What would you change in Pakistani culture?

Change stereotypes

Many studies suggest that women in Pakistan have fewer rights and fewer opportunities than women in most other countries. But many Pakistani women feel differently.

In the latest UN report on human development (Human Development Report), Pakistan ranks 146th out of 166 countries (information about the index can be found in the interview with Achim Steiner, head of the UN Development Program (UNDP), in the focus of D + C / D + C e-Paper 2020/09 can be found). On average, women in 145 other countries have a higher life expectancy, more education and a better standard of living.

The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 of the World Economic Forum assesses the situation in Pakistan even worse. Only in Yemen and Iraq are women even more disadvantaged than in Pakistan.

In the eyes of international experts, Pakistani culture is characterized by misogyny. However, many Pakistani women feel differently. For example, opinion polls show that 42 percent of married women in Pakistan think it is justifiable to hit women. Only 40 percent of men think so.

The fifth UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) concerns gender equality. One aspect is that women and girls need to be strengthened in their reproductive health. This includes the right to decide how many children they want to have. Sex education and access to contraceptives are very important in this context (see my article in the focus of the D + Z / D + C e-Paper 2020/04).

All gender-related SDG indicators conflict in one way or another with Pakistani norms. While some Pakistani women question these norms, most do not.

In recent years, rallies have been held in Pakistani cities to celebrate International Women's Day. A popular slogan is “my body, my choice”. It has a particularly bad reputation in Pakistan's conservative circles. They consider it a shameful and obscene call to promiscuity.

Men and women are equally part of the organized backlash. Last year the Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the march. She was proposed by a female MP.

One principle of development policy is “national ownership”. This means that international donors cannot insist on measures or fund programs that are inconsistent with the priorities of the government of a developing country. These governments, of course, pay attention to cultural norms. Supposedly enlightened norms sometimes contradict local traditions. People's worldview shapes their ideas of what development should bring.

Ultimately, Pakistani society has to resolve the gender issue in its own country. International donors should not actively interfere in this debate, although inconspicuous support from civil society organizations is unlikely to hurt.

The situation in Pakistan is better than it first appears. Girls' education has improved over the years. Women are gradually becoming more confident. In 1988, Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan's first female prime minister, 17 years before Angela Merkel became Germany's first female chancellor. Today around 20 percent of MPs are women. In the Constituent Assembly in 1947, this percentage was still two percent. It is true that many women politicians belong to political dynasties or have benefited from preferential treatment, but that does not detract from their role as role models.

Data can be interpreted in different ways. Around 70 percent of medical students in Pakistan are women, but only around half of them will later work as doctors. For many Pakistani women, getting a degree is more about finding a good husband than about choosing a career. That is unfortunate. On the positive side, more than half of the medical students who will one day work in this prestigious profession are women.