Women on Trial: Advancing gender inequality in Pakistan

Women on Trial: Advancing gender inequality in Pakistan


Pakistan ranks high on the list of countries with rampant discrimination against sex. In a country where religion is often used as an excuse to bind shackles around girls’ feet, being a girl in this patriarchal society is hardly less than a crime. From infanticide to honor killing to other abhorrent traditions such as wanni, being a woman in Pakistan is a tall order.

Discrimination represents a significant social problem in Pakistan as well as throughout the world. Girls face discrimination everywhere in the world. They often receive less food than boys do, have less entrée to schooling and work long hours. Why can’t we see the helpless agony of the girl child in our society? Their ignorance will certainly beget to forget our cause, which is still fractured in the regions.

This report demonstrates a societal status of women and their pondering image in a perspective of social, political and economic contexts in Pakistan. The explicit spectrum of gender in different academic shapes does not rectify the comprehensive mode of subject due to lack of research and policy implementation.

It provides an appropriate source in the light of Islamic sharia law, cultural and uneducated state regulations towards gender understanding in Pakistan. Social injustice, economic domination by men and culturally bindings and borders make an oppressed environment for women.

This report provides a precise shade of women’s situation in Pakistan by connecting to social, political, and economic aspects of discrimination. Research needs more empirical academic work to identify issues and solutions regarding this burning topic.

Neglect and discrimination on the basis of gender has been quite common in traditional societies. Such phenomenon is present in all classes of the society and exhibits in several forms.

Urban and rural, tribal and family moralistic restrictions amidst more and broader complications to the uplift of women in various areas of Pakistan. Women in Pakistan are living in critical social scenario and struggling to gain its level role and rights in all spheres of life.

Pakistani society is a male dominated society where women are isolated from different spheres of life which is perhaps due to the traditional norms prevailing in society. The status and role of Pakistani women in all aspects of life have been highly undermined. Most women in rural areas work in the fields and industries in Pakistan. It is a poor and illiterate majority, which usually lead a life of physical hardship, long hour work for which there is neither reward nor compensation.


Most of women in rural areas have to perform double burden of domestic and outside work. Usually they get up first and last to bed. They are the first to prepare breakfast, clean the house and wash the utensils before setting out on their outside work.

Although in urban areas the conditions of women are better than those of the rural, yet the old traditions and religious restraints have hindered the independent and free movement of women.

The women in Pakistan are approximately equivalent to men in numbers. They live in the most diversify site of the tribal, feudal or urban culture. In Pakistan women can be an extremely qualified and self-confident professional or a diffident peasant toiling along with her menfolk.

Moreover, acid attacks, child marriages, sexual assault, are only some of the other consequences that women in Pakistan have to bear for the crime of being born a female.

Women’s right in the world is an important indicator to understand global well-being. No society can function properly without women. Aristotle the father of political science had said that the state is a” union of families and villages”. Family plays a very important role in society, and makes the foundation of the state. Happy families build healthy societies and healthy societies are prerequisites of strong political order in democratic societies.

A woman is an architect of society. She forms the institution of family life, takes care of the home, brings up the children and tries to make them good citizens. Her role in totality contributes to the building of an ideal family, ideal society and an ideal state. In order to build the prosperous and healthy society both men and women demand for equal rights.

According to Dictionary Online:

‘Gender Discrimination is a situation in which someone is treated less well because of their sex, usually when a woman is treated less well than a man.

Son preference is a form of gender-based discrimination which is a well-recognized fact that has existed in all parts of the globe. It is indeed a grim reality that in some countries, societies and communities the phenomenon is so strong that it has resulted in gender imbalance and girls neglect.’

The phenomenon is especially quite evident in South and East Asian countries where one can see more boys than girls. In these societies, due to multiple reasons, male children are more valuable than females.

Discrimination represents a significant social problem in Pakistan as well as throughout the world. Girls face discrimination everywhere in the world. They often receive less food than boys do, have less access to schooling and work long hours. Why can’t we see the helpless agony of girls in our society?

In societies where a male child is regarded as more valuable to the family, girls often are denied the right of life, denied the right to name and nationality. And by being married off early or forced to stay at home and help in domestic chores, girls are often denied the right to education and all the advantages that go with it, the right to associate freely and the rights that come with having liberty.

