by Paula Bianca Lapuz
South Asia is notorious for gender-based violence (Population Council 2004). Not even those who migrate abroad can escape such a destiny (Warsi 2011). These issues can be considered detrimental to national progress if women, who have great potential to contribute economically and politically, are constrained by various social norms (International Labour Office 2004).
In Afghanistan, Gulnaz, a young unmarried woman sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment after being raped by her cousin’s husband, was freed but not vindicated (Walsh and Basu 2011). In fact, she still faces threats to her life. Tremendous pressure from the international community elicited by a European Union-funded video containing Gulnaz’s story forced the government to pardon her.
Two years ago, instead of garnering sympathy, Gulnaz incurred the ire of her family and of the conservative Afghan society. She was accused of maligning her family’s honor and for bringing this fate upon herself. To complicate the situation, Gulnaz bore her perpetrator a child.
To regain her honor, she agreed to marry her abuser. While this serves towards her release, this does not guarantee her safety, as honor killing is permitted in communities in Afghanistan. Authorities say that there are hundreds of similar cases in the country (Walsh and Basu 2011).
Nearby, Pakistani women also face issues on gender inequality. Family planning is a taboo in Pakistan, where families with ten or more children are not unusual according to the Washington Post. Today, it is the sixth most populous country in the world.
In addition, women’s opinions are hardly ever considered by their husbands and his family, who live with them. Marginal improvements in fertility rates were recorded in recent years, but these still do not meet the annual targets towards a 2.2 children per woman ratio by 2020 (Brulliard 2011).
In India, around 500,000 female babies are aborted each year – almost the same number of babies born in the United Kingdom annually. This reflects how many in the Indian society still regard a girl offspring as inconsequential to achieving a better socio-economic status for the family (The Guardian 2011) (Boseley 2011).
The world is just four years away from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Deadline, the world blueprint for development, agreed upon by all member states and institutions of the United Nations. On women and children’s rights in particular, MDG hopes that by 2015, the child mortality rate is halved, women are empowered, gender equality is achieved, and maternal health is improved.
A recent study named India as among the top 20 countries that have made progress in areas of poverty/child mortality reduction and maternal health improvement (United Nations Millennium Campaign 2011) However, data also show that at least 37% of India’s population live below the national poverty line and 41.8% of its rural population are poor (UNDP n.d.).
These numbers are still high and women are especially vulnerable in this situation. And though efforts to prevent selective abortion have been in place for years, its continued occurrence exposes the need for a more effective approach.
If the government should succeed in its MDG targets by 2015, it must strengthen its education-information campaign on women’s rights. Punishing some people for child-slaughter without educating the society cannot alter well-entrenched cultural beliefs . Thus, education is still the long-term solution for this social ill.
Moving to Afghanistan and Pakistan, extreme conservatism and sectarian beliefs make it even more difficult for women to rise from their predicament. Although incremental efforts are being launched by the government to tackle women’s rights violations, drastic changes need to be seen.
In both countries, leaders need to address not only questions of national security, but moreso, issues of vulnerable groups. Their governments should to step up in their initiatives to close gaps on gender equality because inaction can only mean worse suffering for the marginalized.
Boseley, Sarah. The Guardian/News/World News/India. May 24, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/may/24/india-families-aborting-girl-babies (accessed December 15, 2011).
Brulliard, Karin. The Washington Post. December 15, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/family-planning-is-a-hard-sell-in-pakistan/2011/11/08/gIQANeGcuO_story.html (accessed December 15, 2011).
International Labour Office. Global Employment Trends for Women. Evaluation, International Labour Office, 2004.
Population Council. “Population Council.” Population Council. June 2004. http://www.popcouncil.org/pdfs/popsyn/PopulationSynthesis1.pdf (accessed December 15, 2011).
The Guardian. The Guardian/News/Global Development/Poverty Matters Blog. 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jul/22/india-sex-selection-missing-women (accessed December 15, 2011).
UNDP. United Nations Development Programme/Poverty Reduction. http://www.undp.org.in/whatwedo/poverty_reduction (accessed December 15, 2011).
United Nations Millenium Campaign. End Poverty: 2015 Millenium Campaign. June 22, 2011. http://www.endpoverty2015.org/en/node/896 (accessed December 16, 2011).
Walsh, Nick Paton, and Moni Basu. CNN/ASIA. December 15, 2011. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/12/14/world/asia/afghanistan-rape-victim/index.html?hpt=ias_c1 (accessed December 15, 2011).
Warsi, Sayeeda. The Guardian. December 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/dec/14/forced-marriage-illegal-uk (accessed December 15, 2011).