WOMEN Statistics such as the female rate of literacy, female enrollment rates in schools and colleges, the rate of female infant mortality, maternal mortality, fertility rate, and so on, all point vividly to the very low social status of Pakistani women This applies particularly to the poorer segments of the society where women suffer from all manner of deprivation The social status of women in Pakistan is even lower than in other countries with comparable levels of development At 55 years in 1996, Pakistan’s female life-expectancy at birth was five years less than the average for all poor countries The first time that female life expectancy in Pakistan was reported to be equal to male life expectancy was in 1988; in developed and most developing countries, women tend to outlive men by about five years In 1997, at 35 percent, Pakistan’s female primary-school enrollment ratio was among the lowest in the world There were only eight countries with lower ratios, and apart from Bhutan, all the others were in Africa The women of Pakistan carry a very heavy reproductive burden The average age of marriage is 17; although it is increasing somewhat, it is still very low With the incidence of marriage at 98 percent, exposure to possible pregnancy on average is for a period of 33 years

Since only 11 percent of women of childbearing age use contraception, this long period of exposure results in a very high total fertility rate (TFR) In Pakistan, the TFR for 1996 was estimated at 56, one of the highest in the world Pakistan has one of the lowest gender ratios in the world, and it has declined over time In 1985, in Pakistan’s population there were only 91 women for every 100 men This low and declining ratio is caused by two factors: high mortality rates for women and improving mortality rates for men For a variety of reasons, economic as well as social, women belonging to the upper strata of the society are acquiring education and skills that are comparable—in some cases, even better—than those possessed by men This has happened because of the rapid modernization and urbanization of the society since the mid-1970s, which pulled men prematurely into the work force This had a significant impact on the enrollment rates for women in colleges and universities Because society was still not prepared to accept women into most workplaces, they stayed on in colleges and universities On graduation, a large number of women moved into professions where their presence will have a profound impact on the country’s social and political development

For example, journalism, particularly in the English language, and politics have attracted a number of talented women The fact that Benazir Bhutto became Pakistan’s prime minister not once but twice, and two women (Abida Hussain and Maleeha Lodhi) have served as ambassadors to the United States, are good indications of the emancipation of women belonging to the upper strata of society The Islamization of society ordered by Zia ul-Haq deeply affected Pakistani women, producing a reaction that contributed to their politicization Women’s reactions to the policies adopted by Zia resulted in the establishment of an abundance of women’s groups that embraced a wide variety of objectives: economic, social, and political The most important of these organizations was an umbrella group, Khawateen Mahaz-e-Amal (Women’s Action Forum, WAF), founded in Karachi in 1981 The WAF opened branches all over the country and within two years of its establishment, boasted a membership of 15,000 women Although keeping in some check the conservative elements of the society, the work done by women’s organizations has not improved their situation since the death of Zia and the introduction of democracy Much greater effort is needed to bring about a significant improvement in the status of women The state must get directly involved See also MUKHTARAN BIBI

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