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International Women’s Day: Empowerment and Lessons for Pakistan

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Tariq Mahmood Awan

Every year on March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a powerful symbol of the ongoing fight for gender equality. It’s a day to recognize the remarkable contributions women have made throughout history, but also a stark reminder of the work that remains in empowering women across all aspects of life.

International Women’s Day holds immense significance. It shines a light on the challenges, achievements, and immense contributions of women. It’s a day to celebrate their resilience, unwavering courage, and unwavering determination in the face of adversity. This day serves as a platform to advocate for gender parity, ensuring women have equal access to opportunities, rights, and representation in all spheres of life. It fosters a spirit of solidarity among women worldwide, encouraging them to support each other’s journeys and work collectively towards positive change. But most importantly, International Women’s Day raises critical awareness about the deeply rooted issues of gender-based violence, discrimination, and unequal access to resources that women continue to face.

Pakistan, like many other nations, is grappling with challenges related to women’s empowerment. However, the country has also made significant strides in various areas. Political empower the foundation of women’s rights. Encouragingly, a significant number of women in Pakistan are now voting without male influence. Therefore, the elections in 2024 prove the greater impact of women on electioneering. One such example of women’s representation is the allocation of designated seats for women in the National and provincial Assemblies, a policy that ensures their political participation. Furthermore, they can also contest for the general seats. Currently, women hold a commendable representation of the seats, demonstrating progress in this domain.

Pakistani women have also made their mark on the global stage, contributing significantly to United Nations peacekeeping operations and earning international respect for their bravery and dedication. Their growing presence in the civil services, professions, judiciary, and armed forces further showcases their capabilities and shatters traditional stereotypes.

Despite these advancements, significant challenges remain. Deeply ingrained cultural norms that restrict women’s autonomy continue to be a major hurdle. Here, education and advocacy play a crucial role. By challenging societal stereotypes and promoting gender equality, these efforts can pave the way for a more inclusive future. Economic empowerment for women is equally essential. Encouraging entrepreneurship, providing vocational training opportunities, and ensuring equal pay are key steps towards uplifting women economically and fostering self-reliance.

Violence against women, including domestic abuse, harassment, and gender-based violence, continues to be a grave concern. To effectively combat these issues, Pakistan needs a multi-pronged approach. Strengthening legal frameworks related to women’s rights, inheritance, and protection against violence is crucial. However, laws alone are not enough. Effective implementation of existing legislation, coupled with robust monitoring mechanisms, is essential to ensure that women’s rights are not just enshrined in law but also upheld in practice. Raising public awareness through targeted campaigns can further empower women to understand their rights and seek help when needed. Investing in education and healthcare for women is another critical step. Educated women contribute significantly to societal progress, fostering healthier communities and breaking the cycle of poverty. Ensuring equitable inheritance rights empowers women financially and contributes to their overall security and independence.

Federal and provincial governments have a pivotal role to play in advancing the cause of women’s empowerment. They can begin by formulating evidence-based policies that address the specific disparities women face. The National Gender Data Portal (NGDP) serves as a powerful tool in this regard, consolidating gender-related data to inform well-rounded decision-making. Strengthening legal frameworks around issues like inheritance and protection from violence is another crucial step. However, policies and laws only serve a purpose if they are effectively translated into action. Governments must prioritize the implementation and enforcement of existing legislation to ensure women’s rights are translated from theory to practice. Finally, targeted awareness campaigns can play a significant role in challenging harmful societal norms and promoting gender equality at the grassroots level.

Way forward:

Pakistan faces a complex challenge in empowering women. While strides have been made, deeply rooted social norms, cultural limitations, and administrative hurdles continue to hold women back. To achieve true empowerment, a multifaceted approach encompassing social, cultural, administrative, legislative, and behavioural strategies is necessary.

Grassroots awareness campaigns are crucial. These campaigns, delivered in local languages and leveraging community leaders, can challenge traditional gender roles and educate communities about the benefits of women’s empowerment. Investing in girls’ education is paramount. Educated women are more likely to challenge societal norms, advocate for themselves and their families, and contribute meaningfully to society.

Media and entertainment can play a powerful role in promoting positive portrayals of women who defy stereotypes and pursue their dreams. Public dialogues and discussions can encourage critical thinking about gender roles and dismantle harmful social norms.

Promoting interpretations of religious texts that emphasize gender equality can help address cultural justifications for gender disparity. Religious leaders can play a vital role in advocating for women’s rights within the framework of religious teachings. Engaging with community leaders, religious figures, and influential figures can foster a sense of ownership and encourage cultural practices that promote women’s autonomy.

Government budgets should prioritize initiatives that support women’s empowerment, such as vocational training programs, childcare facilities, and access to microfinance. Efficient delivery of these programs and services is crucial for maximizing their impact. Investing in robust data collection and analysis on gender issues allows for evidence-based policymaking. The National Gender Data Portal (NGDP) is a valuable tool, but ensuring data is accessible and utilized by policymakers at all levels is key. Equipping government officials and service providers with the knowledge and sensitivity to address women’s needs effectively is essential. Training programs can focus on gender equality principles and ensure services are delivered in a way that is accessible and respectful to women.

Existing laws related to women empowerment alongside domestic violence, sexual harassment, and discriminatory practices need to be strengthened. Loopholes must be addressed, and penalties for violations need to be stringent enough to deter perpetrators. Laws alone are insufficient. Implementing existing legislation effectively requires a robust judicial system and efficient law enforcement mechanisms. Investing in training for police officers and judges on gender-based violence and discrimination cases is crucial.

Most importantly, ensuring women’s inheritance rights are protected by law empowers them financially and fosters economic independence.

Then, highlighting the achievements of successful women in various fields can inspire younger generations to pursue their ambitions. Mentorship programs connecting established women with aspiring young women can provide valuable guidance and support. Men and boys are essential allies in the fight for women’s empowerment. Educational programs and campaigns can target men and boys, promoting positive masculinity and encouraging them to challenge harmful stereotypes and support women’s rights. Furthermore, creating safe spaces for dialogue and collective action among women allows them to share experiences, advocate for each other, and hold each other accountable for progress.

By implementing a comprehensive strategy that tackles social norms, cultural limitations, administrative hurdles, and legal shortcomings, Pakistan can create an environment where women can thrive. Encouraging behavioural changes through role models, mentorship, and men’s engagement is equally crucial to ensure lasting social transformation. International Women’s Day serves as a powerful reminder of this ongoing struggle. Through a collective effort, Pakistan can build a future where women are empowered to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to society. Lastly, the capacity of the women’s departments of the provinces should be enhanced to meet and implement the legislative, administrative, and financial imperatives. 

International Women’s Day serves as a powerful reminder that progress toward gender equality requires a collective effort. By taking inspiration from the spirit of this day, Pakistan can prioritize women’s empowerment, advocate for their rights, and create an inclusive environment where women can thrive and contribute their full potential to society. Let us celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women while committing to building a more equitable future for all!

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