Global Gender Attitudes

This could also be titled Why I won’t raise my daughter in Pakistan.

There was a discussion among the Urdu bloggers last month about women in Pakistan and especially the staring they have to encounter. Rashid started the discussion. Farhat gave some examples of the difficulties women have to endure and then explained her point of view. Qadeer gave some examples of how women are harassed. Badtameez talked about the reasons of this harassment and staring in his usual inimitable, meandering style. Mera Pakistan discussed the issue and then suggested some solutions. Qadeer also lamented how women are not given their due role in society in Pakistan. Mawra also pontificated on the topic of men staring women in Pakistan. My Dad gave some examples from his youth, discussed whether this problem is limited to Pakistanis and gave some final comments.

I am not very interested in the staring issue myself since I don’t live in Pakistan. However, the larger issue of the role and place of women in society interests me very much. As mentioned above, I do worry about my daughter and how she can have the best opportunities despite the fact that women haven’t achieved equality in any society. With that personal note, I’ll focus on actual survey data rather than anecdotes.

Let’s look at the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, specifically Chapter 5: Views on Gender Issues.

People were asked if it is more important to educate boys or girls or both equally. Here are the responses from a few select countries:

Country Boys Girls Both equally
United States 1% 1% 98%
Turkey 4% 9% 86%
Egypt 22% 4% 73%
India 6% 8% 86%
Pakistan 17% 7% 74%
Bangladesh 8% 3% 89%

Egypt is the worst on this question, but Pakistan is pretty bad too. Compare Pakistan to the rest of the subcontinent and Pakistan looks so much worse than even Bangladesh.

Another question is who makes better political leaders:

Country Men Women Both equally
United States 16% 6% 75%
Sweden 3% 6% 90%
Pakistan 54% 8% 32%
Bangladesh 52% 8% 41%
India 19% 17% 62%

It looks like Indians like Indira Gandhi much better than Pakistanis like Benazir Bhutto and Bangladeshis like Khaleda Zia or Haseena Wajid. It is strange though that PPP (which was led by Benazir Bhutto until her assassination on December 27) has a solid vote of a third of the Pakistani voters, but even some of them think men are better politicians.

The worst is yet to come though: There was one question on the survey asking who should choose a woman’s husband. The options given were woman or family. A lot of people in traditional societies, however, were intelligent enough to volunteer an answer of “both”, except of course Pakistanis.

Country Woman should choose Family should choose Both should have a say
Brazil 97% 1% 2%
Turkey 58% 9% 32%
Egypt 21% 26% 53%
Indonesia 64% 9% 27%
India 26% 24% 49%
Bangladesh 12% 36% 52%
Pakistan 6% 55% 38%

Pakistan was the only country where no one cares about the woman’s choice at all. In fact, they want the family to have exclusive rights to decide a woman’s marriage. Let’s look at it in more detail:

Only in Pakistan does a majority (55%) say that it is better for a woman’s family to choose her husband. Women in that country are slightly more likely than men to express that opinion – 57% of women and 53% of men say a woman’s family should choose whom she marries. This view is especially prevalent among married women. Nearly six-in-ten (59%) married Pakistani women say it is better for a woman’s family to choose, while about a third (32%) say both a woman and her family should have a say. Women who have never been married are more divided; 42% say a woman’s family should choose her husband and 42% say both should have a say. Pakistani women who have never been married are nearly twice as likely as married women in that country to say a woman should choose her own husband (13% of unmarried vs. 7% of married women).

Wow! Married Pakistani women don’t want their daughters and sisters to have any say.

Also, 61% of Pakistanis think that there should be restrictions on men and women being employed in the same workplace.

