Int’l Day of Women
Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights.
By Mohammad Saleem Shahid
Women in Pakistan along with their counterparts in the world over are observing today International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day is a worldwide occasion to designate progress made towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. First celebrated over 100 years ago, International Women’s Day has grown into a global celebration of past struggles and accomplishments of women, and more importantly an opportunity to look ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.
Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential. Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls. Around the world, tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused to curtail women’s rights.
Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies. Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families and communities that extend to future generations. An extra year in school can add up to 25 per cent to a girl’s future income. When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.
Pakistan strongly acknowledges and honours the human rights struggle of millions of women the world over who have demanded respect for their rights and the rights of others. The women’s movement has brought about tremendous change but we must also recognise that progress has been slow and extremely uneven. Progress has also brought its own challenges. It is extremely troubling to see the roll-backs on fundamental legislation in many parts of the world, underpinned by the renewed obsession with controlling and limiting women’s decisions over their lives, and by views that a woman’s role should be essentially restricted to reproduction and the family. Such an agenda threatens the gains of the past. Although the pushbacks are frequently carried out in the name of tradition, they are often a reaction to efforts by broad segments of the same societies to promote change.
Debates around such policies have been marked by attacks on, or a disregard for, the evidence that shows the harmful consequences on the lives of women and girls, and on society as a whole. As ever, those paying the biggest price of such policies are the most marginalized women and girls. With the world’s young population concentrated in developing nations, retrogressive measures denying women and girls access to health services are casting devastating effect: more maternal deaths, more unintended pregnancies, fewer girls finishing school and the economic impact of failing to fully include women in the workforce. So it is time to come together to protect the important gains of the past and maintain a positive momentum.
The United Nations had, in 2016, announced a new multi-country initiative to accelerate action to end child marriage to help protect the rights of millions of the world’s most vulnerable girls. The programme involves families, communities, governments and young people to prevent girls from marrying too young and to support those already married. This global programme works with governments of countries with a high prevalence of child marriage to uphold the rights of adolescent girls so that girls can reach their potential and countries can attain their social and economic development goals. The programme is based on five proven strategies including increasing girls’ access to education; educating parents and communities on the dangers of child marriage; increasing economic support to families and strengthening and enforcing laws that establish 18 years as the minimum age of marriage.
Child marriage is a violation of the rights of girls and women. Girls’ who are married as children are more likely to be out of school, suffer domestic violence and die due to complications during pregnancy and childbirth. Child marriage also hurts economies and leads to intergenerational cycles of poverty. The global community has demonstrated strong commitment to end child marriage by including a target on eliminating it and other harmful practices by 2030.
Women in Pakistan are making their mark in the fields of business and journalism. Gender mainstreaming is one of the major focuses of the United Nations Organization’s Global Cleantech Innovation Programme which employs a competition-based ecosystem approach to identify the most promising entrepreneurs across the country. It works as a local business acceleration programme that supports, promotes and de-risks the participating companies and connects them to the potential investors, customers and partners etc. Women Business Growth Centres focus on promotion of women entrepreneurs to embrace clean technology products that offer immense potential for business growth as womenhave vital role in the economic development of the country.
As for as women journalists are concerned, they are needed to highlight and help tackle issues of harassment, discrimination and lack of opportunities for women. Journalists hold politicians, business leaders and even diplomats to account and they hold a mirror back to society. Any women in journalism that are harassed in their work, or discriminated against, or do not have their work recognised, is a waste of talent and a poor reflection on the profession of journalism. Women journalists must courageously tackle discrimination and harassment and bring real gender equality to journalism.
It is heartening that women in Pakistan are being mobilised to call for their basic rights to be respected. We have seen women’s protests against honour killings, sexual harassment and violence. We need to stand beside them and stand up for them, and in so doing we will be standing up for the rights of us all. On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment.