An Overview of the Gender Bias in Pakistan

It’s about time we reflect on the gender bias that exists in Pakistan and make way to spread awareness and achieve a greater balance in our society.

Gender Bias has been embedded in Pakistani society since the very beginning. However, It’s the year 2021! We are living and functioning through a pandemic. With men and women both working from home, the bias in everyday roles of life in Pakistan is being compared and questioned more often now than ever before. It’s about time we reflect on these archaic beliefs and make way to spread awareness and achieve a greater balance in our society.

Gender bias is the act of preferring a gender, in most cases men and/or boys over women and /or girls or vice versa.  It is a form of oblivious or implicit bias, which takes place when a person attaches certain stereotypes to a group of people. In Pakistan, gender bias is a very common practice, stemming from decades-long traditions, norms, and values that more often than not left men with an advantage. Whereas, women have to go the extra mile to prove themselves and often work twice as hard to earn their positions. The result of this bias entails women often being held back from opportunities, hindering their growth and prosperity.

The World Economic Forum has ranked Pakistan 151 out of the 153 countries in its respective 2020 Global Gender Gap Index Report. Pakistan tops the list of countries, where the people hold a bias towards women. Ingrained social beliefs that people refuse to challenge are the root cause of this lack of progress, which results in gender inequality, especially concerning work and education.

In the case of education, females face quite a lot of hindrance in attaining higher education as compared to men, due to socio-cultural constraints. Many parents are still influenced by the concept of ‘early marriage’ for their daughters, which in turn keeps them away from attaining higher education. Other reasons include poor economic status, where they prefer to invest in their son’s education instead of their daughters because the concept of a daughter making a living for them is never even considered possible.

According to the Labor Force Participation Rate, Pakistan’s female population constitutes to be 49%, However, only 24% of them are part of the labor force. The reason for this can be attributed to lack of access to higher education means, marital status, and local and societal norms. Apart from this, small and medium-sized enterprises do not adhere to appropriate legislative laws. Thereby there are very few opportunities for women to have access to paid maternity leaves, child care subsidies, and part-time work opportunities.

There is also, the “glass ceiling”, that prevents women from being promoted to managerial or executive positions, not because they are not qualified enough but because corporations want to avoid catering to paid maternity leaves, childcare subsidies, and welfare benefits. Organizations who do not want to consider let alone cater to these basic necessities fail to realize the lost potential of about 50% of our population.

Even though it is not discussed as much, men are also exposed to the prevailing gender biases, in Pakistan. Men are claimed to be the actual perpetrators of bias but in reality, they are also sometimes subjected to this, not as diligently but to an extent. For example, for males in the medical field, opting for gynecology is not as acceptable as it is for a woman. A career in engineering or something that is considered more ‘manly’ is deemed to be more socially acceptable than a career in arts and culinary with no regard to what your true vocation is, similarly leading to lost potential, be it a man or a woman.

The first step towards dealing with the issue at hand is to create awareness amongst people and the government to address this issue, which has been initiated through the Aurat March. The Aurat March is the result of a deep-rooted socio-political patriarchal structure of the Pakistani society, which has failed to protect and provide for the people of the country. Women and men are constantly at the receiving end of negligence and workplace discrimination due to the deep-rooted sentiments of gender biases in the country. The March symbolizes the vision of freedom that was promised when Pakistan came into being, which was to attain equal rights and to break the status quo that exists. It’s about time we reflect on the archaic gender beliefs in Pakistan and make way to spread awareness and achieve a greater balance in our society. The March has been taking place since 2018, in the major cities of the country, to commemorate equal rights for the women of our country. It takes place on the 8th of March, on International Women’s Day, and is joined by men and women both, who envisage a country free from social and political patriarchal structures. Hence, a more inclusive Pakistan.

The first step has been taken, now it is time for the government and institutions to facilitate legislation, which caters to the issues of inclusive and gender-equitable labor markets, increased awareness of workers about their rights, and protection of both men and women against any kind of gender-based bias. Budgetary allocations for government schools and government college/ universities is also vital to achieving any kind of progression.

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