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Excluded and invisible

As part of a recent Pakistani delegation to the United Nations, I have the honour to present a summary of the key policy initiatives, under discussion by various panels of experts, participating from around the world.

States have a commitment to their citizens, especially to their women and children. Millions of women and children make their way through life improvised, malnourished, uneducated, abandoned, discriminated against, neglected and vulnerable. For them life is a daily struggle to survive and a strenuous activity that involves difficulty and usually affords no pleasure or ease. They are excluded from essential services such as schools, hospitals and work places and lack the care and protection of their families, their community and the state and are therefore at risk of exploitation and abuse.

When the right of women and children to survival, health, education, protection and participation are not being met, then the states of the world are surely failing in their responsibilities. The outcome of such neglect has far-reaching consequences. Women and children’s survival, development and protection are no longer matters of charitable concern but of moral and legal obligation. There is a profound need to strive to uphold the inherent dignity and worth of every human being with special attention to the most vulnerable of society, mainly our children and all the girls among them. It is time to step forward, combat and draw attention to the plight of women and children if states wish to establish a sane and solid foundation for the future.

It is, therefore, appropriate that on the occasion of the 51st session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women, the Commission has chosen this year as its priority theme “The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child”. Every day, violations of the rights of women, adolescents and young girls are committed and even tolerated in many fields. Women bear the brunt of the world’s child prostitution, sexual exploitation, abuse, domestic violence, child labour, forced marriages, early marriages, genital and sexual mutilation, honour killings and human trafficking.

Some of these forms of violence against girls are explained as an expression of cultural or religious traditions but no cultural tradition, religion or social custom can justify denying the enjoyment by girls and women of their human rights. The elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against girls would not only safeguard their human rights; it would go a long way to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection and to the impact of AIDS, which is a defining issue of our time.

Unfortunately, it is defining the lives of millions of women and girls, as 7000 of them become infected with HIV each day. Girls suffering from violence are not only victims of human rights violation; they are also victims of silence, victims of indifference and victims of neglect. The international sex trade has become an important industry as degrading as almost any mistreatment of women prior to it. The mistreatment of women is a longstanding reality in many places and a disregard for the age and vulnerability of young girls in particular is especially repugnant.

For a sustained process to stop and reverse this phenomenon, peoples and cultures will have to find common ground that can safely underpin human relations everywhere due to our shared humanity. When we examine why women are so vulnerable, it appears to be due to the inferior status bestowed upon women in our society and in certain places upon female infants in particular. If there are pre-screening facilities then these are sometimes used to find out the gender of the foetus and if it is female then there have been cases where such foetuses have been aborted. Even those allowed to live are considered a piece of property best disposed of as soon as possible. All this is due to lack of education, lack of human worth and prejudicial traditions. In order to put an end to the violation of human rights of trafficked women and girls, there is a dire need to trace the question back to the market that exists due to the demand which makes such trade possible and profitable. No one profits from this, expect the traffickers and the clients.

Trafficked women have their right to life and dignity, to health, freedom and security and these rights should not be compromised at all. They must be set free from torture, violence, cruelty and degrading treatment. For younger women it can also be a question of forced marriages, the violation of the right to education, the right to work and the right to self- determination. Ways must be found to allow them to go back home safely and without shame. Raising awareness is a simple and effective means to combat this phenomenon at the local level.

Organisations with a proven track record should assist rural village and communities. Local and national politicians also need to be brought to account for their policies in this regard. The media has a crucial role to play in protecting and promoting the rights of women and to create awareness on every level against violence against girls and women in its various forms. To combat violence against women states must ensure implementation of legal and policy measures; provide support and protection for victims, support data collection and awareness raising.

Children’s vulnerability calls for specific preventive and protective measures. Pakistan must seek to eradicate all kinds of violence against children in all settings; a national programme on the prevention of violence, protection of children, prosecution of offenders and participation by children should be chalked out. Legislation against sexual exploitation, trafficking, bonded labour of children and abuse must also be adopted. To break the vicious cycle of violence, exploitation and abuse, it is imperative to invest in young generations so that they integrate the values and principles of non-violence and gender equality in their behaviour. Through the education sector and with the help of youth organisations the government should motivate young leaders and young people in general to become agents of change.

The role of men is crucial to prevent and combat violence against women. Their active participation in combating violence against women is essential because they have a responsibility to stand up and challenge all kinds of violence occurring within the family and the community. Men take on different roles in the context of violence against women including men as perpetrators, men as victims and men contributing to overcoming violence.

The government must make all possible efforts and invest all necessary resources in gender-equality and children-protection policies so that collectively violence, exploitation, abuse and human rights violations can be eradicated from society. The government must ensure that gender- sensitive laws are enacted as well as enforced, to create awareness on the causes and consequences of gender-based violence and to facilitate the acquisition of skills to overcome gender and development problems.

The government in cooperation with non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the academia must establish structures to ensure effective implementation of the policy.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: nosheensaeed58@hotmail.com

Source: The News


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