Women Empowerment in 21st century; Constant Struggle in Pakistan

By : Nimra Naseem Qureshi

Although it’s the 21st century, Pakistan is struggling with the basics of the development stage where all citizens are demanding to be treated equally and given equal opportunities. Pakistan is yet struggling with Women’s Empowerment. Though the situation is not as bad as it was in past still this issue cannot be avoided because women in Pakistan face numerous instances related to empowerment and this problem resurfaces regularly in our society. The total population of women counts to 48%, almost half of the population is women and still that half of the population is struggling with lack of recognition, appreciation, encouragement for their efforts and their achievements.

Multiple factors contribute to the empowerment of women; social, economic, demographic, and familial and information and exposure factors determine women’s empowerment. As I have observed that Pakistan has a big culture of early marriages so, according to statistics half of the women are married before the age of 20 and thus are child bearers at early ages, these cultural practices almost always take away the opportunities for women to experience life and try other activities such as schooling and employment and thus, they are unable to contribute to society in a broader sense. Women are given little choice in this matter in most households, the parents and family practices determine when the age of women will be perfect for marriage.

In my opinion, the concept of empowerment is more related to the ability or rather the involvement in the process of decision-making. Researchers have found that women who are part of decision-making in any capacity are likely to be more empowered than women who are not part of decision-making. This can be seen in daily life as well, women who are included in their house’s decision-making are more likely to be independent and empowered. By decision-making, I do not only mean the decision-making as the head of the family but in every capacity. This can start from making decisions as small as what food is going to be served at the table and as big as decisions about the values, ethics and rules that are to be implemented in the house, what type of household will be carried extending to individual life decisions related to career or personal life preferences.

Apart from that in Asia especially in South Asia gender roles and patriarchal society also contributed to the poor empowerment of women. Women are usually seen playing the role of housewives and homemakers. This, I believe, also contributes to the struggle of Pakistani women as empowered, independent and authoritative beings in the society. A constant struggle for women even in the working industry is that they have to face the constant trend of “mansplaining”. Working women would completely agree here, there’s always a man present who thinks he can guide you better at your own job and in whatever you’re doing may it be a household task or the job that you’ve been doing for ages in your career.

Another reason that I believe contributes to this is negative feminism or extremist feminism. The roots of feminism started with the struggle movement of women for the right to live equally with men as women are as equal and as important as the other dominant gender, this date back to the medieval ages of Europe, Women were denied the right to study, work, own property in her name and even vote. Women were confined to their homes and public life was made to entertain men only. But today in Pakistan feminism is being practiced and promoted with little to no regard for our history, culture and values. This extremist feminism is becoming the cause of backlash on women who are fairly trying to work for their rights and their deserved opportunities. Due to this negative feminism some women have also become hostile towards the very idea of feminism, this is now converted to a divide between who are in favor and against the feminist ideology without completely misunderstanding the idea.

Other factors that contribute are the perception created by our entertainment industry. This results in wrong image perception of the female gender and stigmas are created regarding certain relations of women. This can be seen in the Pakistani entertainment industry. The number of projects that revolve around any women who is brave and has strong values and can stand by them is nearly non-existent. The Pakistani industry is currently airing most dramas that are centered around a weak protagonist who waits for a knight in shining armor who will come and save the damsel in destress. The protagonist is usually a weak individual who needs a man to save her. Also, the Pakistani entertainment industry has created fake stigmas against pure relations such as a girl/woman with her phopo (paternal aunt) and her mother-in-law. There is a certain bitterness attached to these pure family relations which is slowly implanted in our society though the media industry. These types of perceptions and stigmas against certain gender and relations results in bitter and sour taste where women stand against women and label each other of being some antagonist who is shown in the media.

This century we should pledge to make this society a better place for women and counter issues such as gender inequality, education for women, financial independence, job opportunities, freedom of mobility and lack of entrepreneurial and leadership qualities in women. This can only be done by efforts of both men and women. Women should be vocal about the differences they face in their day-to-day life and both men and women should try and come up with efficient solutions. This will be effective if and when men will try and make this society a better place by realizing that some practices done by men intentionally or unintentionally are wrong and offendable for women. Similarly, women should realize that the practices they are facing are unhealthy and should not be normalized but should be called out. This will allow the society to work more smoothly and flourish in all aspects. We, as a developing country, need all hands-on deck to improve and maintain our living standards, it is very important that we don’t shut out half of the population or make them feel alien about themselves when they step in the society, instead a safe and comfortable environment should be created so that women can contribute to the society in all speres resulting in a better world for both men and women.