Gender inequalities further amplified by Covid-19 in Pakistan
An opinion piece written by Global Minorities Alliance’s Shahid Khan, originally published in the English-language Pakistani newspaper, the Daily Times on 14 January 2021.
No one has been immune from the larger than life impact of Covid-19 in some shape or form, which reared its ugly head back in January 2020 in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, the pandemic has touched and impacted almost all aspects of our lives, be that social, economic, or political.
The impact of this pandemic has hit vulnerable groups most, including women and ethnic minority communities worldwide. According to the Economist, non-white groups (except Chinese women) are more likely to contract and die from Covid-19 than whites. Similar trends have also been witnessed in America, where black Americans have been hardest hit by Covid-19.
Ethnic minorities are not the only vulnerable groups that have suffered disproportionately from Covid-19. Poverty and gender are other factors that contribute to inequality in general and an increased suffering during this pandemic specifically. A case in point are many south Asian communities, such as in Pakistan.
A joint policy paper by the Ministry of Human Rights in Pakistan, UN Women Pakistan and the National Commission on the status of women in April 2020 noted that the ‘pandemic is likely to have an adverse impact on the lives and livelihood of women and vulnerable groups.’ This is because of barriers women face in accessing education and employment opportunities which have been hampered by cultural and social norms and further amplified by Covid-19.
Pakistan is ranked at the bottom of gender equality in the world and there is growing concern among the experts that recent gains in gender development will be lost in the mist of Covid-19. To avoid such unwanted consequences, policy makers and government need a gendered response to recovery of post Covid-19 Pakistan.
Women make up 49% of the total population in Pakistan. The precarity of female livelihood in Pakistan’s society predates the pandemic. Furthermore, women’s participation in the labour market is 15% which is less than a third of the male labour force rate and lower in relation to comparable countries such as Bangladesh and Turkey. Most women are part of the informal workforce, especially those who are self-employed, maids, daily wage workers, etc.
A recent World Bank Blog notes that tens of thousands of women face drastic income losses since the virus broke out. It states that ‘over a quarter of Pakistani women have been fired or suspended from their jobs in various sectors’. On top, the article asserts that Pakistan’s women-owned microenterprises which are smaller than their male -owned counterparts are 8% more likely to lose their entire revenue during Covid-19. In short, the ongoing pandemic has further slowed the pace of gender development for women. These drastic impacts of Covid-19 need rigorous gendered solutions.
The fruits of gender development, including access to education, skills development and employment are manifold – firstly to the women and girls, and secondly to their families, communities and society as a whole. A girl who is educated is less likely to become a child bride or a teenage mother. This also means that women who are educated are less likely to be poor or suffer domestic abuse (which has become even more rife during the pandemic). Instead they will have more power to make decisions which can impact their life and their children.
The Economist article notes that the Covid-19 pandemic could hinder progress for girls in poor countries or even reverse it. This is true in Pakistan where progress in the area of gender development has been steady in recent years.
It is the time for government and policy makers to implement and monitor gender-specific programmes in the post-Covid world, which can equip and provide equal opportunities to women in Pakistan in a post Covid-19 Pakistan. The stakeholder engagement should be encouraged and promoted from businesses to charity sectors which support gender incentives and programmes, with investment in such programmes and initiatives.
The empowerment of women and their inclusion in the labour market will have a ripple effect throughout society. Where women and girls can maximise their true potential as defined by themselves, rather than by any external factors, they can be powerful agents of change.
Shahid Khan is a trustee with Global Minorities Alliance – a not-for-profit, human rights organisation based in Glasgow. Find out more about the organisation, and its current projects, by visiting its website.