Supporting gender equality

The Constitution can confer legal and formal equality but functional equality in any outcome is more difficult.

THE UN Women Annual Report 2012-2013 has just been published. It puts forward a very perceptive and broad-based plan for gender equality and female empowerment.

In addition to reiterating the need for increasing women’s leadership and participation, ending violence against females and enhancing women’s economic empowerment, the report breaks new ground by proposing engagement of women in all aspects of peace and security and making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting.

I think that women’s rights are part of the broader mosaic of human rights. Any strides towards gender equality must be celebrated and supported. However, praise for the report must be balanced by an awareness of the possible hurdles in the path.

No magic wand: Gender bias cannot be exterminated by recourse to the law alone. The Constitution can confer legal and formal equality. Social and functional equality i.e. equality in any outcome is more difficult.

For example, the equal right to vote does not result in equal representation in Parliament, the Cabinet and the higher echelons of civil service or industries. Around the world, women are still trapped in stereotyped roles.

Deep-seated religious and cultural values, socio-economic imperatives, psychological and biological factors and traditions as old as history have to be modified. In this area there are no destinations, only uncertain journeys. The battle has to be waged on many fronts.

Work of equal value: It is not enough to give equal pay for equal work. Protection should extend to equal pay for work of equal value. Nursing, which is dominated by women, tends to pay lesser than the work of excavator operators who are mostly men. Paradigms have to be shifted radically to compare the social worth of different jobs. The economic implications are staggering.

by Shad Saleem Faruqi.

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