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Impacts of any crisis never gender neutral: Sherry Rehman

ISLAMABAD – Pakistan People’s Party Vice President Sherry Rehman yesterday said the impacts of any crisis were never gender neutral, and of course, Covid-19 with its new inequalities and forced reckonings, was no exception.

Giving a keynote speech on “A Gender Inclusive Development Amidst Pandemic”, Sherry Rehman said most of the de-humanising effects of amplified discrimination don’t make it to the headlines, and women’s sufferings are often a private monster that is shoved under the bed in the light of a family’s save-face day. 

“Whether it is existential meta-trends like the pandemic, or climate change, women are at the heart of both dispossession as well as violence. This is not endemic to Pakistan. As far as violence is mapped, it was identified globally as the other silent epidemic which reared its ugly head during the pandemic, where 3 out of 5 women were documented as experiencing violence at home. In these statistics of global shame, Pakistan did poorly. Data suggests violence went up by 200 percent in just early 2020, when a virus flattened the world and all human protections against disaster went into black swan mode,” she added.

Diving into Pakistan’s population boom, she said since 1998 the population has gone up by an unsustainable 57%. “Had our population trends resembled Indonesia, or even Bangladesh, we would have had 40 million people less in poverty, 20 million women facing violence, denied health care or education and 60% of Pakistan’s population would not be facing food insecurity.

Pakistan needs a major upgrade – from food systems as well as reproductive health system, which currently has a contraceptive prevalence at 35% only,” she added. 

The PPP leader said as it stands 48% of women in Pakistan have little say about their healthcare or reproductive decisions, with female mortality being very high. 

“While 55% had access to healthcare but covid lockdowns disrupted even that statistic. Women must be allowed to be 18 before they marry or bear children. This needs to be law. Right now, it is only law in Sindh. Families need to be small to be healthy, educated and working, a million young people enter the job market every five years and only a very robust economy growing at 8% can provide jobs and shelter for its people,” the PPP leader said.

Sherry Rehman said either by the pandemic or climate change, women remain disproportionately impacted. They carry the water, they nurture the home, they bear the brunt of income loss or less food in the home, she said.

Last year Pakistan recorded the highest level of heat in the world in Jacobabad. This year, globally, Turbat was the hottest city in the world. 

Heat-induced deaths, draughts and crop-reductions are causing lower agricultural yields than a decade ago, while our glacial melt triggers flash-flooding combined with every monsoon. Air quality in Pakistan’s cities and villages has given Punjab a fifth season. Instead of waiting for India to stop burning crops, we need to protect our people from the Delhi black-lung syndrome by taking time lined steps to convert big industrial emitters to clean fuel tech and kilns to zigzag converters. Fuel imports and vehicle exhaust systems must upgrade to Euro 4 or 5 levels if we are not to expect radioactive dystopias.”

Speaking on Pakistan’s water crisis, she said the governments and communities both need to understand the stakes here, especially for the poor. 

At this point only 20% of Pakistan has access to clean drinking water, while the rest consume fecal and industrially contaminated toxins. Lead and arsenic are now endemic to the Indus plain, while our per capita usage of water is the highest in the world, according to the UN. Pakistan will officially be water scarce by 2025. Given that Pakistan is principally glacial-fed, unlike India which is monsoon-fed, we are not in a position of comfort to allow strategic drift, she said.

The PPP leader said women run an undocumented care economy as well as agri economy in Pakistan, with only 27 % of the female population documented in the formal labour force. For perspective, men account for 81 %. 

“Without water, societies will face conflict as well as unprecedented hardship, where like all frontlines of vulnerability or fragility, women and children will face the first brunt. A policy change by governments to incentivize crops that consume less water is needed urgently. In sugar, wheat and rice we export out our virtual blue water in spades, for instance. If the rapacious British Raj could build Punjab the largest man-made irrigation system in the world, why can’t postcolonial governments focus on structural needs instead of just hot topics,” she said.

Discussing SDG 5, which is gender equality, she said “estimates suggest that if women’s participation in Pakistan’s economy were equal to men, it could add as much as 30-60 per cent to our GDP just by 2025.”

The disparities are very real, and lead to Pakistan’s extremely low ranking on the Global Gender Gap index, as the world’s third worst country in terms of equitable division of resources and opportunities among women and men.  In fact, all SDGs: poverty, zero hunger, reduced inequality, peace, justice, strong institutions, education, are impacted by the gender gap”

The event was concluded by a book signing event for Senator Sherry Rehman’s newly launched book called ‘Womansplaining.’