Women’s day is celebrated all over the world in which the achievements of women, the due role of women in society and the women empowerment is highlighted. Besides that, many symposiums, awareness campaigns and seminars on women empowerment are arranged with a great zeal and enthusiasm through-out the year. But what is women empowerment actually!? According to the United Nations definition of empowerment, people, both men and women can take control over their lives i.e. set their own agendas, gains, skills, increase self-confidence and develop self-reliance. In the light of this definition, we still are far behind from achieving the desired goal. Empowerment is a procedure that concerns when addressing human rights and development.
So, in reference to the above definition, women empowerment refers broadly to the expansion of freedom of choice and action to shape one’s life: the right to have access to opportunities, resources and decision-making. An empowered woman is the one who is self-confident, who critically analyses her environment and who exercises control over decisions that affect her life both within and outside her house. The idea of empowerment manifests itself at all levels of societal interactions. It is about giving a voice to the weak and marginalize the sections of society. It requires having an access to the needed tools and materials for the expansion of their capacities.
Although the lives of Pakistani women have changed during the past 20 years, and they are more empowered and emancipated then they were, ever before. More and more women entering the workforce today has become the role models for other women by giving them the encouragement to do so. But still, the women are facing many problems with discrimination and harassment at the work-places. Proper health and medical assistance, entitlement to education, and an easy access to information and participation in civic functions and administration of the society, of which she is a constituent unit of, remains a pipe dream. One could argue that the rights of the women are intrinsically ingrained in the Constitution and hence the matter is adjudicated. Yet beneath the overarching landscape painted by legislature, there is an absence of solid foundations. Take violence against women, for example, a woman facing abuse has to gear up for battle on multiple fronts. The notion of her seeking support and justice outside the walls of her abode is still frowned upon by the society. Her agony doesn’t end here. She has to grapple on each stage for seeking justice. And on the rare occasions, if a case is filed, the burden to prove the abuse is on her fragile shoulders. From reporting, to evidence collection, to the trial itself, the system disenfranchises the victim on each and every step of the way. These are all the elements that hold women’s fundamental rights, nourishment and the development back.
A society like ours is the one in which the disparity between men and women on the basis of gender and old stereotypes is so deeply rooted that it requires lots of individual and concrete efforts at all levels and on all fronts. In this direction, the only effective tool to enable a woman to lead a healthy and humane life is “Women Empowerment”. Empowerment has multiple and interrelated dimensions that are economic, social, personal and political majorly. Economic empowerment means to empower women economically by giving her the right to own properties, lands, financial responsibilities, adequate shares in jobs, business opportunities etc. In social dimensions, it reflects women’s social status which should be equal to that of a man by avoiding all discriminations based on injustice and inequality. Politically, women empowerment means to provide them their due right to vote independently and take active part in the politics of the country. Personally, they should be given equal liberty and freedom in their personal affairs, such as in case of marriage, vocational pursuit etc. As a whole, women empowerment aims at providing women with their social, economic, political and personal rights.
For promoting gender equality and women empowerment, the government of Pakistan has signed many international and national commitments like Convention On Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), National Plan Of Action (NPA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which is replaced by sustainable development goals (SDGs) .For this purpose, it has also pass various laws and bills, for example the Protection against harassment of women is passed through the Workplace Act (2010). The objective of this Act is to create a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view of fulfilling their right to work with dignity and grace. Article 25 (a) of the constitution, according to which there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender, and article 37 has given maternity benefits to countless women.
But despite all these international and national commitments and laws, women are still malnourished, illiterate and have less access to decision making, property ownership and training. Not just that, women are also body shamed, bullied and harassed (verbally, non-verbally and physically). It has been more than 70 years now and we are still struggling to achieve equal rights and most ironically, in a high female ratio country, women are still underprivileged and deprived of their basic rights. Female doctors, business graduates, PhDs and many other highly educated females are sitting idle in their homes due to the fear of male dominance and sexual harassment at workplaces. Women are not being provided with an environment in which they can work without inhibition and fear. Women are not paid according to their caliber and responsibilities in their respective fields. The heinous offences perpetrated against women range from the domestic violence, honor killings, acid attacks, sexual assault, molestation, rape and forced marriages to unfair and unjust inheritance of property.