These all are ways of basic humiliation from family to girls when boys are regarded as the pillars of tomorrow.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 compiled by the World Economic Forum ranks countries on gender gap and includes factors such as economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.

The report has ranked Pakistan 143 out of 144 countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not only fared particularly poorly in 2016, but its rankings have deteriorated fora decade. Comparing Pakistan’s performance in the South Asian region, India has done much better being ranked 87 out of 144 countries.

Pakistan is also the worst performing state in South Asia and has been for the last couple of years, while Sri Lanka ranks 100th, Nepal 110th, the Maldives 115th and Bhutan 121st.

The only country ranked below Pakistan is Yemen (144), while Syria is one place ahead at 142.

Pakistan ranked 112th in 2006, the first year of the report. Since then, its position has been deteriorating every year. Pakistan ranked 135th in 2013, 141st in 2014 and 143rd in 2015.

The report captures progress towards parity between men and women in four areas: educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment.

It is obvious but worth stating that women cannot enter the workforce and contribute to the economy’s productivity without a proper environment of education, training and health is in place.

Pakistan Demographics Profile mentions that current male-to-female ratio is 1:06. The sex ratio in other countries of the region, like China and India, is even higher than Pakistan.

About half the mankind consists of women and they are treated as second class citizens all over the world, but especially in developing states they are oppressed in different sectors of life. In these developing countries one of the living examples is Pakistan which has been coming across this issue since it got independence in 1947.

Women’s lives are controlled and shaped by various gender discriminatory structures in Pakistan. Their contribution to the production and physical hardships are not acknowledged.

A woman suffers in education, health and gender biased feeding and recreation practices. As a human being she is denied from her own identity. In some parts she is considered as commodity owned by her brother and father before marriage and then by her husband. She does not have the power to decide for her life. Someone else takes decisions on behalf of herself about marriage, education or giving birth to a child.

The prime focus in this piece of work is merely related to women with a special focus on discrimination against them in different sections of society. What are the main obstacles in the development of women’s rights.

Furthermore, I am also going to explain women’s rights from an Islamic point of view, since this is sometimes used as an explanation or an excuse, for violating women’s human rights.

The essential teaching communicated to each woman in this patriarchal society where I myself grew up, is to stay a quiet viewer, even as a silent party to any unfairness done by a man.

Women from 48% of the inhabitants in Pakistan. A huge number inhabits in countryside areas, where essential facilities are lacking and women’s rights are mistreated. In those areas they are kept away from education, don’t have access to schools and colleges and usually became victims of honor killings, rape, early marriages and gender discrimination.

In remote areas, women are treated as slaves and remains under their men only as a labor force. Usually their fate will be decided by their husbands, fathers and brothers, which are often called male dominating societies.

They do not have the right to decide concerning important aspects of lives. For instance, marriage is also a kind of business among rich and poor families; this tradition exists both in the villages and cities, which is extremely infringing on their rights to exist.

The women in Pakistan are approximately equivalent to men in numbers. They live in the most diversify site of the tribal, feudal or urban culture.

In Pakistan women can be an extremely qualified and self-confident professional or a diffident peasant toiling along with her menfolk.

In societies where a male child is regarded as more valuable to the family, girls often are denied the right of life, denied the right to name and nationality. And by being married off early or forced to stay at home and help in domestic chores, girls are often denied the right to education and all the advantages that go with it, the right to associate freely and the rights accompanying unjustified deprivation of liberty. These all are basic humiliation from family to girls when boys are regarded as the pillars of tomorrow.

They have traditionally been expected to live under the constraints of purdah. Therefore, the analysis of women’s life and status in the society cannot be adequately carried out without considering the importance of purdah as a constant element in everyday life in Pakistani Muslim culture.

Mostly women observe ‘Pardha’ while coming out of domestic environs or mixing up with other sections of society. Basically ‘Pardha,’ or veil, is meant to segregate the womenfolk from the male section of the society.

Women are not prohibited from working but at the same time are supposed to observe strictly the rules of morality (Hanna Papanek, p 517,518).

Due to “Pardha” system, most of women have to take up work at home. They involve themselves in dressmaking, embroidery, knitting etc.

In areas like Khyber “Pakhtoonkhwa” and Balochistan, life is regulated and governed by strict beliefs and behavioral patterns.

