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|Subject : A lot achieved in Pakistan but still a long way to go
The International Women’s Day was marked by the Pakistan Women’s Foundation for Peace (PWFP) at a local hotel on Wednesday afternoon. The seminar made an objective and analytical assessment of the rights that had been granted to woman and that which had been withheld. This year the campaign theme was, “Be bold for change”. The UN theme is, “Women in the changing field of work: planet 50-50 by 2030”. Nargis Rehman, Chairperson, Pakistan Women’s Foundation for Peace, in her highly erudite and deft address, spoke of both the successes and failures in the endeavour of granting women their due rights. Tracing the history of these rights, Rehman said that women in Pakistan were granted the right to vote much before many European countries as the Quaid had envisioned both the status women would enjoy and the role they would play in the new homeland of Pakistan.
“Our problem was that the underdeveloped portions of India left so by the stranglehold of the feudals, sardars, and tribal chiefs, entered the domain of Pakistan.” Many laws, she said, had been passed since the 1950s to enhance the role and status of women. Bhutto’s 1973 Constitution reserved 10 percent of the seats in the national assembly and five percent in the provincial legislatures for women. Coming to Ziaul Haq, Rehman said his policies towards women were riddled with contradictions. A chapter on women’s development, she said, was included for the first time in the Sixth Five-Year Plan but his religion-foisting process injected discriminatory legislations against women. The Hudood Ordinance and the Qanoon-e-Shahadat, as well as the suspension of the fundamental rights granted to women under the 1973 Constitution, were the cause of women losing their legal status, facilitating criminals to violate them with impunity.
In this context, she quoted the cases of Fehmida Allah Bakhsh (1981), Jehan Mina and Safia Bibi (1983). Coming to 1988, she cited the advent of the Benazir Bhutto-led government and her contributions to the welfare of women in the form of the First Women’s Bank and women’s study centres in five universities. But, she regretted, that even Benazir, despite her sincere efforts could not repeal Zia’s laws as they were given protection by the eighth constitutional amendment. She then came to Musharraf’s step in 2006 to pass the Women’s Protection Bill, opposed by hardliner religious leaders and the organisations they represented. “Today, the subject is positive. Our women have entered domains that could not have been envisaged 30 years ago. We have women wrestlers, boxers, fighter pilots, Oscar winners, nuclear physicists and Nobel laureates.”
Rehman cited the example of Salima Begum, a teacher from a remote corner of Gilgit-Baltistan, who had made it to the top 10 finalists of the Global Teacher Prize. The other side of the coin, she said, was that the Pakistani woman still walks miles to fetch two pitchers of water, contends with deprivations of health, life security, dignity and access to justice. Justice (Retd) Shaiq Usmani said that the main problem was that our legislatures and institutions of influence were full of men who were misogynists. Now, he said, the present Women’s Protection Bill had brought about the due changes. Interviewed by Advocate Faiza Hasnari, he said that implementation was a tall order because those responsible for seeing to the implementation were corrupt. “Only agitation by the civil society will accomplish the task,” he said. Justice (Retd) Usmani quoted the example of the Suffragettes in the UK one of whom even had to lay down her life to get women their right to vote. In this context, he said, that it was the common folk who would have to stand up to the machinations of the rulers.
He quoted the Child Marriages Restraint Act for the working of which no rules had been formulated. Sultana Siddiqui, the CEO of Hum TV, said that more women should be inducted into the media. Women, she said, must comprise the majority as they were far more sensitive to matters of the home and the family. Noted human rights lawyer Zia Awan said that we had to invest in social justice. He said that, unfortunately, the police acted as the prosecutor and the judge and people were scared of going to the police for fear of infamy. Laws, Awan said, were made in closed rooms without consultation and in this case cited a law recently piloted by a senator in Islamabad which was found out to be an exact replica of an Indian law. “Only the world India had been replaced with Pakistan,” he said. Legal aid, he added, comprised the right to life but there was no provision of legal aid in our societal setup. The government, he said, was not heeding its mandate.
Former federal minister and social activist Javed Jabbar, as is characteristic of him, assumed a very optimistic and positive stance and quoted the way girls’ enrollment in schools had increased manifold as had women’s participation in the legislature. Pakistan, he said, had witnessed a radical change. In the Musharraf era, Jabbar said that 33 percent of the seats in the union councils were reserved for women. He was of the view that while still there were hurdles to cross matters had, by and large, developed in a positive direction. Mehnaz Rehman, president of Aurat Foundation, said that in her opinion, the most pro-woman legislation was introduced in the Ayub Era; the Family Laws Ordinance. In her brief speech, she said, “We shall continue agitating till we achieve our aims.” She regretted that there had been umpteen legislations but no implementation, which rendered the process useless. Later, a 13-point resolution was passed. Some of the points were:
---- The legislature must pass bills on schedule, must frame implementation mechanisms, and time-frames.
---- The ever-so frequently demanded overhaul of the criminal justice system, the existing flaws of which compounded the problems faced by the women victims of violence.
---- Legal aid mechanisms, shelter homes and crisis centres for women victims of violence must be set up.
