Protection of Women’s Rights in Pakistan – A Practitioner’s Perspective
I was invited to speak briefly at a seminar organized by the Law and Politics Society, in collaboration with the recently launched Saida Waheed Gender Initiative, at LUMS. The purpose of this seminar was to provide students with a brief overview of the state of human rights of women in Pakistan, with a specific focus on violence and legal redress available to women, and inspire students at LUMS to contribute towards efforts undertaken by civil society and the government to counter deep-rooted social and cultural discrimination against women. The seminar was attended by students of the Sheikh Ahmed Hasan School of Law and other programs offered at LUMS.
I discussed figures published by HRCP in their Annual Report for 2014, and highlighted the incidences of gender-based violence, early age marriage and prevalence of cultural and social practices that marginalize women, such as wanni, watta satta, and swara. Further, in recent years, women across Pakistan have been subjected to humanitarian issues due to natural disasters. The problems, solutions and advocacy initiatives highlighted in a Report by Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre, were also discussed.
My experience at Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Centre provided me with the opportunity to conduct some awareness sessions on family laws, fundamental rights and importance of basic documentation, with community women in South Punjab. I shared some valuable experiences learnt from the field were also including an instance when a woman from Vehari candidly claimed, that rights are not for rural women; human rights are an urban concept.
Initiatives taken by the government to strengthen institutions responsible for empowerment and protection of women were discussed at length, including inter alia the National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women. These Commissions serve as a “watchdog” for the National and Provincial Assemblies, add a gender perspective to laws, policies and strategies formulated by the Government, and ensure that no policies and laws that discriminate against women are enacted. However, during the course of my advocacy work on the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015, the importance given to these crucial institutions was highlighted through a recent incident: the draft bill shared for review with the Chairperson of the Punjab Commission was different from the draft bill presented to the Punjab Assembly, leaving the Chairperson PCSW and civil society disillusioned by the nonchalance of the Government towards women’s issues.
The seminar was interactive and valuable views were shared by the students and faculty at LUMS. They inquired about the procedure to lodge a criminal complaint of rape, the measures taken by the Government to strengthen shelter homes, the effectiveness and expediency with which CEDAW Monitoring Committees operate, budgetary allocations towards Women Development, and recognition of marital rape as a crime in Pakistan. My work on domestic violence legislation in California as well as Pakistan was highlighted, and Federal and Provincial Domestic Violence legislation (Sindh and Balochistan) were discussed. Furthermore, when a distinguished member of the audience asked a question on “linking religion with prevention of early age marriage”, I responded that unfortunately, connecting religion with early age marriage usually sends a message that religion supports these unions. The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that rural communities do not recognize the additional religious requirements of being aaqil and baaligh at the time of marriage; therefore, linking early age marriage to health and social hazards is generally a more effective strategy to get through to rural women.
The talk ended on a promising note, while recognizing the efforts and unprecedented initiatives taken by Federal and Provincial Governments to empower women and cater to their specific and unique problems. Upon the conclusion of the session, the students at LUMS were inspired study rights-based disciplines, and fight for the human rights of marginalized groups.