Inequality has become a buzzword in development circles because even rich countries are not exempt. However, in Pakistan it took on another dimension.
Emaciated bodies pulling carts full of bricks against well-fed carts in expensive cars. Houses with leaky roofs in neighborhoods without water or sewers vs. luxurious palaces in upscale societies. Dilapidated schools with no toilets vs. schools with state-of-the-art equipment. The list goes on.
This is the subject of the recent National Report on Human Development 2020 (RNDH 2020). According to her, three Ps are key factors in the cause and maintenance of inequalities: Power, People, Politics. Power refers to privileged groups / individuals using their power to grab more than their fair share, in other words “elite capture”. I believe this is by far the most important factor.
Traditionally, the solutions proposed to fight against inequalities are: social work and charity, with an emphasis on education, vocational training for the poor and microcredit. They didn’t work. Only more structural changes towards a more egalitarian social, political and economic order will work. I propose some steps in this direction. These would trigger not only resistance, but even a violent response from those who want to retain their power, which can only be countered by an organized, rights-based grassroots political movement. Due to the lack of space, it is not possible to go into details, so these are just a few highlights.
Empowering citizens through strong local government institutions will enable them to make political, administrative and financial decisions at the local level, help solve many local problems and also serve as a springboard for the middle and working class to enter. traditional politics.
The most important way to break the power of the elites is to have politically conscious citizens. Everyone should be able to stand for election. Today, the electoral process has become so expensive that it is monopolized by the rich. Electoral reforms are needed to remedy this.
A living wage must be implemented in place of the minimum wage, a concept being discussed around the world. At the same time, the difference between the highest paid and lowest paid employees must be reduced. Coupled with the step below, it will help alleviate major deprivation. The savings made by eliminating the benefits for the rich, etc. can easily finance this.
The lack of quality health care, housing, transport and Internet access directly or indirectly sustains inequalities. The state must guarantee equal access to basic human needs, help improve the quality of life and free up time to participate in political life.
Strong unions are an essential and most effective way to fight inequalities. Weak trade unions and weak implementation of poor labor laws lead to lack of vocational training, lack of protective equipment, lack of health care and lack of compensation in case of injury. accident resulting in death and disability, which causes families to fall below the poverty line. Unions give workers bargaining power to negotiate wages, working hours, paid time off, overtime, etc., and provide platforms to lobby for their rights. The concept of contract labor has been completely hijacked in Pakistan to exploit and oppress workers and should be eliminated.
Young people make up almost 65 percent of the population. A comprehensive plan for their education, training and job creation is urgently needed before we lose another generation to inequalities. Systems to include their voice in decision-making and prepare them for future leadership should be put in place.
Gender inequality crosses all socio-economic classes and all ethnic, religious and national borders. The share of women in national income and wealth as well as land ownership is tiny. It is important to ensure that they receive their share of the inheritance, to remove barriers to their education and employment, to protect them from harassment and to provide them with safe and convenient transportation. Certain measures aimed at alleviating their domestic workload should be taken to enable them to participate in public life.
Unequal land ownership is a major source of economic inequality as well as the maintenance of the “power factor” leading to the social and political oppression and exploitation of the poor. Pakistan needs a comprehensive land policy. Land should be treated as a strategic asset rather than a commodity for profit. Land is crucial for the prevention of food insecurity and is necessary for homes, public places like playgrounds, theaters, museums, infrastructure, parks. The old concept of distributing small plots of agricultural land to the landless poor must be replaced by cooperative agriculture. There is also an urgent need to tackle the land mafia, a huge challenge indeed.
Unequal access to capital is a major source of inequality. The private banking sector caters mainly to the rich. Therefore, public banks should be improved and expanded to meet the needs of the community. There are different models of private banking. We can adopt whatever works best for us.
Cooperative businesses are another way to pool resources for those who were not born with a silver spoon. Training cells can be set up by the government or public universities to help new graduates or others. Capital should be made available through public banks, as noted above.
An appropriate tax system helps to redistribute wealth and reduce inequalities. In Pakistan, the main tax burden is on the poor. The share of direct taxes is only 20%, which maintains inequalities. A more progressive tax system is needed to reduce inequalities.
Education should create a more level playing field. However, in Pakistan it has become a commodity due to uncontrolled privatization. As a result, good quality education is only accessible to the rich. The state must take responsibility for providing education of equal quality to all.
Multinational enterprises’ contracts with the state must ensure that their profits stay in the country and that taxes are duly paid, which can be used to provide social services to citizens.
So there are ways to fight inequalities. But it will take political will. The most effective way to create political will is to apply pressure from below through politically organized rights movements. If not eliminated, inequalities will have serious consequences that can threaten Pakistan’s very existence.
The writer is an independent contributor.
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