The UN has once more told us what we already know. Namely, that Pakistan is an extremely hard country for women and girls; particularly those belonging to ethnic or religious minorities. Nevertheless, its report on gender equality as part of its Sustainable Development Agenda 2030, which was published this week, puts it out there in black and white; yet again.
Inevitably, the findings paint a grim picture. Even more so considering that the world body has had to make do with demographic and health surveys from 2012-2013; when there was no current headcount on Pakistanâs rising population. Be that as it may, it finds 12 percent of women in Pakistan (4.9 million to then population figures) aged 18-49 are simultaneously deprived in four Sustainable Development Goals-related dimensions: child marriage; education; healthcare; and employment.
And while we urge everyone to read this report, we must ask: then what? For we already know that the âmost disadvantaged ethnic group oscillates between Sindhi, Saraiki and Pashtunâ. We say this not to attack the UN for its mostly sincere efforts. But only to point out that we have been here so many times before. And the blame for this must rest squarely on the shoulders of the Pakistani state. It is all well and good for the latter to pat itself on the back at it its liberal and inclusive credentials when it moves to Parliament to have enshrined into law the protection of transgender rights. But unless and until the state shows the will to safeguard the fundamental rights of women and the girl child â anything else runs the risk of being nothing more than a casual tokenism aimed at drawing votes.
For bluntly put, it is a political choice that sees close to 98.8 percent of rural women (as well as 29.3 percent of rich urban dwellers) having no access to education. After all, as we have said many times before, Pakistan has enough cash to splash on its nuclear stockpile; said to be the largest in the world. And nothing will change while regimes in the Global South are allowed to get away with such policy missteps. We live in an age where the lone superpower sees fit to freeze non-military aid to this country on the grounds that we are failing to properly serve its interests in the quagmire of its own making across our western border. Tellingly, literacy rates are worst among Pashtun women. This should come as no real surprise to anyone given how both Islamabad and Washington have conveniently strived to cruelly and dangerously paint this entire community as terrorists. The result being that the Pashtuns are still battling internal military operations, American drones as well as militant attacks.
And while we know that those who come to work here under the UN banner genuinely want to affect change for the better â we have to ask how much is all this costing in real terms. Sure, the odd project here and there will benefit particular communities but beyond that, what? All we see is a state that is entirely absent when it comes to the plight of women and the girl child and international development workers that are handsomely paid for relocating to a recognised conflict zone; though many seem to be operating on a flexitime system of sorts that seems them go âout of countryâ every two or three months.
Yes, we should all be alarmed by the UN report. But we should be more far more perturbed at the fact that we appear to be making no progress on this front.Â *
Published inÂ Daily Times,Â FebruaryÂ 16thÂ 2018. Courtesy Â Daily Times