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The rights of women

One of the major goals of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals adopted recently is the focus on strengthening the movement for gender equality at the global level and tackling violence against women. Unfortunately violence against women is a universal problem, with different degrees and manifestations in different societies.

This violence stems from economic, cultural and social conditions and attitudes formed over centuries. Some say that the cultural and social taboos prevalent within society have played a dominant role in the development of a mind-set that looks at women as inferior human beings and treats them as personal properties of their male partners. Violence against women is, in fact, a social depravity.

Research by different NGOs and international organisations dealing with violence against women and gender equality indicates that every third women has endured violence in the form of beatings, coerced sex and abuse either by her partner or other members of the family. Women have been deprived of their human rights and in some cases even traded to settle family disputes.

In countries like Pakistan domestic violence against women is well entrenched. Women have been the victims of archaic and inhuman practices like vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to the Quran. Honour killing is another detestable crime against women, and is widely prevalent in Pakistan.

The global movement on gender equality and end to violence against women reflects the determination and resolve of the international community not only to rectify the centuries-old injustices against women but to also make them equal partners in the national and global efforts to make the planet earth a happy place to live.

Since the 1950s, the UN has adopted several conventions dealing with different aspects of the rights of women but the Convention On the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw) adopted in 1979 was a defining document in the efforts for gender equality and is regarded as an international bill of the rights of women. Pakistan also signed and ratified the convention.

In pursuance of the objectives of Cedaw several steps have been taken to discourage violence against women and ensure gender equality and empowerment of women. The major legal initiatives in this regard include: the Domestic Violence Act 2008 which made domestic violence against women a cognizable offence and the Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Act, 2009 which aimed at protecting women against harassment at workplace by their colleagues and workplace superiors. Laws were also passed to criminalise vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to the Quran.

Early this year Punjab government also made a commendable move by adopting the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016, which provides legal protection to victims besides putting in place a mechanism for legal, psychological physiological support. The federal government has also passed legislation on honour killing, prescribing harsh punishments for the perpetrators of the crime. The legislation has also withdrawn the option of criminals being pardoned by the victims and their families.

This is a very thoughtful legal initiative in view of the fact that in most of the honour killing cases the victims and their families used to pardon the perpetrator of the crime either under pressure or by accepting monetary benefits in lieu of the pardon, which actually encouraged would-be honour killers. To discourage and check the practice of karo-kari, the government has also set up help lines and offices in Interior Sindh where this practice has been prevalent for centuries. The Anti Rape Bill 2016 unanimously passed by parliament is another significant legal measure to protect women.

The National Commission on the Status of Women is supposed to examine policies, programmes and other measures initiated by the government regarding gender equality and empowerment of women, review laws and rules and regulations affecting the status of women, monitor mechanisms and institutional procedures for redress of women’s rights violations and individual grievances, encourage and sponsor research on women’s issues, conduct studies related to gender issues, and develop and maintain dialogue with NGOs and experts both at the national and international levels.

In addition to the foregoing, a number of other administrative and political decisions have been taken to ensure gender equality and empowerment of women. The National Assembly has 60 reserved seats for women. There is a quota of 10 percent for women in the Central Superior Services in addition to the opportunity to get selected on merit. Women’s quota in the local bodies is 33 percent. They are also eligible to contest on general seats.

A number of universities function exclusively for women. In addition to that, women can seek admission in other co-ed universities. According to the available data, the percentage of women enrolling in universities stands at 45 percent while in some universities women enrolment is far above men. For example in Karachi University it is estimated at 73 percent.

The progressive increase in the percentage of women obtaining higher education has resulted in an equivalent increase in the number of women working in every field of life.

As a result of the foregoing initiatives and growing awareness about gender equality and rights of women, the situation has improved considerably but in rural areas and under-developed regions sustained and vigorous efforts are still needed to improve the lot of women, particularly their economic conditions. A number of NGOs are working to impart skills to women belonging to the less privileged part of urban society as well as their rural counterparts to enhance their chances of employability and contribution to the family income. The government has also opened vocational training centres all over the country. To sustain and complement these efforts, the government in collaboration with the media is also engaged in creating awareness about women’s issues and changing social attitudes and prejudices against women.

To supplement and reinforce the legal and administrative measures there is also a need to change social attitudes regarding women as well as the mindset that incites men to violence against women. This can best be done by including subjects like gender equality and the rights of women, especially those granted by Islam, in the curricula of our schools so that the next generation is aware of the importance of gender equality and can help discard the century-old social prejudices against women which are an impediment to the socio-economic development of the country.

Source: The News

Byline: Malik Ashraf

November 29, 2016

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