Let us now look at the Global Gender Gap Report 2007. Here are some choice rankings:

1. Sweden
2. Norway
3. Finland
15. Sri Lanka
18. Canada
20. South Africa
31. United States
32. Kazakhstan
34. Tanzania
41. Uzbekistan
51. France
59. Azerbaijan
81. Indonesia
91. Japan
100. Bangladesh
114. India
118. Iran
121. Turkey
124. Saudi Arabia
126. Pakistan
127. Chad
128. Yemen

Yes, Pakistan is 3rd from the bottom. Let’s look at the detailed results for Pakistan. Pakistan seems to be really bad for women in terms of economic participation and opportunity (a measure which includes labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, income, legislators, senior officials and managers, and professional and technical workers), educational attainment (literacy rate, and enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary education), and health and survival (sex ratio at birth and healthy life expectancy). On the other hand, Pakistan ranks 43rd for political empowerment of women (women in parliament, women in ministerial positions, and number of years with a female head of state).

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. “Wow! Married Pakistani women don’t want their daughters and sisters to have any say.”

    Women are a woman’s worst enemy sometimes 🙂

    Yes, Pakistan ranks really low, but it’s interesting that India does as well in relation to other countries. I think that’s pretty telling, in light of being the “largest democracy in the world” and the so-called “emerging superpower” [wink wink] which is what people like to vaunt. Sure, there have been advances in India, but I still think that there are still many strictures, especially for the middle class Delhi housewives, who dressed in pretty pink chiffon salwaar kameezes perpetuate startling gender roles (kind of similar to the Stepford trophy wives here in the US).

    And then, bring Hindutva into it, and you get quite an ugly creature. Their notions of womanhood and women’s place (interestingly, it’s the Hindutva men who have taken it upon themselves to describe what they think a woman’ place should be) are really schizophrenic, contradictory, and make no sense whatsoever (especially when they say that Muslims treat “their women” pretty bad compared to the supposedly egalitarian Hindu society, but then the Hindutva guys think nothing of raping and mutilating other women. But I digress).

  2. Zack:

    Great site.

    1) You make some great points.You have done a lot of work,but because you do have not lived in Pakistan you may have drawn the wrong conclusions based on the way the questions were asked.

    2) Per capita income based on on GNP is the right measure to check.

    3) In the USA, women leadership is pretty much a theoratical issue. Pakistanis have elected women leaders since 1947. On two occasions they may feel that they made the wrong choice. Benazir Bhutto was fired twice and remains convicted in Swiss and other courts for stealing 1.3 Billion Dollars. The discontent with Benazir may show up in the attitude of the answers.

    4) There is general consensus that Benazir was corrupt and ran the party inefficiently. The responses were probably skewed.

    5) Marriage is a very cultural issue in Pakistan. Families come together. A similar question asked from men may evince a similar reponse….”with the permisison of the parents”.

    6) The following is very telling.
    Country Boys Girls Both equally
    Pakistan 17% 7% 74%

    7) There is a lot of positive news about woemn in Pakistan, which is not captured by either the PEW poll or other data on Pakistani women.

    For example the representation in parliament is at 18% compare ot USA at 8%. At the Local Body level it is mandated that women should be 33% (going up to 50% in the next five years)

    8) We have posted many of the statistics on women on our site

    Moin Ansari

  3. The statistics given here reveal a grave picture of women and their place in Pakistani society. But they say: for a better and safe conclusion, Primary data is equally important along with secondary one . And here I am, as one source of primary data:)

    Having been raised up in Pakistan, I can claim safely that women are not suffering to that dead end as expressed by surveys. Yes, there are momentous problems of attitudes and conventional cultural values but to me the root cause of all these prejudices for women is over all illiteracy and ignorance. U see one third of Pakistanis live in rural areas where poverty, feudal systems, lack of resources and neglect on behalf of Govt. increase the problem manifolds.
    As for ‘staring’ it is a big issue but again…we can’t accuse ‘men’ solely… I really appreciated ur point on Mawra’s blog (I guess), that if they cant control themselves..there ain’t any difference b/w them and animals but again… we can’t overlook the conformist culture.

    For equal education…74% is certainly not a good score but in a country where overall literacy rate lies between 40-50 .. it is not that bad either…as people do consider women education equally important (74). Why they don’t let them go attend the school is another story though.. being a part of Education system, I would sometime like to write on this aspect soon. Bangladesh is much higher on literacy counts than Pakistan and I consider it important in building progressive views about women.

