The international day for women is celebrated every year on March 8 around the world to mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This day reminds nations worldwide to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women be they social, political and economic. It further calls for an end to domestic violence and harassment against women. But in Pakistan, we witnessed a sad picture on this day when religious clerics clashed with Aurat March’s participants in Islamabad. Opponents of the Aurat March left no stone unturned to dilute the spirit and objectives of the march and some labelled it a foreign-funded vulgar campaign against Muslim women. One of the slogans of the March, “My body, my choice” was misinterpreted and remained a subject of criticism by the conservatives. The manifesto of Aurat March 2020, which called for the end of patriarchy, domestic violence, and harassment against women, increase in salaries and economic independence, better health and education facilities, and self-respect, was trampled under the foot. It is a sad reality that Pakistan is one of the worst countries for women to live in, which can be seen in the denial of social rights to women, discrimination, honour killings, brutal rapes and abductions, marital rapes, forced marriages, and induced abortions. This dark reality in our society has ranked Pakistan the 6th most unsafe country for women.

There is no denying the fact that even though the female population in Pakistan is 48.54 percent of the total, the female labour force participation rate is 22 percent according to the World Bank’s collection of development indicators, which is much lower when it is compared with 68 percent of their male counterparts’ participation. There is a plethora of national and international studies which substantiate the fact that women in our country are very vulnerable. The World Economic report 2018 ranked Pakistan at 148 out of 149 countries for women empowerment. In this connection, let’s consider the following findings.

Forced child marriages are not a new problem in Pakistan. It is being practiced in our country for the last many decades. Pakistan has also been facing the dilemma of honour killings known locally as karo-kari. Statistics from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan suggest there were 1,276 such murders between 2014 and 2016. Though Pakistan’s parliament passed a law against killings linked to honour or izzat, the numbers of such killings are not decreasing, especially in rural areas where many such crimes are not reported and go unpunished. Then consider the ratio of induced abortions that occur in our country. In 2018, a representative from the United Nations Population Funds (UNPF) announced that there were 2.2 million abortions in the country every year. Almost half the pregnancies that occur in Pakistan are unplanned and unintended and 54 percent of them end in abortion mostly in an unsafe way.

Pakistani women, unfortunately, have been culturally relegated to the low-priority section, especially in the case of female education and with social rewards in reproduction and domestic activities. We see a bleak picture when it comes to female education. Female literacy rate is 45 percent, which is very low when it is compared with male literacy rate that is 69 percent. Illiteracy on the part of parents and misinterpretation of Islamic injunctions relating to women are the two major reasons behind this issue.

Though gender inequality is a global issue, it lies at the heart of multiple problems in Pakistan. It is unfortunate that Pakistani society is not reacting against the gender imbalance and vicious cycle of violence to a considerable extent because of ignorance and a gender-based biased approach.