Pakistan ranks only above Iraq and Yemen in the Global Gender Report 2020. Yet the long-discriminated against Pakistani woman has made much overlooked progress. Conditions are terrible for her but trends, especially for those between 15-24 (who are the present and the future), are hopeful.

In Karachi literacy among women of this group has increased from 53.34% to 70.91% between 1972 and  1998 (figures in the larger towns are not dissimilar) and in the smaller towns such as Larkana and Chiniot it has increased by 14.48% and 10.45% respectively. In the same period female marriages in this age group in have declined in Larkana by 16.06% and  in Chiniot by 14.6%. In Karachi there has been a decline of in women marriages  from 61% in 1960 to 27.68% in 1998 in the 15-24 age group. Except for Balochistan and FATA, the figures are similar for the rest of Pakistan. So for the first time in our history in the age group of 15-24 we have an overwhelming majority of unmarried adolescents. Research and  statistics  show that this has changed gender relations and family structures s.

As a result choices for women have also increased. In 2020 there has been a 700% increase in khula cases. Recent statistics show that the trend is increasing. There has also been a large increase in court marriages and a gradual grudging acceptance of self-willed marriages ( in all classes) in the urban areas.

There is also an increasing demand  for women’s hostels  in urban area  so that women from other  locations  can acquire  education at institutions located there. Because of a change in family structures living with one’s relatives is no longer an option.

According to the Human Right’s Commission of Pakistan the number of karo-kari cases have increased. Unlike earlier, increasingly it is relatives of the victims that file cases in defiance of those who have committed the crime. The changes in gender relations and family structures described above lay the foundations for a new world that is dying to be born – a world in which the panchayat has ceased to exist and the Jirga has no moral authority.

Working women have also been emerging in Pakistan, especially in the field of education. In 1947 women primary schoolteachers were 13.5% of total teachers and high school teachers were 11.8%. In 2006-07 the figure had increased to 53.4% and 49.5% respectively. Women university teachers have also increased by 1300% from 837 in 1999 to 11534 in 2016. Meanwhile, women’s enrollment at institutions of higher learning has increased from 18.86% in 1991 to 38% in 2003-04.

Women have come to dominate the field of medicine and social sciences. 70% of medical students are women and between 70-80% in architecture and planning. Data from the Pakistan Medical and Dental Association shows that percentage of  women registered with them has increased from 58.29% in 2004 to 76.27 in 2013.

There are about  300,000 women polio workers in Pakistan and 65,000 in Sindh. Applications for these jobs were considerably higher than what was required.  Polio workers and the Lady Health Workers have their own unions in which elections and events, often cultural, are held and the international women’s day is celebrated.

Since 2014, the National Assembly has passed 21 and the provincial  assemblies 45 pro-women and pro-marginalized community legislation.  The male members have supported these laws,  many of  which were opposed by the previous assemblies. This shows that a change has taken place among the new generation of lawmakers.

An important aspect of women’s visibility is their participation in protests alongside men, something unheard of before. Working class women such as schoolteachers, polio workers, government employees, have protested,  with men, for better working conditions and salaries. Rural women have blocked traffic on major highways against karo-kari, wadera and administrative injustices, absence of utilities and tribal conflict and increasingly have had their demands met.

In addition to the above and in violation of the chadar and chardiwari, we now have a women’s cricket team, women’s squash and martial art champions, women’s participation in car rallies, women on motorbikes and thanks to social media hundreds of new women singers and performers. Some of this can be considered  perfomitive,  but  it is  rapidly opening up spaces for women. What is important to note here is that these changes  have taken place in the last 20 years and are consistent and not class specific.

Given what has been described above, it is not surprising that the custodians of patriarchy are fearful and are struggling to arrest this change by various forms of individual and collective violence.  However, to fight back it is necessary to not only understand  the changes that are taking place but also the reasons for them and to invest in the age group of 15 to 24 who will be the parents of 2 future generations.

This article was originally published in the Daily Dawn


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

site design by iMedia
Mobile Menu
Responsive Menu Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image