By Hina Butt
Politics is not a common profession for women in Pakistan. The recent Global Gender Gap Report ranked Pakistan at 143 in economic participation and opportunities and 87 in political empowerment. In the Punjab Assembly only 8 women were able to get elected under the general seats making 75 women out of 371 seats in the assembly. The situation is even worse as in Pakistan every 10th women experience violence during the time of pregnancy and 52 percent of these victims keep their abuse a secret. This shows an alarming situation of our social mind set
People always ask me what difference I was able to make in the status of women in Pakistan during my term in the Punjab Assembly. Looking at the past performances of the Assembly, for me this is not a question but rather a lack of optimism. Last few years were very inspiring as we were able to make many important decisions to protect and to facilitate women in the province through Punjab Assembly. Most prominent of these legislations was the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women Act 2014. The criticism received by this act even led to some important amendments in it and without much delay it was again passed as the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women Act 2016. Although these rights are already envisioned by the Constitution of 1973 but the act gave a system to protect their right of empowerment and discrimination in gaining equal socio-economic opportunities.
Similarly, reporting and rehabilitation structure proposed through the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 gave much awaited security to women from numerous types of violence in the province. The Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act 2014 supported women by giving them better opportunities in decision making bodies in the province. This act led to appropriate amendments in more than 60 Acts passed by the Punjab Assembly. To further protect and facilitate women, amendments were passed in Punjab Maternity Benefits Ordinance, 1958 in 2016 and also recommended in the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 in 2015. Such parliamentary actions show that the efforts of this assembly are applaud-able.
Despite the presence of such legislations, there are continuous and increasing reports of miss-treatment with women. Whether at work or at home women are still discriminated and stereotyped. Punjab Assembly can only provide seeds to improve the situation; the watering and the maintenance of the land need to be done by the administrative and judicial systems. If we want to gain confidence of women and their families, then only collective efforts can ensure a strong base and fruitful growth of the social structure in Pakistan. When we look at women rights in Pakistan, unfortunately, there are limited success stories and role models. To see the actual results of these achievements of law enforcement agencies and the implementations of laws we have to make rigorous and sincere efforts to design and implement future and present strategies for women empowerment. Hence, all hope is not lost; change for women is happening in and through political arena in Pakistan.
The writer is a graduate of LUMs and currently serves as a member of the Punjab Assembly.