23 September, 2011

Gender Equality Impossible Without Help from Men: Plan 2011 Report

Sana Jamal

Islamabad - Girls and women around the world can only win the battle for gender equality if boys and men in their lives join the cause to help improve their lives, says a new report released on Thursday in Islamabad. The report ‘Because I am a Girl: The State of the World's Girls 2011’ published by the children's rights organization Plan International, states that men of all ages - fathers, brothers, husbands - must play an active role if gender equality is to be achieved for girls and women.

Ms. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Minister for Information and Broadcast was the chief guest on the occasion. Realizing the fact that increasing numbers of girls are missing out on education in Pakistan, she said that, “federal government is taking all possible measures to improve this worsening situation.” Extending full support to girls, she remarked that “we can change the fate of nation by empowering our women by providing them skilled education. Because, in the society, you cannot get your rights of respect, better health and improved livelihood opportunities without getting education.”

Firdous Ashiq Awan showing copy of 2011 Plan Report
during the report launch ceremony in Islamabad.
The 2011 edition of ‘Because I am a Girl’, also poses a critical question, “So, what about the boys?” Haider W. Yaqub, Country Director Plan Pakistan said that “it is an accepted fact that empowering girls is a key to developing families and reducing poverty” but this year’s report acknowledges that improving girls’ lives and achieving gender equality won’t happen without the partnership of boys and men,” and of political and religious leaders, who are overwhelmingly male. As the report says, unless men and boys work alongside the women and girls in their lives, equal rights “will remain a distant dream.”

Children from slums of Islamabad and Chakwal also participated in the event and presented an interesting skit, depicting the narrow mind-set of parents toward their daughters' education which changed due to optimistic thinking of the male members of family. Two sisters Ifrah Wali, 16, and Amna Wali, 18, the first Pakistani female skiers to win gold and silver medal respectively, at the South Asian Games’ 2011 ski event were also present to boost the morale of young girls. “Like boys, girls have the same potential to struggle and achieve any goal but support from parents plays a decisive role in their success” they said.
Batool Iqbal Qureshi, Secretary Human Rights Division, speaking on the occasion, said that the “realizing the equal importance of women and children’s roles in society, Government of Pakistan is fully supportive of advancing their empowerment and rights in all ways possible.” She added that “all men and boys should play their role for equality and to challenge those who oppose women’s rights and equality.”

Plan surveyed more than 4,000 children (12- to 18-year-olds) from countries including Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom, revealing gender stereotypes that are still deeply entrenched in both boys and girls. The survey revealed that children were actually happier when they see their parents sharing household responsibilities, rather than sticking to rigid roles.

Key findings of the report conclude that: 65 per cent of participants from Indian and Rwanda fairly agreed that a woman should tolerate violence to keep her family together. 43 per cent agreed there are times when a woman deserves to be beaten. 67 per cent of boys and 71 per cent of girls surveyed in Rwanda believe changing diapers, bathing and feeding the kids are a mother's responsibility as did 83 per cent of boys and 87 per cent of girls in India. Over 60 per cent of participants in India believe when money is tight it is better to educate a boy instead of a girl.
The report urges probing the roots of violence and inequality and offers that boys and men become trapped in “traditional” notions of what it means to be a man. Mostly those gender roles are handed down through the generations and can be addressed both at home and through education.