In remote areas women do not have rights to say anything in all aspects of their lives including their marriage choice. In populated provinces of Punjab and Sindh a woman can keep her connections with her family after marriage. She can expect support from her fathers and brothers in case of separation and divorce from her husband.

In Sindh and Punjab, women work in the fields with their menfolk collecting fuels and, in some cases, working on the construction sites shifting material from one place to another.

In some of the areas the customary act of Swara is largely prevalent especially in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa and Balochistan (provinces of Pakistan), by the virtue of which, instead of giving blood money as “badl-e-sulha” (retribute) an accused family gives their girl or girls in marriage to an aggrieved family as “compensation” to settle down the blood feud between them.

According to the Advocates for Human Rights, “Son preference” is a custom rooted in gender inequality that is prevalent in many countries and found across religions and classes.

It is, however, most apparent in countries of South Asia, where poverty is prevalent, and where families might view the “continuity of the male line” as a matter of particular importance.”

In different urban areas of Sindh province, on the phenomenon of son preference and gender discrimination in the society. The research that was earlier conducted tried to find out the intensity of such phenomenon; furthermore, the study tried to explore that are girls denied the same quality food, healthcare and education that their brothers receive?

The findings of a national research informed that 65.5% of the respondents preferred more boys than girls, 27.4% of the respondents had no preference, while only 6.1% preferred more girls than boys.

It is really interesting that a large number, 75.35%, of the survey respondents – the mothers of newborn babies, were of the opinion that their husbands and mother-in-laws always wanted to have a son; however, 24.65% admitted that having son is their biggest desire.

The analysis of collected data clearly showed that those respondents who have limited or no educational background were likely to have son preference. It was disclosed that 84.6% illiterate or semiliterate women have very strong son preference. While 15.4% illiterate or semi-literate women have no son preference.

It was revealed that 78.35%, of educated women have very low son preference; however, 21.75% of educated women have shown strong son preference during the research.

A respondent during the survey commented: “Neither my family nor I have any desire to have more sons than daughters. I am happy that my baby is healthy and I will try to make my little girl an educated and productive member of the society.”

‘Food & Health Discrimination’


There are mothers who claimed that due to financial crunch their husbands try to avoid or delay doctor’s visit for their daughters; whereas, for their youngest and only son they always tried to acquire immediate and best possible health care facilities.

It is pertinent to mention that most of the respondents said that “food discrimination” exists in their families. They added that male family members of their families eat first and when they finish their meal then women and girls eat the remaining food.

One can imagine the quality and quantity of leftover food for women and girls, which is quite clear when we look at the health indicators of young girls and women in the country.

The immunization of children, from different diseases, has been followed by the respondents, according to the provided answers.

However, it was revealed that many misconceptions also exist about the vaccinations due to illiteracy and ignorance. It was also informed by the respondents that vaccinations may not prevent children from diseases and even cause certain health problems for the child.

During the study it was observed that if parents already have one or two sons then they would like to have a daughter in the family; however, if a family already have one or two daughters they will never like to have second or third daughter in the family.

It was also observed that third or fourth consecutive daughters face very clear discrimination in the family.

Girls, Economics and Education

Be it the educational sector or any other; one can observe a stark difference in the number of boys and girls enrolled in any program at school, colleges, and universities.

In fact, there are significantly more schools in Pakistan that are designed for boys only. There are considerably less all-girls public schools in Pakistan than all-boys public schools.

Even in the co-ed schools, the ratio of male to female students is unequal. The ratio of girls to boys enrolled in public schools in Pakistan is approximately 0.83.

Moreover, as per the statistics of 2015, the literacy rate in Pakistan for girls was 45.8%, while the literacy rate for boys was 69.5%. These numbers haven’t changed much over the past two years since then. Although both numbers are equally disappointing, one can observe that the boys seem to be faring much better.

In many families, daughters are linked to severe [economic] loss. One of the responding mothers informed that she works as an accountant in local office; she said that her brothers always mentioned the high expenses the family has bourn upon her education and marriage. She added that it has been her untold duty to give water or press the clothes of her brother and now to her husband. “In my entire life neither my brother nor my husband ever give me water or press my clothes,” the mother of three children informed.

