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Need underlined to engage community for women’s rights

KARACHI: A sustainable approach towards improving the status of women in society is crucial to bring an end to growing violence against them, said representatives of rights organisations at a consultative meeting on Wednesday.

The participants of the meeting said that besides NGOs and the government, the role of religious leaders, elected representatives, residence groups, youths and medical practitioners was equally important to change the mindset of patriarchal society towards women.

The programme titled `Combating violence against women through community ownership techniques` was organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Aurat Foundation.

The speakers highlighted the need to involve communities to eradicating violence against women. So far the focus of society remained the victim of violence, they said, adding that time had come when all stakeholders of society should play their due role in fight for women rights. They said initiatives that emanate from within community were crucial for establishing a sustainable approach towards improving the status of women in a patriarchal society.

Mome Saleem, research associate at the SDPI, informed the participants of the meeting about the findings of a policy research study conducted in collaboration with the UNDP and spoke on how community could come together to end violence against women.

She said that unconventional role of men and affirmative actions by communities at the grassroots level were needed in combating violence against women.

While citing an example of community ownership technique, she said that during the 1960s, the women`s liberation movement began drawing attention to violence committed against women, and the Battered Women`s Movement (BWM) began to form. According to her, the roots of community mobilisation strategies to address domestic violence date back to the BWM. The movement organised women at the grassroots level to address domestic violence in their communities. It raised awareness about patriarchal social structures that promote domestic violence and highlighted the need for social change.

She said contemporary literature on the possible ways to address violence against women had laid emphasis on the need to look into community initiatives as a source of the possible solutions and there existed a paradigm oriented towards community ownership to combat violence against women. “However, such work has not yet come under way in Pakistan even though we have the requisite social capital in place,” she remarked.

During the course of her research, Mome Saleem said, she came across many case studies which embodied the principles of community ownership in violence against women. “Through a true interpretation of the religion and traditional values Pakistani society is conducive to the development of the community ownership though this has not been explored yet unfortunately,” she said.

Ms Saleem said that this research aimed at giving policy input to ensure the implementation of the laws by forming community groups at the grassroots level.

Different strategies to combat violence against women at the community level were brought under discussion. Those involving frontline force were given much support by the participants of the workshop.

Lack of safety nets

Through formal and informal institutions, safety havens should be established as currently the society lacked such safety nets for victims of violence, a participant suggested.

The participants also gave recommendations for engaging more stakeholders in the struggle. They called for inclusion of trade unions in the community groups who could help bring gender equality.

One of the participants was of the view that female religious leaders should be involved to bring about a positive social change. Besides, youths could also be engaged to help reduce gender discrimination in society.

Targeting media houses as one of the stakeholders for gender sensitisation was also stressed. Besides medical practitioners and other professional bodies could play their role in seeking justice for women.

The meeting was also addressed by Mehnaz Rehman of the Aurat Foundation Karachi and Munazza Anwar of the SDPI.

Source: Dawn