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Towards women’s uplift

Like the National Assembly before it, the Senate gave unanimous approval to the National Commission on the Status of Women Bill, 2012, on Thursday.

Two senators, Jamaat-i-Islami’s Professor Khurshid Ahmad and Rehmatullah Kakar of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, did raise objections but not of the kind that could be expected from representatives of religious parties.

On the contrary, they wanted the relevant committee of the upper house to specify qualification standards for the commission chairperson to ensure that such a person possesses professional competence.

This is not the first time that a special body has been set up to promote women’s rights; successive governments did maintain women’s development departments in one form or another.

Back in July 2000, the National Commission on the Status of Women was established as a statutory body under the ministry of women’s development.

Two things make the present move more meaningful and commendable.

First one be the proposed commission is to have financial and administrative autonomy.

Second, candidates for the position of chairperson would be selected through an elaborate process of public notice, approval by the prime minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly as well as a parliamentary committee comprising both treasury and opposition members.

These measures will give the commission the independence that it must have for effective performance of its functions, which include reviewing all laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women with a view to suggest repeal, amendment or new legislation that may be required to eliminate gender discrimination, safeguard women’s rights in accordance with the Constitution, and Pakistan’s commitments under international covenants.

During the recent years, there have been some significant improvements on the legal front.

The much controversial Hadood Ordinance, promulgated by General Ziaul Haq in 1979 as part of his so-called Islamisation campaign, under which reporting of a rape case by a woman could invite punishment for adultery or fornication, was reviewed and considerably improved through the Women’s Protection Act, 2006.

Another important legal step forward has been the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill, 2009.

More recently, the Parliament passed the Acid Crime Prevention Bill and another bill against Anti-Women Practices such as marriages with the Quran, forced marriages and depriving of inheritance.

These legislative measures pretty much cover main issues.

The challenge for the commission in the immediate future would be to ensure implementation of all these laws.

There is progress in some other areas as well.

More and more women are now engaged in professional as well as sports activities traditionally regarded as men’s domain.

But a vast majority remains mired in oppressive, exploitative conditions.

Part of the problem is feudal traditions and lack of opportunities for betterment.

The former will regress only when there is advancement in the latter.

Any meaningful initiative for uplift, therefore, must focus on greater access to education and/or vocational training.

After all, the key to women’s equality is economic independence.

Source: Business Recorder