SHIFTING POWER PARADIGM FOR THE SURVIVAL OF OUR FUTURE GENERATION.
Allah Nawaz Samoo
The report on ‘The State of the World’s Children 2007’ released by UNICEF portrays a bleak picture of the state of our children in terms of survival, health and development. Contrary to all pledges and commitments made at global level, we have been ranked 47th country with the highest under- five mortality- some 0.5 million children dying annually before reaching the age of five. So far we have adopted the approach of focusing heath as a sector to tackle this issue. All indications including above-mentioned report are indicative that it can be one of the components but not the sole option to secure the lives of our future generation. The issue of child survival and development is indispensably related with and dependant on women empowerment. Majority of those who rule over the society understand well the benefits of women empowerment, however, practically there is always reluctance and resistance when it comes to act. The reasons for this stark disparity, discrimination and exclusion are deeply related to our socio-economic arrangements that safeguard status quo in the favor of traditional power structure. Shifting power paradigm in the favor of women at family level is still regarded as a taboo, the price of 0.5 million children annually notwithstanding. Broadly, there are four factors that influence in keeping women at the bottom in policy and planning circles; a) investing in health and education as sectors rather than in women as human being, b) taking economic approach as the sole means to development rather than integrating it with the basic human rights principles, c) denying women contribution-unpaid labour in the overall growth and underestimating their human capabilities and d) deliberately depriving them of education opportunities in order to secure power hegemony in the primitive barbaric fashion. The first factor gets origin from perceiving women agenda as the matter of ‘convenience’ and not of ‘conviction’. Investing in education, for example, is being considered as a favour to girl child rather than fulfillment of an obligation that society owes to her. In fact, this obligation invokes as the child gets birth. After the period of breast-feed, the modus operandi of patriarchy unfolds itself in a gradual manner. A research study by Wheeler summarizes the convenience of intrafamily distribution of food in South Asia under three concluding notes; a) men take a disproportionate share of household food resources at the expense of other members and that women and children get less both than adult men and than what they need physiologically, b) that consequences of getting less are more serious in households with insufficient food entitlement and c) that women permit this distribution (being illiterate and submissive) and therefore acquiesce to the reproduction of malnutrition. Consequently, ‘a girl between her first and fifth birth day in Pakistan has a 30 to 50 per cent higher chance of dying than a boy’. This neglect, as various research studies by Filmer D, King EM, San Gupta and other suggest’ may take the form of poor nutrition,
lack of preventive care and delays in seeking health care for diseases. Early marriages and pregnancy, anemia, sexual violence all contributes to ill health in girl children and adolescent. The practice is just to overlook them since girl is always regarded as the liability over family. The moral duty she is supposed to deliver is the unaccounted labour. The opportunity cost of this unpaid service is denial of school enrollment. Decisions about whether to send girls to school are often taken on basis of analyzing the costs and benefits to the whole family. And obviously, in a country where jobs for educated women are scarce and environment is hostile, it dose not sound a good choice. As a result, we who believe less in the conviction of human rights prefer to have an illiterate daughter rather than scarifying short-term convenience of unpaid service. The investment in education sector by Government on other hand creates lucrative heads of capital costs to be used conveniently by contractors, bureaucracies and consultants. It however, pays little consideration to invest in ‘girl as a human being’ to enable her for copping the situation out of school box. The roots of such a trend lies in second factor; understanding economic approach as the sole means to development. The fruits of economic growth, it was assumed, would fall into the laps of all, whether rich or poor, men or women. There is, however, no consistent evidence emerged to show that this type of growth alone could reduce poverty or inequality. A World Bank study entitled ‘the lost decade: developing countries stagnation’ concluded: growth of per capita income for a typical developing country during 1980s and 1990s was zero. On contrary, the structural adjustment often entailed cuts in spending on education, health and food subsidies. These cuts hit poor women particularly hard since they had to step up their workload both inside and outside the home, so that there families could cope. A study of Sub Saharan countries that under went adjustment between 80 and 93 indicates that the average reduction in per capita spending was 14 per cent. Of 15 countries in this group, 12 had a decline in per capita spending on education. Realizing the situation, World Community adopted two key movements based on Human Rights: Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989 and fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. Despite of having commitment towards human-centred development, the economic approach continues to form basis of overall national policy and planning framework. This approach when taken conservatively ignores areas of ‘unpaid care economy’- domestic, nursing and other nurturing work largely undertaken by women on whom the productive sector of economy depends. This is precisely the domain in which third factor of denying women contribution works. Amartya Sen, the winner of noble prize in economics observes in his book ‘development as freedom’ that men’s relative dominance connects with a numbers of factors, including position of being breadwinner whose economic power commands respect even within the family. On the other side of the coin, there is considerable evidence that when women can
and do earn income outside of the household, this tends to enhance the relative position of women even in the distributions within the household. Depriving women of education and employment opportunities is therefore a subtle strategy aimed at securing power hegemony in the primitive barbaric fashion. The feudalistic and patriarchal societies do so by discouraging the participation of women in labour force and employment. Women are 3.5 times more likely than men to be unemployed in Pakistan. It is not therefore surprising that the female percentage of total employment in our country is 14 the lowest one in the region. The whole nation pays cost of this ignorance. Empirical work in recent years has brought out very clearly how the relative respect and regard for women’s well-being is strongly influenced by such variables as women’s ability to earn an independent income, to find employment outside the home, to have ownership rights and to have literacy and be educated participants in decisions within and outside the family. These different aspects may at first sight appear to be rather diverse and disparate. But what they all have in common is their positive contribution in adding force to women ‘s voice through independence and empowerment. Murthi, Guio and Dreze’s statistical analysis from 296 districts of India indicates that, in quantitative term, the effect of female literacy on child mortality is extraordinarily large. Keeping other variable constant, an increase in crude literacy rate from 22 per cent to 75 per cent reduces the predicted value of under-five mortality for women and men combined from 156 per thousand to 110 per thousand. The increase in men literacy over the same range only reduces under-five mortality from 169 per thousand to 141 per thousand. And 50 per cent reduction in the incidence of poverty only reduces the predicted value of under-five mortality from 156 per thousand to 153 per thousand. Among all the variables included in the analysis presented by Murthi and his colleagues the only ones that have a statistically significant effect on fertility are female literacy and female labor force participation. These credible evidences showing uniquely positive and wide-ranging impact of women empowerment on society and human development lay a word of caution for our decision makers. Many of those who preach gender equality, often exhibit otherwise, when it comes to their material interests. The ownership of land and capital and opportunities of employment in our country have tended to be very heavily biased in the favor of privileged class. We take women agenda to a certain peculiar level, ensuring that it does not penetrate our power echelon, does not shatter our egoism, does not harm our monarchy- status and does not change our superiority illusion. Can we afford to march in the new millennium with such an attitude towards half of our population? Would it be justified to sacrifice the future of our generations for pleasing the lust of power? Our decisions would determine the destiny of our children. Lets us regard them human being to make sure that the world would treat them as the human being.
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