Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director, Head of the World Economic Forum’s Women Leader and Gender Parity Programme, visits the New York Stock Exchange with partner companies on International Women’s Day 2012. (Photo: WEF)
Women represent more than half of the world’s population and yet no single country has achieved full gender parity. A country’s global competitiveness depends on utilizing the human capital of its entire workforce, including the untapped skills and knowledge of women. Since 2006, the World Economic Forum has published its annual Global Gender Gap Report as a means of assessing and quantifying the state of gender equality in the world. The report focuses on four main factors that make-up individual country’s scores: “economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival and political empowerment.”
Low primary and secondary enrollment for girls threatens Pakistan’s economic future. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The World Economic Forum has once again put Pakistan at the bottom of its index ranking “gender gaps” in economics, politics, education, and health. Last year, Pakistan ranked 132 out of 134 countries, down from 127 the year before. This year there is no change in the overall ranking, however the report suggests that the state of gender-based biases in Pakistan remains abominable — and worse, stagnant.
While women make up over 51 of the population in Pakistan, only 3 percent of women participate actively in the economy. Thanks to CIPE efforts in 2006, Pakistani women now have the right to form business associations, and as a result there are eight registered women business associations in the country. Additionally, every chamber in Pakistan now has to elect two women members to its board. But gender equality is still a major issue in the country. The recent Gender Gap Report also mentions that while the gap between men and women has narrowed slightly in most countries during the past year, Pakistan still ranks the lowest in Asia and the Pacific region.
When I heard the news that Park Geun-hye – daughter of the late Park Chung Hee – won the latest presidential elections in South Korea, the first thought that came to my mind was “yet another Asian women keeping her political dynasty alive?”
Benazir Bhutto. Sonia Gandhi. Aung San Suu Kyi. Yingluck Shinawatra. And now Park Geun-hye. What they all have in common is their familial connections to power. They are all widows, daughters, or sisters who inherited the political mantle from their male family members. While it is remarkable that Asia as a region has had more women heads of states than any other place in the world, Asia (from Japan to India to Thailand) is not light-years ahead in terms of gender equality overall.