Women constitute almost half of the population of Pakistan. However, access to and control over resources, entitlement to rights and power-sharing are unequally distributed between men and women. The need for supporting gender responsive policies, programmes and budgets cannot be stressed enough especially in a country like Pakistan which stands at 151 out of 153 on the Global Gender Parity Index that is released every year by the World Economic Forum.
Women’s participation and leadership are of utmost importance for democracy to flourish and sustain in. Evidence from the most advanced societies proves that women make critical contributions to improve democratic governance, national security, economic development, health outcomes and help with eradicating poverty. These reasons can be seen as obstacles to enabling women’s full participation in all kinds of spheres whether private or public. As an example, let us consider the participation of women around the world in national parliaments which remains below 25%, meaning that it is not a group that primarily influences discourse and decision-making around policy. Similarly in Pakistan, a very small proportion of females occupy policymaking positions such as of legislators, managers and senior officials.
It is also important to acknowledge that almost all UN Sustainable Development Goals are linked in one way or another with gender equality, participation and responsive policy. Also, an important factor is that gender responsive policymaking does not solely benefit women alone, but also addresses the needs and priorities of all persons regardless of their sex. It is hence important to question that whether in our efforts to achieve a more egalitarian society is gender equality taken into account by the government or not.
A gender responsive policy will consider gender norms, roles and relations for women and men and how these affect access and control over resources. It takes into account the specific needs of people of all sexes and addresses the causes of inequities which are gender based. It further ensures that there are ways to transform harmful gender norms that continue to hinder progressive changes in power relationships between women and men. This will ensure that both women and men can fully participate as equal partners in all aspects of society with better outcomes. As a result, security and stability of a state can be achieved. As such, if inequalities continue, all individuals and sectors underperform and are adversely affected leading to injustice and further violations of human rights. This only goes on to add further costs and losses for the society.
Inclusive policies will also consider unique needs of subgroups within the dominant framework (for instance the youth, elderly, disabled, minorities, etc) recognising that different groups may have differing needs and interests. It is important therefore to involve as many stakeholders as possible in the policy formulation processes and for those bodies which administer these policies to have the knowledge, skills and attitudes to address the various needs and priorities of women and men in different groups. If gender is not factored in, then policies end up reinforcing existing gender discriminations.
Furthermore, diverse groups of stakeholders should be taken on board for the policy formulation and implementation processes so that relevant input is given through a bottom-up approach which is based on a wider consultative process that enriches the process. In Pakistan, the policymaking process is rather constrained by the disproportionately low representation and participation of women in policymaking spaces which means that understanding how women are challenged are lacking and are ignored at the policy level. Decision-making processes must involve women participation in policymaking forums to advance the status of women. And challenges need to be resolved by addressing the deeply-rooted patriarchal nature of social relations to limited insights, skills and capacity on gender which means it is a time-consuming activity, however, one which cannot be ignored.
The ultimate goal should consequently be for policies, programmes and budgets to contribute to effective implementation of commitments towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in and across different sectors. The capacity of civil society and government institutions to integrate gender into policies, planning, programming, budgeting and monitoring of results needs to be accomplished on an urgent basis, both at the local and national level.
This article was originally published at: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2272718/the-significance-of-gender-responsive-policies
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.