KARACHI: Experts at a meeting on Tuesday said that though a few pro-women laws had been enacted, their implementation was very poor, various laws discriminatory to women still existed, and that local laws should be made in line with the international agreements singed by the country.
They were speaking at the meeting organised by the Aurat Foundation to launch the NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW 2012, which would be submitted to the committee meeting of the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women to be held in February 2013 at Geneva, Switzerland.
The government had already submitted its report — which the organisers said was not shared with civil society — to the CEDAW secretariat. Prepared by the Aurat Foundation, the 152-page report has been endorsed by 24 civil society organisations.
The report says that over 65,315 cases of violence against women (VAW) were reported in the media from 2008 to 2011 and that the government-support structures dealing with victims were very weak, limited and under-resourced and apart from enacting a few laws, little had been done to put indigenous focus on eliminating VAW in the country.
Maliha Zia citing some of the gaps highlighted in the report said that in some places women were not allowed to cast their votes in the 2008 elections and the government despite knowing that did not act against people doing that.
She said many laws, including the Citizenship Act 1951 (which allows foreigner wife to get husband’s Pakistani nationality, but does not allow a foreigner husband to get wife’s Pakistani nationality), Qanoon-i-Shahadat, certain portions of honour killing laws, Child Marriage Restraint Act etc were discriminatory to women and very little was being done to review them.
She said various labour laws were discriminatory and not in conformity with various ILO conventions signed by the government. Besides those laws, including social security laws, also dealt with workers associated with the formal sector and did not address issues related to informal sector workers, who were in a majority.
She said the report had highlighted that the laws had gaps; VAW was increasing; many pro-women laws existed but were rarely implemented; many bills on those issues were in the national and provincial assemblies, but were being blocked; better mechanism was needed to be devised for the collection of data relating to VAW; and that gender sensitisation needed to be done at a mass scale, particularly among government officials, including police, lawyers, members of the lower judiciary etc so that they could handle issues related to women with a humane touch.
She said the report also highlighted that education and health budgets — particularly the portions relating to women — needed to be enhanced to halt the high dropout rate of girl students and high maternal mortality rate.
The Sindh secretary-general of the Pakistan People’s Party, Taj Haider, said the government should not sign international conventions if it did not intend to incorporate them into local laws. He said as the government had to submit reports to the convention secretariats regarding the implementation of the conventions, the country was embarrassed internationally if its reports showed non-implementation.
He said it was high time that society openly declared whether it wanted a progressive and democratic country as was envisioned by the Quaid-i-Azam or one that lacked tolerance.
Referring to the education and health budgets, he said that now sufficient funds had been allocated to both those departments. Citing an example, he claimed that a teacher’s salary was higher than that of the education minister. He suggested that the NGOs help the government monitor and ensure that teachers attended classes and doctors hospitals.
Answering a question regarding forced conversions and marriages of minority community girls, he said that a procedure needed to be developed that provided six months to a year to keep an intending convert away from all pressures so that he or she could take a decision without any fear; a person should be free to choose his/her religion.
Earlier, the HRCP’s Amarnath Motumal and Vijay Kumar highlighted the issues relating to forced conversions of minority girls, and the Benazir Income Support Programme which, they said, had turned women into beggars. They suggested that from those funds women should have been given some skill development trainings.
Iqbal Detho of SPARC suggested that the socio-economic impact of insurgencies and enforced disappearances on women should have been stressed in the report. Illahi Bux of the SPO said the report only talked about some of the laws, which was also important, but it should have reflected the on-ground women situation in the country.
Hina Khwaja said skill development and vocational trainings be provided to women to financially empower them. Mehnaz Rehman, Dr Masooma Hassan, Robina Brohi and Rehana Afroze also spoke.
The NGOs that have endorsed the report include the Acid Survivors Foundation, AGHS Legal Aid Cell, Christian Study Centre, Ethnomedia, Homenet Pakistan, HRCP, Institute of Development Studies and Practices, Insan Foundation Trust, Interactive Resource Centre, Khowendo Kor, National Commission for Justice and Peace, Noor Education Trust, Omar Asghar Khan Foundation, Potohar Organisation for Development Advocacy, Rozan, Struggle for Change, SACHET, Simorgh Women Resource and Publication Centre, Shirkat Gah Women Resources Centre, South Asia Partnership, Strengthening Participatory Organisations, Sungi Development Foundation, Sustainable Development Foundation, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, and War Against Rape.