    As for better political leaders, it’s not surprising for us who live in Pakistan..that PPP workers don’t appreciate woman leadership as it doesn’t have to do anything with their political wisdom… it is a matter of blind faith…Benazir enjoyed two time PMship and years’ long leadership because of her father…PPP is a feudal lords’ party and leadership is based on ‘Monarchy like system’ rather than on democratic bases…A teen ager’s nomination for headship proves the fact. yet we have a reaonable percentage of women repsetatives from loacl body to parlimentary levels.

    It is indeed odd that majority still think that husband should be of parents’ choice rather than a woman’s. In a way, I consider it good as in Pakistani society, a girl’s exposure to outer world is only to educational institutes or may be place of work..and in this crooked society, it’s better to give responsibility to parents’ as ‘MAIKA’ support is the only weapon for Pakistani women in their marital sufferings. Nevertheless, parents must take daughter’s consent..which in certain areas is, undeniably, a never to happen thing.

    Same workplace employement is yet another problem linked with education in society. Media’s wrong portrayal of working women further adds into it and peple get reluctant to opt for common workplace… I personally think that the abuse woemen face on workplace is a global phenomenon.

    Summing up, I would say..chances for women to progress largely lie with men in their families. If they are supportive for daughters, sisters and wives , women get and avail as much chances to excel in life as they have in any developed country (personal experience 🙂 )

    quite a long post but I just go on and on…when it’s to talk abt women.

  4. I studied in a Medical College where our class of 250 had 80% girls and i have been repeatedly told by many other people that this is the same situation in every medical college of the country, i was even told by a friend that he knows a family which sent their daughter to China for Medical Eeducation and they were not from the mian stream cities, and if you look at the statistics, women have clearly taken medical education by storm and boys are thinning out simply by not being able to get good enough marks at high school level as women are excelling and boy when you actually go to the trainig posts after medical school, they are there too, even physically tough jobs like surgery, orthopedics and urology, and yes this is Pakistan how far fetched it may seem.
    Infact I was always found complaining in Med School that Women beat us in vivas just because they let their hair lose before going for it and put on some make up where as Men cant do so, and believe me, even many feminist men agreed with me, and it is a fact that male consultants find it more satisfying to teach their female junior docs as compared to male docs, and this has resulted in this satisfaction being so immense that sometimes( not all the times) they decide to marry them), talk to any doc and he will relate to you one or two true stories,
    and I am sure when you were living in Pakistan the gynecologists were mostly women and boy are they rich( one’s who have established themselves as reliable) in fact many surgeons argue that gynecologists earn money out of something which is bound to happen that way, it is very natural( they forget about breeches, eclampsia and PPH at that time).
    Any way my experience of Med school and later on has been that Women are sometimes more powerful than men just for the sake of being women.

    1. Wow i believe every word you say, not. If thats not putting women down i dont what is then. If women get better marks than men well good on them. It should make the men study that little bit harder shouldnt it? From reading what you have written it makes it sound as though the women got good marks for being just women and not for thier intelligence alone. I sense a little bit of jealousy creeping in too….

  5. Behaviour and attitudes of people in different countries is mostly dependent on culture and type / quality of education.

  6. DesiItaliana:

    I’ll completely ignore your amateurish comments on “middle class Delhi housewives”.

    Your understanding of the Hindutwa and the Hindu mind and Hindu society is childish. You’ve probably been out of India too long, or you’re simply disconnected with what the modern educated Hindu feels.

    People are proud today of their Hindu identity and of Hindutwa. The Hindu society is very progressive and its only due to the openness of Hindus that India is doing so well today.

  7. Desi Italiana: On most measures, Pakistan and India rank close to each other, but I believe India does consistently perform somewhat better.

    Moin: Welcome to my blog.

    I have actually lived in Pakistan for more than half my life, just not in the last decade.

    As the Global Gender Gap Report makes clear and I point out, Pakistan does do quite good in terms of women in legislatures, but on other measures Pakistan’s performance is dismal.

    Yasir: I am speechless at your insinuations.

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