A Brief Glance at the region:

South Asia is home to one of the world’s most highly populated zones of the globe where nearly a quarter of global population finds its refuge. The history and politics of the region is enmeshed with the socio cultural, religious and ethno-religious dynamics comprising of a pre-dominant agrarian and feudalistic, tribal combined with urban, semi-urban, post urban lifestyles, trends and customs. Gender issues have occupied a central stage with almost usual and daily instances of discrimination in wage labour, opportunities of equal employment, as well as hierarchical patriarchal structures rampant in almost all aspects of life and in all sectors concerned. The challenges to gender parity in South Asia are fairly magnanimous yet are at no terms conspicuously deficient in that need a realization to address the issues immediately. There exists a complete lacuna in terms of directly coming in confrontation to the mind-set that is responsible and that generates this psychosis defines “Women as Inferior to Men. However, constant transformation brought about by economic, social and scientific as well as technological fields have subjected to hybrid identities in South Asia and women to top it all become a direct subject to these changes. Today women in South Asia find themselves in a complexly woven ambience where whatever task and profession she might have; being a farmer; a peasant; a business woman, a teacher or else, she dispenses off with all common duties and responsibilities but with one common denominator, that of being still characterised as a “dependent variable.”

Statistical Approach to understand the gender divide:

According to the data taken from some authentic sources on South Asia, the fact sheet of wage labour, rural-urban divide and number of other factors like the gaps in the women-man working ratio are seriously hampering the plight of the economic status of women. The gender pay gap is 33% in South Asia as compared to 24% globally. Women’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) decreased from 35 to 30%, resulting in a gender gap in labour force participation of 50% points. The decline in women’s LFPR is mostly the result of lower participation rates in India due to younger women staying in education, and a general lack of employment opportunities for women.

Gender pay gaps in urban and rural areas:

Urban women earned 42 % less than men, as compared to 28% less than men in rural areas. Both women and men have lower than average earnings in rural areas and, in absolute terms, rural women are at the bottom of the earnings ladder. Across South Asia, women are reported doing more unpaid care and domestic work than men: 10 times as much in Pakistan; almost 7 times more in India; and nearly 3 times more in Bangladesh.

A Statistical Overview:

The Wall Street journal accounts 36% of men in South Asia worked for an employer full-time at least 30 hours a week – compared with 10% of women. South Asia has one of the smallest differences between men and women in full-time work.

Countries like Bangladesh and India have nearly reached gender parity in primary education; however, girls still make up a disproportionate share of those missing out on education in many developing regions. Almost 60% of the 72 million children out of primary school are girls in the world today. In Pakistan the overall literacy rate is 46%, while only 26% of girls are literate.

One of the most deplorable aspects is that in some places, particularly northern tribal areas, the education of girls is strictly prohibited on religious grounds. According to UNICEF, 17.6% Pakistani children are working and supporting their families and this sector employs more girls than boys.

More than 4.5 million girls are out of school in Pakistan, while spending on education has decreased to 2.4% of GNP in 2012. An interesting factor in this context is that female enrolment was recorded highest at the primary level, but it progressively decreases at the secondary, college and tertiary levels. It was estimated that less than 3% of the 17–23 age group of girls have access to higher education. The employment rate for men is triple that for women and Pakistan’s female literacy rate is just 45%, vs. 70 % for men. In agriculture, where women account for three-fourths of all workers, female labourers such as cotton and chili pickers earn less than 50¢ a day. In the informal manufacturing sector—companies that make, say, blouses, bedsheets, or soccer balls—women make up 57 percent of the workforce, but they spend more hours on the job and receive lower pay than their male counterparts.

Current Indicators and Trends:

Last a few consecutive decades indicated the rise in the percentage of women attending primary school, secondary schools and colleges and the overall betterment was noticed in the female enrolment. The last four decades have witnessed a boom in higher education enrolment globally. Student numbers increased from 32.6 m in 1970 to 182.2 m in 2011, with a 46% increase in the East and South Asia region.

In Pakistan as well, statistics meanwhile for instance accumulated from World Bank show a rise of girls’ enrolment in schools. The ratio of female to male primary enrolment (%) in Pakistan was last measured at 87.07 in 2013, according to the World Bank which represents the percentage of girls to boys enrolled at primary level in public and private schools.

In India, the number of women in education has increased from 4.9% in 2005 to 7.2% in 2010 and 8.7% in 2012. In countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, enrolments in degree programs have increased 10 times over the past four decades. In Bangladesh, the number of girls passing the secondary school certificate has risen significantly in the last decade, with student enrolments in higher education doubling over the last decade to around 2 million. Here, more than 800,000 students are female. Even in Afghanistan, where women’s access to education is restricted, total student participation in higher education grew more than threefold from 2002 to 2012, to around 150,000 students.

Surviving the Odds:

As South Asia remains the fastest growing economic zone of the world, traditional and modern alternating economic and its countervailing social and cultural political economy has a huge impact on its gender divide. This hybrid nature of South Asia’s developing economy corroborates unique lifestyles and practices in the big urban centres like Mumbai, Karachi, Delhi and Dhaka, where the combined workforce in the urban areas consists of both the females and males. Sadly, and rather strangely though, the average indicators of female labour force participation in South Asia have been steadily declining since 2005.

India, for example, has one of the lowest rates of female labour participation in the world at 35%. Female employment in India grew by 9 million between 1994 and 2010, but could have increased by almost double that figure if women had had equal access to employment. The infamous Delhi gang rape along with continued spirals of rape in India; which have continued unabated; has triggered an endless debate to put the issue on the very spotlight on the mainstream debate on the highly burning question. In India alone, one of the most celebrated democratic state; recent horrific incidences of rapes in urban cities like Delhi and Mumbai as well as in several villages proof that the licence to rape is somewhat of a general amnesty. In this scenario the Indian case has been referred to what has recently been coined as the” Epidemic of Rape” which alerts the global civil society towards an urgent attention focussed not only to understand its background but also to condemn vehemently the utter carnage.

Research from Bhutan, for example, shows that while some women showed an interest in joining politics, they also felt that domestic duties prevented them from taking a more active role in public life.

In Bangladesh, the employment rate of women is nearly 30% lower than the rate for men.  Many women are not comfortable going out, travelling around doing field work, collecting data. Women in factories are also generally at a loss where the unions only listen to men. There is no representation of women because you need an appointment letter to become member of the union. Sexual harassment remains a big problem.

Dr. Tehseen Nisar

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