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Civil society supports devolution of women’s ministry

Myra Imran

Islamabad: Civil society organizations, including Mehrgarh, Pattan Development Organisation, Aasha, Bedari, Centre of Civic Education and Women Organisation of Rights and Democracy have supported the devolution of Ministry for Women Development (MoWD) under the 18th Amendment.

In a meeting organised to discuss the devolution of women’s ministry, the civil society representatives said that it is vitally important that the mainstreaming of gender across ministries must be made the responsibility of the provinces.

“We believe that mainstreaming gender within the devolution framework as well as setting up women’s specific safeguard at the provincial level is the only way forward and we fully support this process,” said gender expert, Dr. Fauzia Saeed.

She said that it is time to celebrate instead of raising concerns, as devolution was a long-standing demand of civil society for many decades. Reacting to the recent criticism over the ministry’s devolution, she said that the decision to devolve Women Ministry was taken in May last year and it has not come as a surprise to public or private sector. “The federal ministry got a whole year to level the ground for transferring matters to provinces. It is unfortunate that nothing has been done in this direction,” she added. “While we appreciate the efforts made over decades by the MoWD, it is important not to overstate its contribution to promote women’s rights,” she pointed out while adding that women centred legislation and policies were produced with the efforts of gender experts and women rights activists from outside the ministry. She acknowledged the role of National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) for its valuable input in that process.

She said that women rights activists had been publicly expressing their frustration over the inability of the MoWD to play its role as a watchdog ministry to oversee and ensure the integration of gender perspectives and concerns in the planning and the working of other ministries. She said that lack of in-house gender capacity remained as a key barrier for MoWD to play its role effectively.

In his comprehensive talk on legal side of devolution process, Zafarullah Khan from Centre of Civic Education rejected the argument that provinces lack capacity to manage the new responsibilities. He said that this believe has emerged as a result of lack of knowledge. He was of the opinion that devolution will encourage healthy competition among provinces and will provide civil society with more windows to extend their work to grassroots level. He said that provinces already have institutional set-ups to deal with women issues. “Provinces will automatically improve the capacity of these departments once they get autonomy.” He said that his organisation is in the favour of devolving Human Rights Ministry and Information Ministry to the provinces as well. “It is the right of provinces to manage these issues on their own.”

Answering a query regarding the impact this decision will have on civil society, he said that it would be wrong to underestimate the role of civil society at the provincial level. “The civil society has got strong roots at the provincial level and can effectively play the role of a watchdog as well as a contributor in the process of women development.” He demanded that the next step should be to extend devolution at district level.

Human Right Activists Farzana Bari and Sameena Nazir stressed the need to review the mandate of NCSW so that it can act as central body to protect the rights of women at federal level. “As firm believers of democracy we have a faith that people via provinces have the capacity and commitment to work for the benefits for all citizens including women. The Constitution of Pakistan provides the basic framework within which all provinces can work for the rights of women,” said Farzana Bari.

Sameena said that with the devolution of all social sector ministries, there is no point in demanding women ministry to stay at the federal level. “Women empowerment is a cross cutting theme and all social sector ministries have to ensure gender mainstreaming in their projects. If social sectors ministries are in provinces that women ministry should also be devolved at the same level,” she argued.

Source: The Express Tribune