Islamabad – Pakistani women and girls have made tremendous achievements during last year but we still have a long way to go before we can ensure human rights protections for all women in Pakistan, Sameena Nazir, Director PODA, a non-governmental organisation, remarked at a gathering at national library of Pakistan to start celebration of women day events in Islamabad.
She said Malala Yousufzai won the noble peace prize in 2014 yet many daughters of Pakistan still face brutal violence and are not able to get justice.
“We have good laws in Pakistan but they must be implemented to protect women and girls so that we can see more progress and peace in the country,” she added.
“We welcome the recent positive steps taken by the Punjab government to ensure protection of women’s inheritance rights and setting up of toll-free numbers to report harassment at work complaints and hope that more such steps will be taken,” said Nazir.
The event was organised by the women’s rights organisation PODA at Lincoln Center of the National Library of Pakistan in Islamabad and attended by a large number of women and men including lawyers, students, teachers, activists, poets, writers, farmers, and educationists.
The event is part of PARWAZ project of PODA supported by Public Affairs Section of US Embassy.
Speakers at an event stressed the need for addressing challenge of increasing number of forced marriages of women collectively by society and the government.
Samar Minallah, a women’s activist and film maker presented a documentary titled ‘Facets of Forced Marriages in Pakistan’.
The documentary highlighted some of the issues of forced marriages that take place due to social or cultural reasons.
It also highlighted how a wrong concept of honour negatively impacts the lives of women and girls in our society.
The documentary that highlighted cases of forced marriages in all provinces of Pakistan showed a man threw acid on a woman when she refused to marry him.
In another case a 7-year-old girl was given in marriage to a 50-year-old man to settle a dispute.
In another case, a Pakistani girl raised in Norway was forced to marry a man in Pakistan and she had to live with a husband for 21 years and face violence from him.
The documentary also showed some positive developments where the police are arresting people in cases of Wani and Swara traditional practices where girls are given in exchange marriages.
Now the police are more vigilant and the courts are also giving decisions in favour of girls.
She said this has been possible due to continuous pressure by the women’s groups and due to the good legislation.
Judith Ravin, Cultural Attache, US Embassy in Pakistan said that International Women Day is a global pause to celebrate women’s economic, social and political achievements.
It also challenges society to re-examine women’s issues that may require corrective action.
She said that sometimes MAKING IT HAPPEN means empowering women and girls to dream beyond their imagined limitations.
Unfortunately violence against women exists in all countries in the world whether rich or poor, developed or underdeveloped therefore ending gender based violence is a priority for US foreign policy globally, she concluded.
Ms.Kishwar Naheed, a leading poetess of Pakistan, said that the Constitution of Pakistan gives women equality in rights but the laws are not implemented.
She demanded that women should be given the 15 per cent quota in all government jobs and women should be included in decision making posts.
She said that even though historically women have been suppressed in all societies but the women everywhere and especially in Pakistan have always fought back and their resilience has led to the remarkable progress in Pakistani society.
She also presented her poems on women’s right which were greatly appreciated by the audience.
Nida Ibrahim from PODA presented a brief history of March 8, the international women’s day and shared that March 8th was started as a movement of women’s labour rights and now after many years all governments have recongnised this day and many events take place all over the country.
She said this year the review of Beijing plus 25 is a major focus of the United Nations to ensure that the promises made for women’s progress in the 4th world conference on women in Beijing China will not be overturned but will be strengthened and improved in coming years.
A local theatre group, Christian Youth Islamabad that lives and works in France Colony slums in F-7 Islamabad presented a theatre on the subject of forced marriages.
The theatre play portrayed how a young college student is stopped from education by her brother after he hears that some boy stopped his car for her outside her college.
The girl protests and explains that she did not go anywhere but she slammed the car door back.
But the brother and uncle do not believe her and force her to marry a man they choose for her immediately as a punishment.
The play highlights that even though there is a law against sexual harassment (section 509 of ppc) but the boys who harass girls outside girls’ colleges do not get punished and the girl often has to stop education.
Tahira Tarique, Project Manager PODA, shared that PODA is conducting a survey on the issue of forced marriages in Pakistan under the PARWAZ project that is building the leadership of women to address gender based violence in Pakistan.
She shared some preliminary findings of the survey that has just started in 9 districts of Punjab and Sindh provinces.
She said that initial findings show that majority of the respondents think that forced marriage violate the basic right of girls and boys and think that girls suffer more than boys due to this practice.
Another initial finding shows that poverty, lack of education, family disputes and property issues are the major reasons for which families often force their daughters to marry someone they do not want to marry.