The writer is a lecturer at National Defence University Islamabad (Pakistan) & has been associated with non-profit organizations working to achieve various Sustainable Development Goals in Pakistan.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is marked annually on 8 March and it is a day set aside to celebrate and recognize women rights and the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements irrespective of their national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural economic or political background. International women’s day is pivotal for raising awareness of women’s equality and lobbying for accelerated gender parity along with putting an end to the violence against women. The objectives of International Women’s Day are to commemorate the sacrifices and struggle of women for their economic, social, political, and cultural rights. The celebration aims to reaffirm women’s solidarity in the struggle for peace and to show what women have achieved.
The Celebration Spreads
The first gathering of International Women’s Day took place in 1911 and more than a million people from Austria, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland celebrated and cheered the notable achievements of women. However, contemporarily, in addition to celebrating women’s achievements, International Women’s Day is considered as an opportunity to promote gender equality.
The celebrations of March 8 gained traction globally after the end of World War II and different countries started celebrating it. In 1975, during the International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day. After two years, in December 1977, the General Assembly passed a resolution announcing a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights. Since then, the UN and its agencies have worked tirelessly to promote gender equality worldwide and achieved great outcomes. In 1995 the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, focused on 12 critical areas of concern; and the inclusion of Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Since its inception, the International Women’s Day has undertaken a new global dimension for women in developed, developing and underdeveloped countries alike. The growing international women’s movement has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, and it has helped make the celebration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in political and economic affairs.
International Women’s Day this year comes at a difficult and challenging time for the world and gender equality, but it is a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless efforts for gender equality. This year’s International Women’s Day is like no other. As countries and communities start to slowly recover from a devastating pandemic, we have the chance to finally end the exclusion and marginalization of women and girls.
Women of Pakistan
Pakistan is the world’s fifth-most populous country and second-largest South Asian country with 212.3 million population (based on world meter elaboration of the United Nations data). The sixth housing and population census show that men have outnumbered women, where 51 per cent of the total population of Pakistan and women makes 49 per cent. Women in Pakistan have played important role in the history and development of the country. The country has given birth to a number of female heroes, such as Benazir Bhutto who was first Muslim women executive and head of state. Similarly, Pakistan is home to the brave and fierce women leaders like Sherry Rehman, Asma Jahangir, Maleeha Lodhi, and Hina Rabbani Khar. Female advocates of education and human rights include Mala Yousaf Zai and Muniba Mazari. However, at the same time there are women like Mukhtaran Mai, Asia Bibi and Tehmina Durrani who have suffered at the hands of violent offenders irrespective of their socio-economic status.
The status of women in Pakistan varies across various classes, regions, ethnicities, rural, urban divisions due to unequal distribution of socioeconomic resources. The patriarchal structure of society, feudal norms and conservative mindset has shaped the lives of women across Pakistan.
The Constitution of Pakistan, Article 25 (2), makes it compulsory that there will be no discrimination based on sex. To achieve this, planning and policies for ensuring gender equality, women rights and empowerment have evolved gradually considering their significant contribution to sustainable socio-economic development. Despite their recognized constitutional, legal and religious rights, the status of women remained under shadows. To enable them to contribute actively to socio-economic development, their protection, wellbeing, empowerment, participation and emancipation is required.
State of Pakistan and Women’s Empowerment Vision 2025
The Vision 2025 and prospective 11th Five Year Plan aims to provide an enabling environment and equal opportunities to women for the development of their full potential, to enjoy the benefits of economic growth, education, equal employment opportunities, prosperity and social development through following the initiatives taken by the federal and provincial governments, as well as by all the stakeholders.
The Pakistan National Policy for Development and Empowerment ensures women equal access to all development benefits and social services. The standard framework and policy procedures are required for the equal development of women across Pakistan. Pakistan has shown commitment to meet MDG’s, especially goal 3 and goal 5 that are focused on promoting gender equality and empowerment of women and improving maternal health respectively. Pakistan is also a signatory of the United Nations Convention for Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (UNCEDAW). UN has created a shift from the MDGs to the SDGs, and a lot more effort is required to achieve sustainable development for women development. Pakistan is also part of a number of policies for development and empowerment to ensure that women all over Pakistan have equal access to all development benefits and social services.
A number of governmental institutes had been establish to protect the rights of women, such as federal ombudsman working for the protection of women against harassment at workplaces and same program for the provincial level as well. Likewise, the Help-Line (1099) for legal advice on human rights violation was operational and had provided legal aid services to more than 5000 beneficiaries of human rights violation cases till the present. In addition, the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) and now Ehsas program, a continued social protection program of the government is providing social assistance to marginalized women. Pakistan Bait-ul-Mal had also established women empowerment centres/schools throughout the country including Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas to provide free training to widows, orphans and poor girls in different skills.
Domestic skills are also being taught in different schools through Individual Financial Assistance (IFA) while the poor, widows, destitute women, orphans and disabled persons are being supported through general assistance, education, medical treatment and rehabilitation centres.
As gradual recovery from the pandemic has started, there is a greater need to support and provide stimulus packages must reach the deserving women and girls. Pandemic recovery is a chance to minimize the generational curse of exclusion and inequalities towards women.
It is time to and builds an equal future. This is the job for everyone – and for the benefit of everyone.
Inclusive or Exclusive: International Women’s day in Pakistan
Women from a different section of the society joyfully rallied in Pakistan’s major cities as they marked International Women’s day, ignoring the religious hard-liners and conservative diaspora of the country. Unfortunately, celebrations of International Women’s day in Pakistan are surrounded by many controversies and ragging debates for challenging some settled beliefs. The transformative movement must include all women to bring a notable change in the country’s mindset.
Gender Equality by 2030
International Women’s Day is a time to highlight the progress women have made so far and to call for change and celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
The world has made unprecedented progress, but no country has achieved gender equality. To do this, we must break down the deep-seated historic, cultural, and socio-economic barriers that prevent women from taking their seat at the decision-making table to make sure that resources and power are more equitably distributed.
11th Annual International Women’s Day Forum: “Business Powering a New Tomorrow”
The forum organized by the US Chamber of Commerce with the theme of “Business Powering a New Tomorrow” and with a mission to highlight how the private sector, working with cross-sector partners, can narrow gender gaps in every aspect of society; redefine leadership; reconstruct workplaces, and drive equality of opportunity for women and girls as the world recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
What next? Step it up
A lot has been achieved, but much more has to be done. Around 800 women die every day from preventable pregnancy-related causes; 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence; women hold only 22 per cent of parliamentary seats and today account for more than 60 per cent of the world’s illiterate. All these stats show the gender disparity and we can act as agent of change to achieve gender equality. We need a Planet 50–50 by 2030, and we must step it up for women and girls worldwide.
What is needed is the political will to actively and intentionally support women’s representation. Leaders can set and meet gender parity targets, including through appointments for all executive positions at all levels of government, as has occurred in the few countries with gender equal cabinets. Special measures can work; where countries have put in place and enforced quotas, they have made real progress on women’s leadership, as have those that have policies to address representation.
This year let us promote ‘Each for Equal’ for all the women around us. Make each day special on Women’s Day because the achievement of gender equality is everyone’s responsibility. A woman is a powerhouse of strength and reservoir of love; this year, let us vow to make them feel special.
Let us make 2021 count for women and girls everywhere.