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Devolving women’s rights to the provinces

By: Fouzia Saeed

The writer recently completed her three-year term as a member of the National Commission on the Status of Women and as the chairperson of the National Anti-Sexual Harassment Watch Committee

Ever since the devolution of responsibility to the provinces, the women of Pakistan are pinning their hopes on provincial governments for action on the pro-women legislation passed during the last two years. Here, I will discuss the implementation of the legislation as a barometer of the provincial winds of change.

The National (Anti-Sexual Harassment) Implementation Watch Committee recently concluded its two-year term. Now each province needs to establish its own provincial implementation watch committee to carry this work forward, draft a strategy to ensure proper implementation of this legislation and appoint a provincial ombudsperson dedicated for this purpose.

Punjab has shown the greatest commitment in taking responsibility on this issue. It has convened its implementation watch committee, taken a decision to set up a dedicated provincial ombudsperson and instructed its departments to comply with the legislation. They have proposed amendments to the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2010, to make the Punjab government fully responsible for implementing the law. In addition, Punjab is in the process of upgrading 100 model police stations across the province. All eyes will be on these model thanas that will aim at ensuring that women’s issues receive attention from the police. However, Punjab’s private sector has been relatively slow on complying with anti-sexual harassment legislation.

Balochistan and Sindh have given their women development departments independent status with Ghazala Gola and Tauqeer Fatima holding ministerial posts in the two provinces. The Sindh government has also established an Implementation Watch Committee but it needs stronger backing at the ministerial level to improve its performance. Unfortunately, neither of these provinces has established the office of a dedicated ombudsperson. The political will of the Sindh government remains quite weak on this front.

The Balochistan government is yet to treat women’s issues on a priority basis. Any bureaucratic step, which may only require a simple notification or an internal office memo, can take anywhere from six to 10 months to complete. The chief secretary is supportive and has assigned one officer within the general ombudsman’s office to deal with sexual harassment cases. Unfortunately, the province’s Implementation Watch Committee remains dysfunctional and it has been asked to revise the committee’s membership and convene its meeting, but so far the the committee has not been established.
The ANP is often considered to be the most progressive political party of the country and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has long been considered a pragmatic one. It proactively established the first provincial women’s commission. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is represented by many outstanding women legislators in parliament. Yet, there has been zero progress on implementing the devolved requirements of the anti-sexual harassment legislation. Neither an implementation watch committee has been established nor an ombudsperson has been appointed.

Looking at where the provinces are at this point, it is interesting to note that the provincial government of the PML-N, with its fairly conservative image, has done the most for women and has concrete plans to do even more. Perhaps, the PPP, which has done very well in the federal government, will need to influence the other provincial governments to live up to the party’s mandate.

Women need to ensure that all parties take women’s issues seriously. After all, women are 50 per cent of the vote-bank.

The Express Tribune

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