A world of haves and have-nots

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

ON THE eve of the millennium summit in New York, the UNDP released its annual Human Development Report 2005 which should help governments determine their progress or lack of it towards the eight development goals they had committed themselves in 2000 to achieve by 2015.

The UNDP’s own assessment is that the projections based on present trends carry a clear warning: “The gap between trend projections and MDG targets represents a huge loss of human life and human potential.”

There are sceptics who doubt if the goals can actually be achieved. The performance of many countries clearly establishes that if the political will exists in each individual government to improve the human capital which is any country’s major asset, the MDGs are not a pipedream. They set targets, some of them tough ones but not very unrealistic ones, in the field of extreme poverty eradication, universal primary education, promotion of gender equity, reduction of child mortality, improvement of maternal health, combating of HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental stability and the development of a global partnership.

While the overall prognosis is bleak — the UNDP says that in some areas the goals will be met thirty years after the deadline in 2045 — we should concentrate on Pakistan’s own performance. Overall, Pakistan’s ranking in the human development index has shown an impressive jump from 142 out of 177 last year to 135 this year. The main factors that have boosted Pakistan’s score are the increase in its GDP per capita, a modest rise in its adult literacy rate (from 41.5 to 48.7) and life expectancy (from 60.8 to 63 years). The country’s improved ranking has also brought Pakistan from the category of low human development countries to the medium human development ones.

While this is encouraging, the main problem with our development pattern is the acute lack of distributive justice and the intense gender disparity in the country. The higher GDP does not indicate that the national wealth is equitably distributed. In Pakistan 20 per cent of the richest people control 42.3 per cent of the income while the poorest 20 per cent have 3.7 per cent of the national income.

This injustice shows in many other areas of life. For instance, the health sector is heavily biased against the poor who cannot pay for their treatment. Although the majority of the people are poor, the money spent on health in the private sector is double that of the government’s funding for its own hospitals and doctors. As such, the public sector hospitals are over-crowded, under-staffed and so starved of funds and medicines that they can hardly take care of the sick who come to them. Only those people go there who cannot afford to go to the private clinics/practitioners.

The irony of the situation is that it is the poor who are relatively under-nourished and in bad health. They are the ones who need more medical care than the rich but do not usually get it. Similarly, most of the 103 out of every 10,000 children who die before they are five-year-old are from the impoverished families. How many of the 500 out of every 100,000 mothers who die in childbirth every year would belong to the affluent classes?

The story is repeated in the education of youth. The private sector is by far the only source of good education for the children in Pakistan. The government has reduced its financing of education (1.8 per cent of GDP in 2002 from 2.6 per cent in 1990) and is not concentrating on its school system, as a result of which school enrolment in government schools has fallen and the growth in the private school enrolment is not as fast as it should be to clear the backlog of illiteracy. The so-called public-private partnership the government has been harping on has proved to be no more than a pretext for the government to disengage itself from the field of primary education.

With the rich growing richer and the poor becoming poorer, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening. This is not a healthy phenomenon. It has a serious human rights dimension. Equality of opportunity is the birth right of every individual — be it the opportunity to get decent education, opportunity to obtain good treatment when one is ill and opportunity to get a job to help him improve his prospects in life. If these opportunities are not there for everyone without any distinction, it gives rise to a sense of injustice which leads to crime and violence.

The UNDP admits that the MDGs do not directly address inequality; they are “distribution neutral”. With progress “measured by aggregating and averaging change at the national level” the inequalities are not recorded. It is now generally accepted that progress in one section of the population does not necessarily have a trickle down effect.

Most appalling is the injustice inflicted on women in Pakistan. While society and culture have traditionally been anti-woman, it is not easy to understand why the government has not been able to overcome the resistance to the emancipation of women and improve their status. Their literacy rate continues to be much below that of men (35 per cent as against 61 per cent), their gross school enrolment ratio is lower (31 per cent as against 43 per cent) and though there are more female legislators than ever before, thanks to the seats reserved for them by the present government, they are still a fraction (two per cent) of the lawmakers, managers and senior officials, while the woman’s share in income is barely one-quarter of the total national income.

Doesn’t this point to injustice of the worst kind? And then there is the violence against women the incidence of which is extremely high in the country. The president’s remark that violence is common in other countries as well and it is unfair to single out Pakistan and malign it speaks of a lack of sensitivity and understanding of the basic issue. Pakistan’s problem is that discrimination and injustice against women are embedded in the country’s political and constitutional system. The Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, the Qisas and Diyat laws heavily discriminate against women and they are a part of our judicial and legal system.

Worse still, those who are supposed to provide protection to women — that is the police and the law enforcement agencies — have themselves emerged as the perpetrators of heinous and brutal crimes against women. The experience of three women in the news recently, namely, Mukhtaran Mai, Dr Shazia Khalid and Sonia Naz, confirms that women who have suffered have also been required to put up with denial of recourse to justice. This is as bad as the original crime itself.

One wishes that those at the helm would only understand this basic truth. Injustice, when it is committed against someone on grounds of gender, ethnicity, social/economic class or any other factor, is bad for economic growth, bad for democracy and bad for social cohesion. It may lead to the growth of financial capital but adversely affects human capital and social capital without which no state can hope to develop.