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World Bank: Easing mobility constraints for women key to bridging gender gaps in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, May 4, 2006 - Restrictions on both physical mobility and access to information for women in Pakistan undercuts their ability to acquire key services and pursue life opportunities, according to the World Bank’s Country Gender Assessment (CGA) report launched today.  It also finds there have been major improvements in the lives of women in Pakistan in many ways.

The report examines economic opportunities in combination with cultural and social norms that determine outcomes for women. It finds that current restrictions on women’s movement outside the home arise from concerns about their security and reputation. By fostering a safer environment, the report suggests, a positive cycle of increased female participation in the world beyond the household can be activated.

“Fear and taboo restrict female access to medical care, education, opportunities for paid work, voting, and other forms of political and community participation,” said John Wall, World Bank Country Director for Pakistan. “For example, a woman who needs medical care for herself or her children usually cannot travel alone to a health center, particularly if it is outside her settlement.”

Wall recognized that easing some of these mobility constraints would require fundamental cultural shifts which could only happen over time, “but there are steps the government can take to advance gender equality,” he said.

A logical first step, the report suggests, is to increase female enrollments in school by bringing schools to where the girls live or bringing girls safely to schools. This alone would likely to unleash a process driven by women’s demand for greater opportunities and involvement in the public sphere. The report finds that only 46 percent of primary school-aged girls were enrolled in primary school in 2001-02. In comparison, Bangladesh had in 2001 a primary school enrollment ratio of 97.5 percent that not just far exceeds the outcomes in India and Pakistan but also with no disparity between boys and girls. Significant attention should also be given to women’s disadvantages in family law and inheritance, health outcomes, and labor force participation.

The study also finds some good news. Gender equality and women’s participation in the national workforce has witnessed a steady improvement in Pakistan over the years. Child health indicators such as immunization rates and infant mortality have improved for both girls and boys.  Fertility rates are declining, leading to better health for women.  Their participation in paid labor has increased, particularly in agriculture, and their involvement in the political process has risen.

However, large gender inequalities persist.  Although more girls are in school, a substantial gender gap in enrollment remains and widens as girls move from primary to middle school.  Although gender differentials in child immunization have declined, considerable gender differentials persist in other aspects of health care.  The use of reproductive health services is low, and maternal mortality ratios remain high.  In the labor market, lower educational attainment coupled with social norms that restrict mobility confine women to a limited range of employment opportunities and low wages.

The report identifies two dimensions in which policies must address gender gaps in order to meet Pakistan’s development goals. First, because of cultural constraints, policies require near-term initiatives that work around these constraints and focus on increasing female acquisition of basic services and opportunities.  Near-term initiatives include increasing funding of government programs such as the Lady Health Worker (LHW) program and stipends to increase girls’ school attendance that have successfully increased access on a small scale.

Second, improvements in gender equality will endure only to the degree that formal institutions reinforce them and society accepts them, the report says. Policies therefore must incorporate long-term measures to create an environment that enables the reduction of gender gaps.

“Long-term cultural change will come most powerfully from educating girls,” said Tara Vishwanath, World Bank Lead Economist and lead author of the report. “Increasing girls’ school enrollments builds future cohorts of local female teachers and health care providers. To accomplish this, girls first must feel safe enough to attend schools outside their communities when there are no schools nearby.”

The report further suggests that women need to feel secure enough to work outside their homes, even when this is not the norm. By creating a public arena that is more welcoming to women, policies that initiate improvements in female human development will achieve the desired results.

“The shortest route to improving gender equality is that which fuels demand for change and accelerates a virtuous cycle of improvements,” Vishwanath said.

The CGA launch was attended by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Akram Sheikh, Secretary Ministry for Women Development Suhail Safdar and a large number of civil society representatives, legislators, academia and media.

To access Pakistan Country Gender Assessment 2005 and more information on the Bank’s work in Pakistan, please visit

In Islamabad: Shahzad Sharjeel, (92-51) 2279641
In Washington: Erik Nora, (202) 458 4735



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