Girl’s access to education is also an issue of utmost importance; while answering an overwhelming majority of 78.68% informed that their girls are getting education either in formal schools or Madrasahs. The remaining 21.22% admitted that their daughters are not getting any type of education.

It is, however, pertinent to mention that a number of respondents acknowledged the fact that their daughters are getting education in government schools while their sons are studying in English medium schools.

According to a report titled “25 Million Broken Promises” by Alif Ailaan, a local alliance for education reform, informed that there are currently 25.02 million boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 who are not in school. Out of the mentioned figure the number of out of school girls are 13.7 million (55%) and the numbers of out of school boys are 11.4 million (45%).

When one moves beyond the school level, things become even more discouraging. Statistics reveal that only 28 percent of females opt for education beyond matriculation or intermediate. And those that do largely belong to developed cities. In rural areas, the figures are downright dismal.

In Pakistan, the spending on education is quite low as it is, but due to the fact that a majority of females who have studied and graduated from schools, colleges and universities, choose not to make use of their education for contributing to the national economy, is resulting in a lack of tangible results.

Of course, one can’t deny that by teaching the women of Pakistan, we are looking at a bright future where the children of these women will have an educated role model to look up to, but these results are slow to appear and can take years before they bear fruition.

Pakistan stands at the precipice of an economic downfall. We need tangible results and we need them now to make the country stronger. This only becomes harder when half the potential workforce is forced not to participate. And that too when that half of the workforce has been performing much better and scoring higher.

Take a look at the toppers of any board exam or survey any school, college, university and you will find that amongst the classmates, the female students score higher, despite being disfavored in terms of strength compared to their male counterparts. If these girls were allowed to enter the workforce, then Pakistan would see a much better return on the investment it makes on educating them.

The likes of Shirmeen Obaid Chinoy, Arfa Karim, and Malala Yousafzai have demonstrated just what Pakistan has to gain by educating the women of Pakistan and allowing them to pursue a career.

Discrimination at the work place

It’s not just an ill-representation in academia that is the only case of discrimination against women in Pakistan. Even in the professional environment, it is frowned upon for a woman to stand shoulder to shoulder with men in a company or an office. In fact, the only comparatively respectable jobs are supposed to be teaching and/or medical. Apart from this, any other job is a big taboo. Even these two professions aren’t very common for girls.

Moreover, the few women that do dare to open the Pandora’s box, in our business offices, are often made victims of harassment and abuse.

Countless cases are reported where women were sexually exploited or verbally and physically abused at the hands of the employers, supervisors, and coworkers, to the extent that many women themselves choose to opt out. They believe that a career is just a cheap trade-off for their dignity, honour, and self-respect.

Furthermore, the women who are abused or harassed in the workplace, academic institutions or anywhere else rarely make these transgressions public, as they fear that their male guardians will take away the few liberties they have been provided.

For example, if a girl who is pursuing a career in a firm is harassed by a co-worker, she would think twice before confiding in her family, because more often than not, her father, brother or husband, instead of addressing the perpetrator, will instead instruct the girl to give up her career and stay at home where she won’t attract unwanted attention.

Moreover, should she think of reporting the harassment to the authorities, she would have to face ridicule and adverse publicity both at the hands of the law enforcement agencies and the media.

Established stereotypes

With the passing of the Haqooq-e-Niswan Bill in 2016, things looked up for a bit. It seemed that women might get some support from the government against discrimination against sex. But these things, which looked good on paper, hold little merit in the real world as far as Pakistan is concerned.

Girls and women are still sexually exploited, there is a disparity in the number of men and women in any professional setting, and it is still frowned upon for a woman to demand her right to education, express a desire to work or to have an equal status as a man.

Any woman who expresses such desires or dares to stand up against the societal norms and the accepted stencil of the standard woman in Pakistan is dubbed as masculine, pariah, tomboy or a freak. To the extent that the woman herself starts questioning herself regarding her choice to rebel against the accepted stencil.

Psychological Effects of Discrimination

Rizwana Jabeen, a clinical psychologist and a researcher, observed that discrimination on the basis of gender is a distressing reality, primarily in under developed and developing countries; however, the phenomenon also exists in developed world. She also informed that,

“Even in this modern age still many families don’t want to have a baby girl in their families.”