All this is brutally affecting women across the nation, and the effects are far more dangerous than our imagination. Women are facing serious and threatening problems. Traumatic and dreadful issues are emerging which are physically and mentally affecting the lives of women (depression, anxiety and low self-esteem are some of them).
Many women are unable to get proper education due to early marriages and patriarchal system. I am talking about those segments who are still struggling for their existence and we cannot deny the fact that the existence of such segments are not a fantasy. There are dozens of examples where women were tortured, bullied and harassed. Recently, female journalists in Pakistan highlighted the online harassment and abuse they face, which is an alarming situation.
Samia, who is an employee in a company, said that life wasn’t an easy journey for her as a women. She shares her experience of bullying at workplace that after getting a job she was questioned by her colleagues multiple times that whether she even consider herself capable of doing the job or not. Another office worker mentioned that in some companies, no written agreement/contract is signed between employee and company and therefore, the companies take advantage of their employee’s vulnerability. It gives the higher authority upper hand to treat them as slaves and hire them on low wages.
Talking to voice of KP, Samar Bilour, the MPA of provincial assembly of KP said that according to her, women empowerment means giving women equal platform so that she could enhance her abilities and such initiatives should be taken that enable her to compete in every walk of life. She further mention that women empowerment starts from one’s own house by giving a girl equal opportunity to get education like a boy, to give her the due shares in inheritance and to give her the right of decision making for her life. She emphasized that awareness and education are the two ways through which women can be empowered. A woman standing for her rights and getting them should be taken as the norm and not as an exception. She stressed on the strict implementation of laws at each level that have already been passed by the Pakistan’s government.
Few people have this misconception that women empowerment and gender equality is a foreign agenda but it’s actually only a misconception, women all over the world have been facing challenges and gender inequalities since the beginning of history. If we seek help from our Glorious Quran and the hadith, then it would be clear as they both also emphasize on the protection of the rights of women, including the rights of education, worship, freedom of opinion, choice of spouse, economic freedom and the social role in the society. For example, Hazrat Khadija (R.A.) was a successful business women, Hazrat Ayesha (R.A) was a great intellectual and was an interpreter of more than two thousand hadith.
The founder of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah also motivated the women to play their active role in society and to highlight the importance of women empowerment in one of his speech, he said that “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1944.
This is why, we can see that women also have played active part in the Pakistan Movement. Fatima Jinnah was the prominent figures among other women who proved that women are no less than men and she proved her point by playing her due role for the betterment of society as a whole and women specifically. They therefore worked wholeheartedly to remove the socio-economic injustices against women in the country.
Often a question is raised by some people that why is it important to empower the women! The empowerment and autonomy of women and improvement in all the spheres of life are crucial in itself. In addition, full participation and partnership of both women and men is required to achieve the sustainable development. Women can be effective agents of change when they are empowered with support from the families, communities and with improved livelihood opportunities, they can drive transformative changes at the household community, national and international level.
Empowering a woman has a ripple effect: if you empower one woman in a community, she will pull along with her brothers, sisters and other members of her community which results in breaking the cycle of poverty and ignorance. Also, it has a trickle-down effect as when a girl is educated and empowered, it would result in better and healthier families and societies so empowered women actually lead to growing economies and with growing economies and empowered women, it ultimately leads to more enriched world.
Furthermore, there lies the same set of aspiration and potential in girls like anybody else. The only need is to channelize their skills, talent, expertise and energy in the right direction which can actually cause wonders. Besides that, it is very crucial to sensitize men specifically and society generally to become a support structure for women and to facilitate the process of a women success. It’s time to forge a nation where women are equal participants in development process rather than subject to any social experiments. Most importantly, to achieve the women empowerment, the reformers must review and make amendment to the policies, easy access to seek justice and strong implementation mechanisms. Hollow chants of equal rights might be enough to gain applause and appreciation but it won’t help us to attain the actual goal of equity. Assuming that our job is done with the collective sighs, we exhale whenever a rape victim is killed without justice, or a woman is sexually harassed at her workplace with no recourse, or a woman simply seeking a divorce is dragged through the courts with never-ending delay tactics which is of no use.
It is the time to let her shine, let her live her dreams, let her spread her wings to fly on the horizons and let her be herself.
I would conclude with the quote of Christine Legarde, “I would love to see a world where women let their confidence roar from the rooftops, their cups run over with self-assurance, their voices resound across the pinnacles of power.”
Note: Name of employee replaced due to privacy reasons.