By Mian Saifur Rehman
It is widely believed that a government, despite being the main instrument of state authority, is not the panacea to all ills nevertheless governments can’t absolve themselves of their basic duty to provide protection to citizens, especially neglected classes.
A case in point is the women’s lot. Culturally and traditionally, womenfolk have been at times treated with discrimination with a mindset that smacks of male chauvinism with the result that women would be subjected to harassment at the place of work and neglected in jobs’ quota while others at home have also been facing acts of violence. Despite the continued prevalence of these unhealthy, unfavourable conditions for women, little has been done over the years to remedy the situation. Things were rather left at the whims of individuals with that peculiar mindset to treat the women as it would please them as if women were their personal property with no rights, let alone right of expression or freedom to exercise their will in choosing their livelihood. In this manner, the womenfolk were in dire need of benevolent state intervention that is not a rarity in the modern systems of governance throughout the advanced world, even in those parts of the world where the forces of market, free enterprise and principles of lesser government hold the sway.
Pakistan has, during the recent days, made a bid towards this kind of benevolent state intervention as the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at Centre and the government of Shahbaz Sharif in Punjab have adopted certain measures that aim at empowering the women besides restoring their dignity and ensuring their protection in all respects.
Those in the government claim that the steps taken during the last three years aim at bringing about the women’s social and economic empowerment and these steps also include effective legislation to address women’s issues with a view to safeguarding their rights.
Moreover, for the promotion and protection of women rights and in order to restore the personal security and dignity of women and to give them protection at workplace, the Nawaz government has taken deliberate and conscious steps like reservation of 10 percent quota for women whereas, on the political side, 33 percent seats have been reserved for women in all local bodies which means more than 36,000 female councillors. In addition, 17 percent seats have been reserved for women in provincial legislatures and in the two houses of parliament. As for the government measure which confronted criticism from certain political and religious circles, it was the one whose objective was tackling the issue of harassment and eliminating gender-based violence.
One of the ruling party parliamentarians from Punjab, Parliamentary Secretary, Information, Rana Arshad, while talking to The News, said, “The criticism seems to have been unleashed by design and without going in depth into the contents of the relevant piece of legislation.
However, we have given them open choice to come up with any number of alterations, additions after identifying what in fact confirmed to the actual Islamic injunctions. We will wholeheartedly welcome genuine, reasonable proposals which would bring honour and protection to women”.
As regards the Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, it was introduced in the Punjab Assembly and subsequently approved as an Act, in line with Nawaz Sharif government’s vision and efforts to empower women. It calls for an end to all criminalities against women, such as domestic violence, acid attack, rape, psychological and economic abuse, stalking, and cyber-crimes. The 31 clauses of the Bill provided for an efficient system for complaint registration and penalties for offenders. According to the clauses, a toll-free helpline (UAN number) will be launched to receive direct complaints. It also calls for the creation of protection centres and shelter-homes, where conflicts and misunderstanding of sorts can be settled and help extended for reconciliation. So, the naïve, myopic understanding of the bill becomes unjustified because of this inherent clause of finding ways for reconciliation.
Therefore, there seems to be no justification to continue the smear campaign against this important Act, which is an endeavour in the direction of protecting the dignity and self-respect of women.
Even otherwise, Islam does not allow any form of violence rather it has given an elevated status to women. Any step taken towards women empowerment and protection should not be politicised as the women constitute half of the population and their participation in all walks of life is critical for socio-economic uplift of the country.
In many Islamic countries, including Malaysia and Turkey, women are working shoulder to shoulder with men for the development of their countries but in our country, we sometimes find resistance against participation of women in mainstream life. This attitude would not serve any purpose for the forward march of the country and also goes against the vision of Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Quaid once said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against women, humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”