Karachi: Ever since the inception of Pakistan, men have always held the majority. However, expected gender ratios indicate that women should constitute at least half of the population, if not more, and yet they have always existed as a statistical minority. There are a number of factors that highlight not only the numerical disparity between the two genders but also the deep-rooted social and structural inequalities representative of a more general worldwide trend.
Globally, more boys are born as compared to girls. The male to female ratio (MFR) is around 105 boys per 100 girls born, indicating a high MFR at birth. However, the adult MFR is significantly biased towards females. The reason for this is the higher infant and adult mortality rate of males. Men are more likely to be victims of life-threatening diseases and violent crime.
Moreover, they experience typically shorter life expectancies while women tend to outlive men by almost 7 years. Ceteris paribus, the higher the age bracket, the greater the number of females in a given population. The expected sex ratio unaffected by material factors ranges from 97 to 100 men for every 100 women (a low or equal MFR). Despite women’s survival advantage and a tendency to outnumber men in the long run, the world comprises a male majority. This phenomenon is typical of developing countries where socio-economic and patriarchal factors not only defy the natural balance but grossly alter the sex ratio in favor of men — as is the unfortunate case in Pakistan.
According to the 2017 census, women constitute 48.76% of the population, men 51%, and intersex 0.24%, resulting in a national MFR of 105:100. Based on the expected ratio, Pakistan’s population should have been somewhere in between 103.9 to 105.5 million women as opposed to the existing 101.3 million, unveiling the horrifying reality that in a population of 207.8 million, Pakistan has 2.6 to 4.2 million “missing women”. If the same figures are replicated to recent population estimates of around 220 million, the estimated number of missing women goes up to about 3 to 4.5 million.
Pakistan has a high MFR largely due to socio-economic factors. From the parental viewpoint, investing in a male child who is the future breadwinner has a higher pay-off in the long term. Such socio-cultural perceptions precipitate an unequal distribution of resources within the family where men have access and control of basic provisions such as education, health amenities, and even food.
In poor households where nutritional resources are scarce, many women give up their share of food or traditionally eat last and thus contribute to their own exploitation. It is no surprise then that girls share a higher burden of stunting and malnutrition in Pakistan. Moreover, since more than one-third of Pakistan’s population is afflicted with poverty, spending on female health is largely considered an avoidable expense. This then contributes to a high rate of maternal mortality in Pakistan — the second highest in South Asia.
Women are exponentially more likely to be victims of domestic violence-related deaths. Consequently, the average female mortality rate is 121 deaths per 1,000 women around the world and an appalling 137 per 1,000 women in Pakistan. In contrast, the national male mortality rate is 175 deaths per 1,000 men, a relatively minor divergence from the world average of 172 deaths. While these numbers are indicative of the poverty and income inequality experienced by both genders, the disparity between male and female mortality rates in Pakistan reveals the intersectional inequality that women undergo owing to their low gender status.