PAKISTAN: Gender discrimination – a stark reality

Amir Murtaza

Neglect and discrimination on the bases of gender has been quite common in traditional societies. Such phenomenon is present in all classes of the society and exhibits in several forms.

According to Dictionary Online: Gender Discrimination is a situation in which someone is treated less well because of their sex, usually when a woman is treated less well than a man.

Son preference is a form of gender based discrimination which is a well-recognized fact that has been existed in all parts of the globe. It is indeed a grim reality that in some countries, societies and communities the phenomenon is so strong that it has resulted in gender imbalance and girls neglect.

The phenomenon is especially quite evident in South and East Asian countries where one can see more boys than girls. In these societies, due to multiple reasons, male children are more valuable than females.

Pakistan Demographics Profile mentions that current male-to-female ratio is 1:06. The sex ratio in other countries of the region, like China and India, is even higher than Pakistan.

According to the Advocates for Human Rights, “Son preference” is a custom rooted in gender inequality that is prevalent in many countries and found across religions and classes. It is, however, most apparent in countries of South Asia, where poverty is prevalent, and where families might view the “continuity of the male line” as a matter of particular importance.”

The writer has recently carried out a study, in different urban areas of Sindh province, on the phenomenon of son preference and gender discrimination in the society. The research tried to find out the intensity of such phenomenon; furthermore, the study tried to explore that are girls denied the same quality food, healthcare and education that their brothers receive?

The findings of the research informed that 65.5% of the respondents preferred more boys than girls, 27.4% of the respondents had no preference while only 6.1% preferred more girls than boys.
It is really interesting that a large number, 75.35%, of the survey respondents, the mothers of new born babies, were of the opinion that their husbands and mother-in-laws always wanted to have a son; however, 24.65% admitted that having son is their biggest desire.

The analysis of collected data clearly showed that those respondents who have limited or no educational background were likely to have son preference. It was disclosed that 84.6% illiterate or semiliterate women have very strong son preference. While 15.4% illiterate or semiliterate women have no son preference.

It was revealed that 78.35%, of educated women have very low son preference; however, 21.75% of educated women have shown strong son preference during the research.

Uzma is a Master’s degree holder and presently teaching in a local school. Uzma is a mother of a boy and a girl and she had recently given birth of a girl. She said, “Neither my family nor I have any desire to have more sons than daughters. I am happy that my baby is healthy and I will try to make my little girl an educated and productive member of the society.”

Unlike Uzma, 64.76% of the respondents believed that raising a boy is easier than a girl. While 25.24% of the respondents felt that having a daughter would be less hard work than a son. The remaining 10% mother, however, observed that raising a child, either boy or girl, is an equally difficult job.

During the study it was asked to the respondents that do their children suffer health and nutritional discrimination on the basis of gender. An analysis of the data informed that 45.42% of the respondents mentioned that there is no such discrimination exists in their families. However, 38.58% of the respondents informed that they are more cautious to provide immediate quality healthcare facilities to their boys as compared to their girls. They also mentioned that no nutritional discrimination exist in their homes. It is interesting to note that 16.00% of the respondents had no idea about any such discrimination.

Fareeda is a graduate and mother of two daughters and a son. She mentioned that, “Whenever my daughters have any heath problem, my husband always preferred to delay doctor’s visit for two to three days.” She admitted that due to financial crunch her husband tried to avoid or delayed doctor’s visit for their daughters; however, Fareeda mentioned that for their youngest and only son they always tried to acquire immediate and best possible health care facilities.

It is pertinent to mention that most of the respondents informed “food discrimination” exist in their families. They added that male family members of their families eat first and when they finish their meal then women and girls eat the remaining food. One can imagine the quality and quantity of leftover food for women and girls, which is quite clear when we look at the health indicators of young girls and women in the country.

The immunization of children, from different diseases, has been followed by the respondents, according to the provided answers. However; it was revealed that many misconceptions also exist about the vaccinations due to illiteracy and ignorance. It was also informed by the respondents that vaccinations may not prevent children from diseases and even cause certain health problems for the child.

During the study it was observed that if parents already have one or two sons then they would like to have a daughter in the family; however, if a family already have one or two daughters they will never like to have second or third daughter in the family. It was also observed that third or fourth consecutive daughter face very clear discrimination in the family.

In many families daughters are linked to severe loss. One of the responding mothers informed that she works as an accountant in local office. She said that her brothers always mentioned the high expenses the family has bear upon her education and marriage. She added that it has been her untold duty to give water or press the clothes of her brother and now to her husband. “In my entire life neither my brother nor my husband ever give me water or press my clothes,” the mother of three children informed.

Girl’s access to education is also an issue of utmost importance; while answering an overwhelming majority of 78.68% informed that there girls are getting education either in formal schools or Madrasahs. The remaining 21.22% admitted that their daughters are not getting any type of education. It is, however, pertinent to mention that a number of respondents acknowledged the fact that their daughters are getting education in government schools while their sons are studying in English medium schools.

Anila is a mother of two boys and a girl; she informed that, “both of sons are getting education is a quality English medium schools. The tuition fee in the school is quite high; therefore, we enrolled our daughter in a government school.” She also admitted that quality education has become an investment and therefore the family is trying to secure the future of their sons as they will live with them for the rest of their lives.

According to a report titled “25 Million Broken Promises” by Alif Ailaan, a local alliance for education reform, informed that there are currently 25.02 million boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 16 who are not in school. Out of the mentioned figure the number of out of school girls are 13.7 million (55%) and the numbers of out of school boys are 11.4 million (45%).

Rizwana Jabeen, a clinical psychologist and a researcher, observed that discrimination on the basis of gender is a distressing reality, primarily in under developed and developing countries; however, the phenomenon also exists in developed world. She also informed that, “even in this modern age still many families don’t want to have a baby girl in their families.” The psychologist added that discrimination affects the general wellbeing and may lead to low self-esteem and minimal or no self-confidence, which seriously harm personal, intimate or social relationship. Girls or women who face discrimination are more likely to develop mental health issues stress, depression and anxiety.

It is a fact that, “Pakistan is ranked at the 141 position in the Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR), 2014, the second lowest spot on a list of 142 countries.” “The report – published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2014 quantifies the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracks their progress over time. It seeks to measure one important aspect of gender equality: 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.”

Son preference and discrimination on the basis of gender has been rife in all traditional societies. It is really sad that discrimination on the basis of gender is an unfortunate phenomenon yet it is permissible by the society. It is, however, important that how we can help minimize the gender based discrimination in our society. Some of the relevant recommendations are: improve girls’ access to education; end early and forced marriage of girls; gender based violence should not be tolerated; ensure women’s access to quality and continue health care services; and remove gender biased legislations.

About the Author: Amir Murtaza is a senior researcher, analyst and writer on social development issues, especially pertaining to women, youth and children. He can be approached