IT is a fact that gender equality is essential for society’s progress and that no society can achieve high levels of development unless every individual, irrespective of gender, contributes their due share towards its social-economic uplift.

Keeping in view the importance of women’s inclusion in the socio-economic mainstream, successive governments have made efforts to bring women at par with men. These include: introducing a 10pc quota for women in higher positions (especially the civil service) of the federal government, increasing women’s representation in the National Assembly and Senate, and ensuring their equal share of the prime minister’s Youth Business Loan Scheme.

But in several other areas, like Sindh — where rural customs and urban norms that reinforce gender inequality are very pronounced — the condition of women is pitiable. With only 43pc literacy and 18.2pc of labor force participation, women in Sindh stand far behind their male counterparts. One of the reasons for this is low representation in governance, from where they might increase their influence and lead their communities.

Female representation in Sindh’s government is essential.

Regretfully, the Sindh government has yet to take initiatives to bring its women to the corridors of the provincial bureaucracy where their presence matters. This key task can only be done by the Sindh Public Service Commission, which has not lived up to its role. One of the most important tasks of the commission is to conduct the Combined Competitive Examination (CCE/PCS), which is considered the most important examination in public service because it makes one eligible for the most coveted, career-oriented jobs/cadres.

CCE is considered prestigious among fresh entrants because these services at the provincial level offer better promotion opportunities, a variety of job activities, privileges, and power. Currently, the CCE sets aside no quota, which would widen the selection pool, for female candidates.

On top of this, the examination’s results reflect glaring gender disparity; for example, in the CCE of 2008, only three women made it to the post of DDO (revenue) against 40 men, and only three women against 61 men made it to the post of section officer. The most unfortunate fact is that the CCE was held after a lapse of five years, not to mention the long period it takes to produce results and allocate seats further bars women from accessing powerful positions.

The separate allocation of quotas for women is an endeavor the federal government has undertaken to ensure their representation in the Civil Services of Pakistan. It is also a reality that the ratio of women in civil services has substantially increased since these enactments. In this regard, the Punjab government has taken the lead by increasing women’s quota from 5pc to 15pc in their 2016-17 budget. However, the Sindh government has yet to take such initiatives; women’s representation in the province’s bureaucracy is still not up to the mark and much needs to be done in this regard.

Women’s inclusion in positions of power is important for some specific reasons. Firstly, women generally constitute half of every community; any initiative for peace and progress cannot bear fruition if it is not attempted without the partnership of men and women. Secondly, the general situation of an average woman in Sindh warrants enhanced representation; bureaucracy is the area where the biggest gains can be made by encouraging gender diversity.

It is important to mention here that some women in Sindh have performed tremendously well in various walks of life – but that number is minimal, especially when their share in nation-building institutions is counted. This can, however, be addressed when a significant number of them can join the government machinery at higher positions. Entry into positions of power can only be achieved through PCS; this is where the greatest difference can be made, by managing talent in the pipeline of the provincial bureaucracy.

The empowerment of women and their participation in society’s progress is essential and, therefore, inevitable. Their exclusion from mainstream and national issues gives rise to many problems, including a high birth rate, low literacy, stagnant GDP, etc. Women’s inclusion in civil services will not only help address such problems, but will also inspire other women to join other sectors. The end of gender segregation will pave the way for the prosperity of Sindh.

The goals of a prosperous and peaceful society cannot be achieved without the involvement of the other half of that society. We should dream that one day, womenfolk in the province will be able to lead life of freedom and justice where they will not be judged by their gender but by their competence and character. Gender equality across the highest levels of bureaucracy is next to impossible unless it is forced to maintain and develop diversity, which is possible only by quotas.

The writer has a Ph.D. degree in women's studies from the University of York, UK. She tweets at @Aghanadia.