis.

Gen­der gaps are among the widest in South Asia and the size of these gaps needs to be mea­sured in four crit­i­cal ar­eas re­volv­ing around eco­nomic par­tic­i­pa­tion and op­por­tu­nity, ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial em­pow­er­ment and health. The sta­tus of women in South Asia varies con­sid­er­ably across dif­fer­ent classes, regions and the ru­ral-ur­ban di­vide due to un­even so­cioe­co­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the im­pact of tribal, feu­dal and ur­ban so­cial cus­toms on women’s lives. These is­sues rep­re­sent a com­plex chal­lenge. While some women are soar­ing to the skies fly­ing pas­sen­ger planes and su­per­sonic fighter jets, other women are be­ing buried alive or trau­ma­tized in full public view. In re­cent years, there has cer­tainly been a greater recog­ni­tion of the prob­lem across the re­gion and in many coun­tries women have ex­pe­ri­enced im­proved ac­cess to ser­vices but de­spite the eco­nomic growth and chang­ing so­cial norms, se­ri­ous gen­der in­equities per­sist.

Ad­dress­ing these in­equities re­quires greater par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in the po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion­mak­ing of com­mu­ni­ties and states. At the same time, these ef­forts re­quire com­ple­men­tary gov­ern­ment ac­tions, such as cre­at­ing ap­pro­pri­ate in­sti­tu­tional frame­works to en­sure women’s rights; sup­port­ing their train­ing as well as mar­ket link­ages, ac­cess to credit, child care fa­cil­i­ties and school­ing in­fra­struc­ture. Ul­ti­mately, sus­tain­able im­prove­ment of women’s wel­fare re­quires strength­en­ing their abil­ity to in­flu­ence decision-mak­ing both within and out­side the house­hold. Un­til women are not in­te­grated into the po­lit­i­cal main­stream as crit­i­cal ac­tors, their progress will re­main slow. This in­te­gra­tion can be brought about by fa­cil­i­tat­ing em­pow­er­ment pro­grams that seek to build women’s net­works and sol­i­dar­ity around is­sues such as in­te­grat­ing their voices in lo­cal gov­er­nance.

It is a fact that Asia is home to two-thirds of the world’s poor, more than half of them women, and their de­pri­va­tion and vul­ner­a­bil­ity con­tin­ues to be a re­al­ity. This calls for an even greater en­deavor to im­prove the sys­tem of gov­er­nance by en­forc­ing demo­cratic val­ues and chang­ing bu­reau­cratic cul­ture. Gen­der par­ity needs to be es­tab­lished in ed­u­ca­tion, health, em­ploy­ment, busi­ness, gov­ern­ment and civil so­ci­ety. Gov­ern­ments need to pay more at­ten­tion to women’s ex­ploita­tion, which is se­ri­ously un­der­min­ing their dig­nity and sur­vival, such as traf­fick­ing of women and chil­dren, dowry killings in In­dia and honor killings in Pak­istan. What is re­quired to ad­dress is­sues of gen­der dis­par­ity in the re­gion is the launch of a Strate­gic Ac­tion Plan, per­haps from the SAARC plat­form, with con­crete com­mit­ments and mea­sures con­cern­ing gov­er­nance and in­sti­tu­tional mech­a­nisms to main­stream a gen­der per­spec­tive. South Asia cer­tainly has a long way to go to­ward achiev­ing any sem­blance of gen­der par­ity.

Syed Jawaid Iqbal

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