Although pay inequality and gender discrimination happen worldwide, they are seen as more prevalent in developing countries. In South Asian countries, where women are most affected by the social and cultural norms dictated by a patriarchal society, they are less likely to work.
In Pakistan, although women comprise only approximately 20% of the workforce, the majority of those who are employed work in the primary sector. This implies that they are often observed laboring in the fields, alongside men.
While it may appear that the women are powerful and independent financially, this is not the case. They remain below the poverty line and reliant on the men of the family as a result of being underpaid.
75% of people living below the poverty line in Pakistan are women, and multiple NGOs throughout the country work to improve these women’s lives. These NGOs have been at the forefront, from providing education and job opportunities to healthcare and shelter.
Survivors, not victims!
Women from all walks of life are affected by a patriarchal society. However, underprivileged women suffer the most.. Due to the high fees and prevalent illiteracy, these women seldom get the justice they deserve, and they also cannot fight their cases in court.
The lack of education plays a pivotal role in suppressing their voices as they go unheard.
From forced marriages to domestic violence and marital rape, the poorest section of society is most infected with these crimes. Domestic violence can, at times, take the form of acid attacks.
Sadly, those survivors rarely lead a normal life again.
That is where the NGOs and their efforts come in. Multiple NGOs, especially the Depilex Smileagain Foundation, have worked effortlessly to provide medical care and assistance to the survivors of acid attacks free of charge.
Tahira Basheer, an ordinary factory worker, was the victim of an acid attack at the hands of an employee after she refused his advances. Yasmeen Nadeem, a mother of three, was subjected to an acid attack by her ex-husband.
These are just two incidents out of many that made headlines and were provided medical care and help by the NGO.
It is heartbreaking to imagine the cases that never make it to the news and the voices that remain unheard.
Menstrual Hygiene – An Issue Not Talked About Enough
The unavailability of sanitary pads, lack of education, and awareness regarding menstrual hygiene are persistent issues among underprivileged women in south Asian countries.
Refugees in the Cox’s Bazar of Bangladesh are forced to use worn-out fabrics as pads. The lack of sanitary conditions in the refugee camps only adds to the problem.
Women who are aware of sanitary products, on the other hand, are unable to use them frequently due to their high costs. Some women-led centers help these women make reusable pads to provide sustainable and cost-effective solutions to the problem.
Educational Barriers And Women
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the Rohingya refugees face educational barriers. The sudden influx of refugees put a strain on the economy’s resources, thus resulting in no formal education for the refugee children.
Although some local foundations and UNICEF provide informal education to those children, more is needed.
A refugee child residing in Cox’s Bazar claimed:
“I don’t have any aspirations because I couldn’t study.”
These children, too, have the right to an education and a bright future—a future not marred by poverty, violence, and illiteracy.
Not just the refugees, but women in countries like Pakistan and India also face educational barriers. That’s either because the parents cannot afford to educate their children and instead force them to begin working at a young age.
Parents who can afford to send some of their children to school prefer to send their sons.
Although this may be baffling to some, it’s the harsh reality for girls from underprivileged backgrounds.
Only around 51% of the women in Pakistan are literate and have achieved higher education. That means half of the women in Pakistan remain away from schools and any formal education.
Early Marriages and Poor Family Planning
UNICEF estimates that Pakistan has 19 million child brides, 4.6 million of whom were married before the age of 15. With no formal education, means of survival, or financial independence, these girls are the victims of a patriarchal society.
They are married against their will and responsible for bearing children and taking care of the whole family at such a young age.
The use of contraceptives is an alien concept, especially in rural Pakistan.
It not only results in large families relying on a single provider, but it can also lead to STDs. The repeated, unintended pregnancies continue to put these women’s lives in danger.
Limited Health Care and Its Effects
As mentioned above, using contraceptives is not very common among the underprivileged. That means, with the limited healthcare provided to these women and the “shame” that comes with it, women are rarely treated for it.
Raising awareness of breast cancer is insufficient because the word “breast” is stigmatized, and breast cancer is another issue that is inadequately discussed. Women continue to suffer as they are unaware of its symptoms and the limited healthcare the state provides.
Where is the Honor in Killing?
Accompanied by the lack of proper government schools, the literacy rate among the underprivileged is at an all-time low. Hence, the state’s failure has resulted in multiple crimes and issues.
One of the prevalent issues in Pakistani society is the rate of honor killings.
Around 1000 women are killed in Pakistan in the name of honor every year. They’re merely killed for something as small as talking to someone from the opposite gender or dressing “immodestly.”
Qandeel Baloch is an example of a defiant and brave woman who made an effort to break the glass ceiling. Hailing from a poor background, she was killed in the name of honor by her very own brother.
Although honor killings and other gender-based crimes have been criminalized and carry severe punishments, they persist to this day.
It will indeed take a lot of effort and awareness to undo a society built solely on harmful cultural norms and religion. Society has used religion and culture to suppress women and their voices.
As educated people in this society, the responsibility to make an effort falls on us. That means doing anything in your power to help underprivileged women. Whether you fund one child’s education or volunteer at an NGO, it matters more than you can imagine.
After all, little drops of water make the mighty ocean!