---- Special emphasis be placed on women’s education, imparting of vocational and entrepreneurial skills, and greater access to employment.
---- A revolutionary change in the feudal socio-cultural, pseudo-religious traditions and practices through a well thought-out methodology of school curricula, media, and entertainment programmes that make people conscious of justice and injustice and the social imperatives for change and progress.
---- The Council of Islamic Ideology is redundant and should be abolished.
At the end, awards were presented. The recipients were Farhat Rasheed; Dr Salima Ahmed; Meher Afroze; Seema Taher; Fatima Hassan; Haseena Moeen; Mehvish Sardar; Zubeida Mustafa; and Akhtar Ibrahim.
Home-based women workers
Though it is the 21st Century and the world had advanced considerably, Pakistani society was still mired in conservative beliefs about women in the name of religion and culture, keeping them suppressed to this day. The only thing that can help women rise up from this abyss was an organised struggle against the prevailing injustices. These views were expressed by speakers at a conference hosted by the Home-Based Women Workers Federation (HBWWF) at the Arts Council, Karachi, on Wednesday, our correspondent reports. The conference was chaired by HBWWF General Secretary Zehra Khan and was attended by scores of working women belonging to different industries.
The speakers remarked that March 8 was the day of independence for females from the economic, religious and social constraints fabricated against them by the so-called religious, political and social leaders belonging to conservative, capitalist and feudalistic schools of thoughts. The speakers shed light on the discriminatory employment and wage systems rampant in the country that particularly targeted women and commented that the profit-hungry mindset of investors and employers was making life more difficult for the workers. They said that the industries were outsourcing work to women at homes, while not caring about their rights to adequate wages, health and safety allowances, social security and others. The speakers added that the investors exploited women and other underage workers by offering them lowest rates.
Female workers, particularly home-based ones, were deprived of their rights to make unions and act as collective bargaining agents for their wages and other perks that their employers were obliged to pay, the speakers highlighted. Not only this but there was also a rise in sexual harassment of women at workplaces, the speakers added, and the government was doing little but acting as a silent spectator. The moot unanimously vowed that the struggle for the rights of women had been started afresh with a new spirit and would continue until the oppression and injustices were eliminated at the root. The speakers demanded that women should be respected, deemed as equal citizens and laws for their protection be implemented; legislation should be made for home-based women workers immediately under the International Labor Organisation’s Convention 177; health and social security benefits be given to home-based workers; and gender-based discrimination in employment and wages should be ended.
Those who spoke at the event included HBWWF's Zehra Khan; Jamila Abdul Latif from Home-Based Women Bangle Workers Union; Saira Feroz, United HB garment workers union; Shabnam Azam, Information Secretary HBWWF; Thomas Seibert , a political philosopher from Germany; Habibuddin Junaidi, Nasir Mansoor and Rafiq Baloh from the NTUF.
Sindh Governor Mohammad Zubair on Wednesday conferred excellence awards on 15 women from different walks of life, our correspondent reports. At a ceremony held in connection with International Women’s Day 2017 at the Governor House Karachi, the awards were given to the women in recognition of their exceptional contribution to the empowerment of women in Pakistan. The women who were conferred awards for their services include Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center (JPMC) Executive Director Dr Seemin Jamali, Justice (rtd) Majida Rizvi, renowned TV and film artist Zeba Bakhtiar, famous singer Teena Sani, eminent plastic surgeon Dr Shaista Effendi, Sultana Siddiqui and Rabia Javeri. Famous fashion designer Safinaz Muneer, Jehan Ara Pasha, Fareeha Altaf, Zeenat Saeed, Maheen Khan, Farha Talib Aziz, Nazihe Hussain and Zainab Ibrahim were also among the eminent women who received awards at the ceremony, which was organised by the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI).
Speaking on the occasion, the Sindh governor said that International Women Day was being observed all over the world to create awareness about rights of the women, and to end discrimination and oppression against women. In Sindh, he said, it was decided that the best message on the eve of IWD would be to recognise the exceptional contribution and services of working women who had excelled in different walks of life and become icons in their respective fields and areas of service. Regarding the rights of women, the governor said Islam was the first religion that provided exemplary rights to women in a society where fathers used to bury their daughters. He added that Islam taught its followers that women were respectable in all of the roles like mothers, daughters, sisters or wives. “Despite the respect given to the women in our religion, they are unfortunately facing oppression and discrimination in our society and in spite of their important role in a family, the vast majority of women is illiterate, which needs to be addressed urgently,” he said, adding that women were still facing heinous issues like domestic violence, torture and marginalisation.
Zubair said the government was trying to improve things with respect to the women empowerment in Pakistan and the best available option was provision of education to girls and women so that they could become productive members of the society. Lauding the role of the Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI), he said body was recognising the services of the women who had performed extraordinarily in the areas of medicine, economy, technology, science, industry, media, law, and other areas. He hoped that the award ceremony would encourage more women to come forward and serve the society with all their abilities. WCCI president Farida Qureshi, FPCCI acting president Amir Ata Bajwa, WCCI senior vice president Ghazala Saifi, WCCI general secretary Shakeel Rizvi and other officials were also present.