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Gender-blind

Dr Farzana Bari

In the midst of jubilation and celebration on the passage of the 18th Amendment, I may sound like a spoiler or as Babar Sattar says a cynic for pointing out the gender insensitivity of our parliamentarians. A historic opportunity has been missed to remove all constitutional anomalies that negatively affect women, religious minorities and people living in FATA. There is a striking silence in all public forums on the neglect of women-specific issues. Much has been made of the removal of Ziaul Haq’s name but his infamous 8th Amendment, which provides legal covers to anti-women legislations such as Hudood Ordinance, Law of Evidence, Qisas and Diyat, has not been touched. Women have been suffering these oppressive and anti-women legislation by Ziaul Haq.

Similarly, the Blasphemy law which is misused time and again against religious minorities has not been touched. The demand for the regularisation of FATA has also been ignored. The committee sacrificed the interest of women, religious minorities and people from FATA on the altar of building national consensus and political expediency.

All men sitting in the Constitutional Reform Committee happily agreed that all those clauses of the constitution that negatively affect women will not be discussed due to their controversial nature. Why did the PCCR deem it fit to build consensus on some controversial clauses of the constitution while ignoring the others. Because only those issues were given priority that had the backing of political parties. Women constitute nearly half of the population but they are unorganised and lack a collective voice, therefore, the issues and concerns related to them were ignored by the male-dominated committee in which no female parliamentarian was given representation. In response to my query, the leaders of various political parties said the women parliamentarians of their parties lacked the required constitutional expertise. This is baseless, and there are many women constitutional experts in the country like Nasira Javeed, Hina Jilani, Asma Jhangir, Majida Rizvi, just to mention a few, who could have been co-opted on the PCCR. The National Commission on the Status of Women was also not given any representation. The lesson learnt is that these legislators should never be trusted by women.

There is also serious concern on introducing some of the clauses in the constitution that undermine citizen’s participation in governance and reinforce a non-democratic and authoritarian culture. The Article 17 has been substituted with Clause 6 allowing political parties to do away with the obligation to hold intra-party election for selection of their office-holders and leaders. This will reinforce dynastic politics, strengthening the already tight grip of the political elite belonging to feudal, tribal and capitalist classes on political parties.

Unlike the 6th Schedule which clearly mentions that election of the local government must be held every four year, the Article 140A does not prescribe any time frame for the provincial governments to hold local government elections. That may now be postponed for an indefinite period. The Constitutional Reform Committee has thus established the supremacy of the political ashrafia making sure the exclusion of people in matters of governance.

The entire process of constitutional reform was non-transparent. There was no information on what happened to the proposals sent by the public to the committee. There was hardly any discussion on the parliamentary floor and the 18th Amendment was passed hurriedly.

The failure of women parliamentarians to push women’s concerns into the reform package bring the point home that it is high time the women of Pakistan organise themselves independently and have a collective voice.

The writer is freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: farzana @comsats.net.pk

Source: The News

Date:4/15/2010

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