FULL marks to the legislators who have taken the initiative to rise above party politics and form a ‘Women’s parliamentary caucus’. It is heartening to note that, on paper at least, the caucus intends to speak as one on the most pressing of women’s issues irrespective of party affiliations. The group, it is said, will work towards the “development, empowerment and emancipationÂ” of women and strive for gender-sensitive legislation and the amendment of discriminatory laws.
Needless to say, those involved in this standard-bearing cause will have plenty on their plate. Pakistan is a country where women have been reduced to second-class citizens with little or no rights, unless of course they happen to be individually wealthy or connected to the powerful. This is a country where women are traded like livestock to settle tribal feuds and other enmities. Ours is a nation where child marriage is all too common, where ‘honour killings’ are rife and horrific violence against women is rampant, in both the home and society at large. Domestic violence and marital rape are so routine here that many are unaware that there is anything wrong with such brutality. It is all part of that much-maligned concept of ‘culture’. This, after all, is a country where men who defend honour killings can be elevated to the federal cabinet, and that too in a democratic government. To repeat, there is a lot to be done.
While women legislators can help mobilise public opinion in support of women’s rights and create public awareness about gender equality, they must play an active role within parliament by joining hands in facilitating the passage of legislation aimed at repealing or rectifying anti-women laws that are the legacy of the Zia era. The Hudood laws, the law of evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws need to be addressed while issues such as harassment in the workplace and the various forms of oppression women are subjected to could do with some new legislation to make these offences punishable crimes. The passing of enlightened laws – assuming it comes to that – will serve no practical purpose unless they are implemented. This is a daunting task given a police force steeped in misogyny and corruption. Still, a welcome first step has been taken. Our women legislators, especially those who are in parliament on reserved seats, will doubtless find it difficult to go against the party line. If so, they can focus their energy on changing the way their party thinks. A non-partisan consensus on women’s issues is the need of the hour.