All Pakistanis must set aside gender discrimination and celebrate the National Women’s Day, a milestone achieved after great sacrifices by women activists, if the difference of gender discrimination is over, the country can be put on the path that would lead to development and progress, National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson, Khawar Mumtaz said on Thursday.
There were many keynote speakers at the seminar that organized by Sindh University Jamshoro to commemorate national women’s day in collaboration with NCSW here at Shaikh Ayaz Auditorium of varsity’s Arts Faculty Building. Dr Misbah Bibi presided over the seminar on behalf of acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Dr Parveen Shah.
The seminar aimed on reflecting the challenges that extremism posed to women in Pakistan & develop a strategy to deal with it and pay tribute to those women who remained on front in movements during one unit and dictatorship of General Zia ul Haq. NCSW Chairperson said the National Women’s Day had been celebrated since 2010.
“The NCSW aims at achieving gender equality in accordance with the Constitution and international commitments,” she said. “We examine policies, programmes and review laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women.” The NCSW also suggests the repeal, amendment or enactment of new legislation to end discrimination.
She further said even though women had achieved several milestones, “we still have miles to go before we can call it a day”. She deplored the lack of progress on the Domestic Violence Bill. She said not much had been done to stop child marriages either. Ms Mumtaz said the encouraging war-mongering should be checked.
The National Women’s Day should have been celebrated at a national level not by just the University of Sindh, she said. Ajoka Theater Lahore’s Director, Madiha Gohar said, “Extremism is a mindset…it ranges from verbal threats to mental stress and fear.” She said various forms of extremism were on the rise in the KP, the FATA, the Punjab, Sindh & Balochistan provinces.
“Traditions like Swara, child marriages and strict dress codes are on the rise…they have manifested themselves in opposition to education, health and political rights.” Ms Gohar said deprivation of inheritance and adopting a profession of choice were some of the economic problems the women of the country faced.
She also criticised the religious forces and held General Ziaul Haq’s so- called Islamisation policy responsible for the plight of the country’s women. Madiha Gohar further said that she had visited Tando Allahyar and was appalled to see that the flags of the banned organisations were hoisted in every nook and corner of the city.
“Sindh is the soil of Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai, it is land of Sufism so for God’s sake, don’t let the banned religious organisations work here freely”, she said. Tahira Abdullah, a speaker from Karachi, said Balochistan faced three kinds of problems: sectarian violence, Talibanisation and Baloch nationalism. She said extremism must be weeded out.
She said, very little legislation had been done to empower women in the last 10 years other than a toothless honour killings bill and an incomplete set of amendments to the Hudood Ordinance. Uzma Noorani, representing a women’s rights activist Shahnaz Wazir Ali, said that the state had surrendered its writ in every sphere of life. “It is a myth that foreign elements are responsible for the current state of affairs, that people do not vote for religious parties and that poverty is the root cause of extremism,” she said.
“Extremism in the Punjab is most entrenched in the middleclass…that has nothing to do with poverty,” she said. “People do not pay taxes but they generously donate to religious seminaries.” Ms Anis Haroon, an activist for women’s rights said, “You cannot empower a nation without making sure that women are given the right and access to justice. Women are the backbone of a nation…they are the future of a country.”
She said: Some laws and constitutional articles are among the biggest hurdles in providing equal rights to all citizens adding that some sections of the society were promoting extremism and terrorism in the name of religion. “It is too much now, we have to stop such activities, we (women) want freedom and get the right of education, health and other basic facilities,” she said. Attiya Daud, a Sindhi poetess, said the Sindhiyani Tahreek had from its inception adopted a clear stance on the issue of blasphemy laws. She said exploitation of the law for personal interests could not be allowed.
She said discrimination against women frequently started at their homes. Family, she said, was first and foremost responsible for condoning acts of violence against women. She said a real change at the level of the society was possible only if individual families changed their attitude towards women’s rights. Amar Sindh, a well-known writer & activist, said that rights of women, minorities and other marginalized groups could be secured only in a secular and a democratic society.
“A woman in every role, whether it is that of a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister or a friend, is a lot of love, affection, skill and vigour put together. There is no creature in the world as fragile yet powerful, as sensitive yet tolerable and as gentle yet resolute as a woman.” She said.
Dr Arfana Mallah, a prominent columnist, said that Sindhi women always led the movements whether it was one unit or Zia’s martial law; they continuously remained on front in a bid to bring the dictatorship to an end. NCSW member Kishwer Naheed recited her poem Hum Ghunahgar Aurtain (We sinful women) and received accolades in abundance. She recited some other poems demanding the women’s’ rights, honour and opportunities to move ahead. Malka and Amna sang women’s anthems and received appreciations and admiration from the audience.