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Women protection bill in process, says Sherry

ISLAMABAD, Dec 23: Minister for Information and Broadcasting Sherry Rehman here on Tuesday said government accords priority to welfare and protection of women and legislation relating to violence against women is in the process.She said three or four bills were at different stages of legislation to ensure protection to women and expected to be passed by the Parliament in the near future.

At a launching ceremony of a report titled ‘Violence against women: reflections in print media’ and documentary ‘Prisoners of circumstances’, she said the current democratic government keeps women welfare at the centre of all policy actions.

The report was launched by National Commission on the Status of Women in collaboration the United Nations Fund for Women Development and comprises the compilation of reported cases of violence against women across the country. The kinds of violence include assault, honour killings, Vani/Swara, suicides and domestic violence.“Though, we are elected representatives but we want the involvement of stakeholders as well as others at various steps of our policy decisions to ensure the protection of women’s interests,” she added.

She said the government of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had consulted women activists, NGOs, human rights organisations and other stakeholders in all the four provinces to improve and fine-tune the contents of the bills.

The minister said draft bill aimed at eliminating violence and harassment at work places which covers both formal and informal sectors seeks to bind every organisation set up a regulatory body (at least one of whom would be a woman), which would also be authorised to conduct inquiries while looking into complaints of harassment.

“This legislation, therefore, addresses gender issues on multiple levels ensuring protection of personal as well as professional interests of women,” she said.

She said she had also proposed creation of an ombudsman’s office where women can lodge their complaints as, she added, majority of complaints regarding violence against women are settled at local level.

The minister went on to say that the next step would to expand the ambit of protection to women working in informal sectors as well as women who face harassment outside work places.

Laws related to the latter are already present but they need to be strengthened, she said, adding that during her tenure as minister in charge of Ministry of Women Development she invited women groups and NGOs to come up with a campaign and programme. She said PPP leader Benazir Bhutto always raised a voice for empowerment of women, adding that the present government was taking measures to materialise her dream.

The minister hoped the recently launched Benazir Income Support Programme would go a long way for welfare of women. Similarly, the government also plans to allot lands at the union council level under women’s name which would be a landmark step in empowering the women segment of the society, she said.

The minister also called for need of reformulating working relationship among government, media and civil society. “If we get together we really can make things happen,” she said.

On the role of media in reporting the incidents of violence against women, she said during recent incidents in some areas, the media truly played watchdog role which was commendable.

She also appreciated the role of the NCSW in promoting the cause of the women despite its limited financial and human resources and having zero autonomy.

A documentary was also shown on the occasion which took into account the denial of basic rights to women regarding inheritance and family laws.

Chairperson NCSW Dr Arfa Syeda Zehra in her welcome speech introduced the report and documentary in the perspective of the operational limitations of the commission.
Source: Dawn
Date:12/24/2008

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