Pakistan and gender ranking

By Saba Gul Khattak
Published in The News on February 16, 2022

Despite progress, why does Pakistan’s ranking register no change on all indices of gender equality? We ascribe it to deep-seated patriarchy that ensures persistent structural discrimination without ever questioning ranking methodologies.

Rankings are report cards on governance, essential for monitoring and accountability. Acknowledging that our government must redouble its efforts for women’s empowerment, policymakers must simultaneously advocate for improved ranking methodologies.

The 17 SDGs come with 169 targets and 232 indicators. To assess progress, the UN Statistical Division (UNSD) relies upon standardised and comparable data across countries and time. In December 2020, a two-tier criteria for indicators established 130 Tier 1 indicators as conceptually clear, with an internationally established methodology and regular data availability for at least 50 percent countries where the indicator is relevant. The 97 Tier 2 indicators are conceptually clear but data is not regularly produced by countries. In 2019, half UN member-states cited significant data gaps for monitoring SDG progress.

SDG 5-Gender Equality has 14 indicators of which only four (29 percent) are Tier 1 indicators. These relate to women’s age of marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (not relevant for Pakistan), women’s representation in national parliaments and local government, and presence in managerial positions. The latter considers women’s presence at the top, not middle and junior levels, in private firms alone, ignoring the large public sector with women’s quotas in Pakistan.

The ten Tier 2 indicators (71 percent) in SDG 5 include violence against women, the gender pay gap and women’s unpaid care work alongside laws, mobile phone ownership etc. Countries with full or partial data availability demonstrating progress are disadvantaged because 50 percent of countries lack data. The ranking methodology thus places countries with data at a disadvantage.

Pakistan has full or partial data for some Tier 2 Indicators such as Indicator 5.1 (legal frameworks), Indicator 5.2.1 and 5.2.2 on violence against women (breakdowns by forms of violence, age group and frequency etc. are not available). The PDHS data that shows that VAW has decreased between 2014 and 2018 is ignored as 50 percent countries lack data. Broad categories such as women mobile phone owners’ percentage can mislead as women users can be far more than SIM card owners. Importantly, SDGs restrict gender to biological categories, missing out on large numbers of transgender people in gender ranking.

Rankings assess all countries with the same yardstick sans reference to historical maldevelopment, population size, income level or uninterrupted peace. No surprise that of the top 10 performing countries, mostly European, eight have a population of 11 million or less; they were neither colonised (some were colonisers), nor witnessed conflict since the world wars. Such historical differences are overlooked in the ranking process.

Development processes are different in the developing world. To demonstrate this, Pakistan must develop its own gender equality indices that encapsulate its unique path to gender empowerment. For example, Pakistan’s improved gender parity in higher education and the civil service should be recognised. The decrease in VAW should be noted.

To improve its ranking, Pakistan must reprioritise Goal 5, gender equality, as a key goal. It needs to generate new data where needed, supplement partially available data and utilise its extensive administrative data fully, and standardise all data.

Pakistan’s SDG machinery must undertake more advocacy at the UN SDGs Secretariat for valuing improvements in Tier 2 indicators with a note to indicate progress. And, indicators with partial data availability be reconfigured in phases, starting with basic statistics and moving to more complex coverage in a predetermined time frame. This is critical as 71 percent Tier 2 indicators in Goal 5 are omitted from the ranking.

To address ranking biases in relying upon Tier 1 indicators alone, Pakistan can argue for more nuanced indicators to track political and economic empowerment. For example, women’s seats in parliament subsume women voters and contestants. Women occupying top positions in the private sector can only partially represent economic empowerment. Biases in women’s labour force participation rates camouflage women’s significant contribution to the care economy, especially during the on-going pandemic. Pakistan must advocate for the inclusion of transgender as a separate category in the SDGs.

Finally Pakistan must become the lead proponent for improved ranking methodologies that can account for the experience of developing countries beyond their geographic region and income levels, by including population size, or violent conflict that keep countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq etc. at a constant disadvantage. Creating a Pakistan-specific Gender Equality and Empowerment Index based on its unique pathway, it can illustrate the case of South Asia. To achieve this, the government should allocate more resources for gender data and policy implementation, and value its partnership with the civil society. By taking a lead advocacy role internationally not only would Pakistan do itself a favour but it will also contribute significantly to the case of the developing world.

The writer holds a PhD in Political Science. She is a feminist researcher and works on rights-based issues.

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