The psychologist added that discrimination affects the general wellbeing and may lead to low self-esteem and minimal or no self-confidence, which seriously harm personal, intimate or social relationship. Girls or women who face discrimination are more likely to develop mental health issues: stress, depression, and anxiety.

It is a fact that, “Pakistan is ranked at the 141 position in the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR), 2014, the second lowest spot on a list of 142 countries.” The report – published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2014, quantifies the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracks their progress over time. It seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas — health, education, economy, and politics.

According to the report, Pakistan is ranked 141 in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women, 132 in terms of education attainment, 119 for health and survival and 85 for political empowerment.


Son preference and discrimination on the basis of gender has been rife in all traditional societies. It is really sad that discrimination on the basis of gender is an unfortunate phenomenon yet it is permissible by the society.

It is, however, important that we can help minimize the gender-based discrimination in our society.

Some of the relevant recommendations are: improve girls’ access to education; end early and forced marriage of girls; gender-based violence should not be tolerated; ensure women’s access to quality and continue health care services; and remove gender biased legislations.

There are several gender discrimination related consequences of child labour as well. Most obvious are the problems faced by girls who have been sexually exploited.

Also, girls working as child domestic workers are often denied medical treatment when required since they are domestic help and do not share the same status as the other children in the household.

Children who suffer an accident at work may also feel that this is their own fault for being clumsy or bad at their job, and the adults and medical personnel who they encounter may have the same attitude.

Education is the tool that can help break the pattern of gender discrimination and bring lasting changes for women in developing countries like ours. Pakistan has for decades grossly under-invested in education, and in particular, girls’ education.

Girls’ education also means comprehensive change for a society. Educated women are essential to ending gender bias, starting by reducing the poverty that makes discrimination even worse in the developing world.

Investing in women’s health and education also has spillover benefits to other members of the household.

Recent research has pointed out that good maternal health benefits children’s cognitive development, behaviour and school performance as well as improving the health and productivity of other family members.

In summary, there’s little good news and too much bad news. We’re talking about half of the world’s population. Waiting several lifetimes for women to reach their full potential is clearly too long. Fortunately, the countries with the smallest gender gaps vary in income, location and lifestyle providing a hopeful sign that any country can achieve gender parity.

A note to the mothers of Pakistan:

Dear mothers of sons in Pakistan,

Teach your son that when he brings in a wife, they share their life, their finances and the housework. “Jahan ghar dono ka, wahan kaam bhi dono ke. Madad karney ko ghulami nahin, saath dena kehtay hain.”

Teach your son that when he marries, he will be bringing in a partner and not a ‘baandhi’ who has to ask him before she can go see her parents, go for a trip to the market or even smile. “Nikkah karne ke baad aurat ke jazbaat marr nahin jaatay.”

Teach your son that the girls in this country are not travelling for long distances, appearing for exams, sacrificing sleep, working day and night to score high at their educational institutions so that one day he can tell them “you cannot work”

Teach your son that the love and sweat behind a woman’s roti is more important than it’s ‘golaayi’

Teach your son to value and respect his life partner. “Aap hi ki poti jab maan ki izzat hotay dekhay gi to kal ko apnay susraal mein apna haq aur apna muqaam samajh paaye gi”

Do not teach your son that he is a prince with some sort of royal blood running in his veins. Moving his butt around the house is not a big deal. “Thakta sirf mard nahin hai, dard aurat ko bhi hota hai.”

Do not teach your son that it is not his job to participate in the parwarish of his own progeny. His work doesn’t end after donating his sperm. In fact, it begins from there.

Do not teach your son that “paani lana aur bhai ki shirt istari karna behen ka kaam hai.” Remember, you wouldn’t want your own daughter to wed the same kind of bhai in another home, jiskay haath paani ka aik glass lanay se toot jaatay hein

Do not teach your son to not give the view point or feelings of his wife importance. Remember, “agar Jannat maan ke pairon ke neechay hai to biwi bhi shauhar ka libaas hai.”

Do not teach your son that “maa ke aagay awaaz na nikaaley.” This very son will not be able to openly communicate with you if there is ever a misunderstanding between you and his wife. “Jahan zabaan hamesha band rakhney ka hukam diya jata hai, wahan rishtay darr ke to hotay hein, muhabbat aur izaat ke nahi.”

Yours sincerely,
Mothers of daughters in Pakistan

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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