International Women’s Day 2015 Theme: MAKE IT HAPPEN
LAHORE: Government celebrates women’s day by reviving their promise to empower women. Pakistan has laws regarding women empowerment and is also signatory to Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Every year government makes some announcements and a few political statements for women development but women at grassroots level are still awaiting fruitful result of these statements.
Prominent women in their fields shared their views with The Laaltain on the status of women in Pakistan and government’s efforts regarding women empowerment.
Dr. Riffat Haque, the Head of Gender and Women Studies Department of Allama Iqbal Open University, said that slow and steady wins the race perfectly matches the struggle of women’s rights in Pakistan. Pakistani women can ‘make it happen’, with patience and continuous efforts for their rights. Dr. Haque has been part of many national and international projects implemented in the country for the empowerment of women.
She said government is making good efforts by introducing new laws like Child Marriage Restraining Act but implementation of these laws has remained an issue. She said, “There is a dire need to create awareness among masses, and sensitize state institutions including judiciary and police. Lack of awareness among women about their rights is one of the main reasons for atrocities committed against them and they even don’t know that their rights are violated.” Dr. Haque further emphasized that media persons also need to be sensitized on gender issues. They should avoid sensationalizing stories about women and need to learn to respect their freedoms and choices.
She further added, “We are just celebrating Women’s Day as we celebrated Valentine’s Day. We should think why we celebrate this day. Many women break the silence and come to public spaces, but they have to face the issues as our society at large still does not accept working women. Only a change in mindset can bring a change in society and end gender discrimination. The process of attitude change is slow but must never stopped.” No matter how good laws are on paper, they mean little if they are not implemented in letter and spirit. Dr. Haque suggests that women have to make it happen with zeal and motivation, and they should also bring men in the whole process.
Shehrbano Taseer, a journalist, opined that political parties should encourage their women political workers to speak on women issues. She added while sharing her experiences, “I have had meetings with women parliamentarians in 2013 to make a report on local government elections. During the interviews, I realized, most of the women parliamentarians are not aware about their roles. These women have no agenda other than party policy regarding women. Mostly women parliamentarians have no powers within the party organization to form a strong opinion on women development.”
She said that cultural perspectives play important role in women’s participation in the political process. The ratio of women voters will be different in cities than in villages or in more conservative areas. In local government elections of 2002 women political participation was about 33 percent but now in our National Assembly the percentage of female representation in only 20 percent, while the government claims to have given ‘fair representation’ in their women empowerment packages. “But I am hopeful because at least they have space among policy makers. It will take time for women to recognize their strength and get together to lobbying for their rights and pro-women policy change”, she added.
In recent years, woman parliamentarians have been very active on women related legislation. A few days ago three amended bills – Anti-Rape Laws Bill, and Anti-Honour Killings Laws Bill, and Torture, Custodial Death and Custodial Rape Bill – passed from senate, two of them moved by a female parliamentarian Sughra Imam. Shehrbano added that the purpose of the amendments in the bills is to address lacunas in the existing laws in order to improve conviction rates and bring the culprits to justice.
She said that women parliamentarians need more aggressive approach to enforce implementation of laws regarding women protection and empowerment.
Ume Laila, Executive Director Homenet, questioned why government celebrates Woman’s Day only one day, why not 365 days to aware women about their rights? She said government has been making announcements of women empowerment packages since 2012, in which they promise to ensure fair representation in public sector, women financial assistance and bills regarding women empowerment. But reality is not so promising. Home-based Workers Bill is still awaiting government attention. Recently, government adopted amendments in Child Marriages Restraint Act, but only increased penalty and ignored other lacunas of the Act. New laws are good but without implementation they have no value. Government is used to presenting laws and packages on Women’s Day as a colorful wrapped gift and try to use the same gift with new wrapping paper on the next year celebrations which shows government’s seriousness towards women empowerment.
Government had announced about Day Care centers for working women and this is the only promise we can say is fulfilled to date.
She said that after ten years struggle, the government has finally agreed to set up Violence against Women Center in Punjab. These centers will act as one stop center where rape victim’ complaint, FIR, medico-legal inspection, DNA test and psychological treatment will be provided at the same place.
The Women Development Department in Punjab is a kind of person centric institute and remains sedentary. The Department should take initiatives and play strong role in monitoring and implementing the laws and the policies.
Ume Laila further emphasized that women development should grow into a political agenda, one day celebrations are not enough. It should become topic of current political discussions on media.
Mumtaz Mughal, Provincial Program Manager Aawaz, Aurat Foundation, said that government announces women empowerment packages every year to score points only. A staggering number of 63 points from women empowerment packages still awaiting government attention.
The government has failed to implement 2012 & 2014 women empowerment packages. There is no progress on the bills of Domestic Violence against Women and Acid Throwing Act amendments. The financial packages and loans for women were announced and 40 billion rupees are bound in The Bank of Punjab but no woman dared to apply for the loan due to its high interest rates. The government announced 33 percent women representation in public sector but failed to give incentives and create pressure on institutes to create conducive environment for women employment. On the contrary, women representation at the local bodies has reduced to 20 percent. It is also observed that budgetary allocations regarding women projects are too little to make implementation mechanisms possible.
She said that women helpline desk should be in every district (36 districts in total) in Punjab, not only limited to Lahore.
Nomita Gul, a journalist, said working women or even a dependent housewife have to face problems in male dominated society despite a number pro-women laws. The workshops, seminars, and advertisements can aware masses but without proper mechanisms only awareness cannot solve issues. Laws can be called successful if they are implemented properly. Women have to totally depend on their male counterparts to give them access and fundamental freedoms of movement and expression.
Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, said we should appreciate government’ women empowerment plans. As the head of Helpline Desk in Lahore for violence against women, she told The Laaltain, “Since September 2014, we received 1500 enquiry calls and registered 127 complains from working women facing issues regarding departmental discriminations. These complains are from all over Punjab. After advertisements more people are now aware about this facility and we get more calls for help and enquiry. Recently, we took action against education department in case of transfer policy regarding women. Answering about the delay in women protection bills amendments, she said, “It’s better to do something, even if it’s late, than not do it at all. Domestic violence bill is under revision and the government is trying to present something more concrete. The issue of mindset is also a hurdle as misogyny prevails among policy makers too.”
In reality the situation on the ground is perhaps more grave. A woman police constable on her duty told The Laaltain on condition of anonymity that she cannot complain about the harassment she faces from her male colleagues. “The government has introduced new laws but did not fix problems in the old ones. Long duty hours make it difficult for her to handle household issues. It is also difficult to run kitchen with minimal pay and the rising inflation”, she lamented.
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