“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.” – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1944
Women empowerment refers broadly to the expansion of freedom of choice and action to shape one’s life. It implies control over resources and decisions. An empowered woman will be one who is self confident, who critically analyses her environment and who exercises control over decisions that affect her life. The idea of empowerment manifests itself at all levels of societal interaction. It is found in giving a voice to the weak and marginalized. It requires having an access to the needed tools and materials for the expansion of capacities. Women empowerment has five components: women sense of self worth; their right to have and determine choices; their right to have access to opportunities and resources; their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order nationally and internationally.
In general, few people have misconception that women empowerment and gender is a foreign agenda but its only misconception women all over the world have been facing challenges and gender inequalities since the beginnings of history. If we seek help from our Glorious Quran and the Hadith then it would be clear they both also emphasise on the protection of the rights of women, including the rights of education, worship, freedom of opinion, choice of spouse, economic freedom and social role.
National development must be balanced with the equal distribution of resources to both males and females as in Pakistan females are approximately 51 percent of the total population and without the active participation of females Pakistan cannot achieve the required level of growth rate. Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947 it inherited the menace of poverty and the burden of this poverty was put heavily on female population because of the reason that the majority of females are involved in agriculture work, performing tasks to maintain household , carrying water and collecting fuel wood but their work in productive activities is unrecognised and, therefore, the female participation represented in economic activities seems to be low.
In a globalising world gender equality and empowerment of women are vital tools to achieve the sustainable development therefore It’s very important to bring women into mainstream so that they can play its due role in the development of country.
For promoting gender equality and women empowerment, the government of Pakistan has signed many international and national commitments like Convention On Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), National Plan Of Action (NPA) and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite all these international and national commitments, women are still much more than man to be poor, malnourished, illiterate and have less access to decision making, property ownership, credit, training and employment.
It is worth recalling that enhancing the participation of women in mainstream development would mean providing greater opportunities and accessibility for them to make decisions, to mange their own resources and to be self reliant. Therefore, considering the plight of women and to uplift the status of women in society, the government of Punjab has started many initiatives. One of them is the implementation of Gender Reform Action Plan (GRAP), Punjab.
The main goal of the GRAP is to bring about such changes in the structures and process of the government that it brings equity among men and women. GRAP is implementing its agenda of gender mainstreaming and women empowerment through its four key reforms ie, women employment in public sector, political participation, policy and fiscal reform and institutional restructuring. Main purpose of the GRAP is to initiate proposals for bringing about institutional reforms to include gender perspective at provincial and at district level.
To promote the gender equality and women empowerment; to highlight the importance of women representation and participation in decision making; and to motivate the women towards public and private sector employment, GRAP is organising awareness raising programmes like celebration of events, seminars, workshops and trainings at district and at provincial level that are being organised on regular basis through its three main units ie, Gender Mainstreaming Units(GMUs) at provincial level, Career Development Centers at University level and Gender Support Units(GSUs) at district level.
Moreover, for the promotion and protection of women rights, to restore the personal security and dignity of women and to give them protection at workplace, the Pakistan government has taken deliberate and conscious steps like reservation of 10 percent quota for females, on the political side, reservation of thirty three percent seats for women in all local bodies (more than 36000 women councilors), seventeen percent seats have been reserved for women in the constituent assembly, senate, provincial assembly and in national assembly, to tackle the issues of harassment and to eliminate the gender based violence.
No doubt Pakistan government has taken many measures to enhance the participation of women in economic sphere but instead of all this, there is dire need to upgrade the status of women in society and it is only possible through giving them protection legally and mentally. She should be given access and control over resources. An effective mechanism should be institutionalised to enable the women in decision making at all levels. Subject of gender studies should be introduced from secondary level in the course curriculum, provision of women friendly infrastructure and environment at workplace, research and documentation on the achievements of women and launching of awareness raising campaigns among citizens on gender and development.