Speakers at a seminar on Friday highlighted the role of women in national development and called for urgent action to empower them and monetise their contribution.
The seminar was held under the auspices of the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR), in collaboration with the Legal Rights Forum (LRF) and Action Aid.
Titled “Mandate of the NCHR and the livelihood rights of women peasants”, it was emphasised at the seminar that when women were financially empowered, social relationships also changed.
Noted journalist Babar Ayaz said most work on the fields was done by women. “Their contribution should be monetised. Advanced technology could help in this regard,” he added.
“We should urge the government to earmark 50 percent of the land in urban areas for women.”
Uroosa Khatti of Action Aid said when women were empower, their social status enhanced. “We need to engage with the Revenue Department in this regard and see to it that allotment of houses and lands to women be closely and regularly monitored by the government,” she added.
She said that her organisation had often met the officials concerned for this purpose but the meetings yielded no results.
Advocate Tahir Iqbal of the Legal Rights Forum said Bhutto’s land reforms were exemplary. However, for various reasons, they could not be implemented. Around 30 percent of the farmers did benefit.
“An iron-jacketed policy for land distribution should be formulated for allotment of land to women peasants,” he suggested. Funds to the tune of Rs80 million have been earmarked for the project.
He said that keeping the policy framed in 1921 in mind, an act should be enacted to provide land to women, also, along with that, ensuring water availability, he said.
Anis Haroon, NCHR Sindh member, explained the organisation’s mandate. She said the NCHR was the outcome of an Act passed in 2012.
It was constituted as an investigative body in 2014. She said that it had regional offices all over the country, in Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad. The Balochistan office, she said, had not started functioning as yet. We have been given the wherewithal to deal with all sorts of complaints in the matter of discrimination against peasant women and violation of Human Rights.
“We can take up human rights violations in courts, conduct independent investigations, and draft reports for bodies like the United Nations.”
Tahir Iqbal said there was the law that in order for a peasant woman to get an ownership deed for her land, she had to pay Rs100 annually for a period of 15 years after which she would get the clear ownership title.
Default could deprive her of this privilege and the land would go to the government. This raised lots of eyebrows and was dubbed discriminatory and undemocratic by many participants.
One of the participants regretted that no mechanism had been devised for collection of this Rs100 per month. “What we need is political will to break the stranglehold of the feudals,” she said.
Zehra Khan, the general secretary of the Home-Based Women Workers Federation, said that a union had been created to train women at an organisational level and have their grievances redressed.
The main issue, she said, was convincing the feudals and countering the marketing mafia.
The problem, she said, was lack of adequate water availability.
Speaking as the chief guest, Irum Khalid, the chief minister’s special assistant, took umbrage to the statement of a participant of the effect that political will was lacking and challenged the speaker to explain what the previous governments had done for the welfare of women.
“We have enacted the most pro-women laws, she said. “Roti, Kapra aur Makan is not just a slogan but an earnest endeavour. Don’t just blame the politicians. The bureaucracy and the civil society are as much to blame,” she said.
She said that their government had resettled villages washed out by the massive flood of 2010. “No other government has such an achievement to its credit”, she said.
“It’s not good to just blame politicians. Also appreciate the good that have been done. The government should be given time to set things in order”, she said.
Some female farmers from rural parts of the province were invited to the seminar ti narrate their experiences and problems. One of them, Bhana from Deh Gorabari, narrated how she had benefited from rice cultivation.
Another woman said that she had been deprived of her ownership deed because
she had defaulted on her payment.