Today, only one in five parliamentarians globally is a woman and while approximately 50 percent of women worldwide are in paid employment (40 percent more than 20 years ago), wage inequality is persistent. Alarmingly a recent UN advisory estimates that at the present rate of progress, it will take 81 years for women to achieve parity in employment.
Moreover, the pandemic of violence against women and girls now affects one in three women worldwide, despite being recognised as a gross human rights violation and a barrier to global development. In the year 2000, the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security recognised the need to increase women’s role in peace-building in post-conflict countries. Yet, from 1992 to 2011 only four percent of signatories to peace agreements and nine percent of negotiators at peace tables were women.
As the third Millennium Development Goal, gender equality and women’s empowerment has been the focus of much discussion and many projects across Pakistan for the past decade or more. Nevertheless the statistics at the start of 2015 are damning.
A report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) quantifies the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracks their progress over time, seeking to measure the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas – health, education, economy and politics. According to the report, Pakistan is ranked 141 in terms of economic participation and opportunity for women, 132 in terms of education attainment, 119 for health and survival and 85 for political empowerment. Since 2006, when the WEF started its annual Global Gender Gap Reports, women in Pakistan have seen their access to economic participation and opportunity fall from 112 to 141.
Equitable development takes place when marginalised individuals within communities are given a voice, specifically women, the elderly disabled, widows, orphans and vulnerable groups such as the ultra poor. The critical importance of this for overall socio-economic development cannot be over-emphasised. To understand this better, an example of an organisation dedicated to the principles of inclusion and equity must be highlighted.
The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) is an organisation that has been empowering women and providing them visibility and recognition through its grants and credit operations and across its network of partners in Pakistan for several years now.
It is heartening to note that its work has been recognised at the international level, as it was recently presented the prestigious Gender Award in Asia and the Pacific Region for 2014 from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) for having the best performance in addressing gender inequalities.
Social inclusion is the cornerstone of how the PPAF works as it targets the poorest and most marginalised communities and groups across the country. Social exclusion occurs when individuals or groups within a country or region face discrimination or marginalisation because of perceived differences. This discrimination operates through both formal and informal relationships and institutions and often leads to greater incidences of poverty and exclusion in mainstream civil and political life and in economic, social and cultural activity.
To address this exclusion, and as a direct result of lessons learned in the field, since 2011 the PPAF has mandated gender inclusion in all its programmes and across all geographic regions. So what evidence led to the introduction of such mandates? In a survey carried out in 2009 in 150 villages across Sindh and Punjab (as part of a larger impact assessment and research project for the PPAF’s Community-Driven Development Programme), data revealed that community organisations were generally male-dominated and most members were small landholders.
As a result, small community infrastructure and other projects identified for those villages were based on the priorities of the elite of the particular village, thus excluding those with little or no voice.
A midline survey conducted by the PPAF in 2013 of the same villages showed that there was a change in villages where inclusion was mandated (while in the rest inclusion was suggested but not mandated as part of the experiment to assess if mandates were necessary) – a majority of Community Based Organization (CBOs) members were among the poor/poorest (with little or no access to land) and women. A key feature of this shift was that youth in these villages were positively impacted by these inclusion mandates – and that perceptions among boys regarding women’s roles had changed for the better.
Today, the approach of the organisation is straightforward – if communities are unwilling to support the formation, mobilisation and subsequent activities of women’s community groups within their areas, then the PPAF does not support any intervention in that area.
The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund has ensured the women are equally represented within the organisation, that gender sensitive principles are incorporated in programmes and that the beneficiaries of PPAF activities are communities as a whole and not only men within them.
Interestingly enough, the PPAF experience shows that communities will facilitate women’s empowerment rather than give up opportunities for development.
The key seems to be making the principle of inclusion, in this context gender inclusion, non-negotiable – a lesson most parastatal and corporate entities in Pakistan could benefit from. This is a silent revolution that needs a wider-based support.