Gone are the days when women were confined to the four walls of their houses and not allowed to step out in the real world. Today, they have picked up a faster pace than ever, in becoming more aware about their rights and role in the society. With 59.46 percent of the country’s population living in rural areas, and women making 49% of the entire population, it becomes extremely important to recognise their rights and ensure their well-being.
To talk about Punjab, it is true that incidents of violence, forced marriages, maternal mortality rate, occupational hazards, and barriers to obtaining legal help have stalled women’s progress, especially, in the rural areas. Barriers to women’s access to economic uplift and opportunity remain the main hurdle preventing any government from truly enabling 49% of its population from realizing their true socio-economic potential. Female labour force participation remains as low as 27.8%. Moreover, these barriers for women accessing economic opportunities further propagate other gender disparities especially in attaining social justice.
But, as much as these problems continue to raise an alarm, it cannot be denied that exceptional efforts have been undertaken for the socio-economic empowerment of women. In this regard, Women Development Department in Punjab stands out as a crucial entity in ensuring women’s empowerment.
With the new PTI government on board, and its ambitious 100-day reform agenda, the WDD is actively playing a role to create its own identity as a Department targeting the economic empowerment of women through core service delivery initiatives. To propagate the PTI government’s vision of creating an enabling environment for women aspiring to contribute to the economy, the Department aims to implement socio-economic empowerment of women for inclusive sustainable development.
Realizing that women are expected to choose between career and familial priorities in the prevailing patriarchal norms in the country, the Department has sought to expand and establish both working women’s hostels and day care facilities.
Policy for creation of a regulatory framework for women’s residential facilities in the private sector complete with provision of direct subsidy to working women for cost of rent through e-vouchers are planned. Moreover, Punjab Working Women Hostels Regulatory Authority is further planned to be established. The Authority shall be mandated to issue licenses to private women hostels, standardize facilities according to categories, conduct inspections and monitor the accommodations for safety and security of female residents. Incentives shall be offered to hostel owners to encourage their enlistment with the Authority. Women Development Department shall not only generate revenue through license issuance and renewal fees, but shall also create income opportunities for women staff members to be employed by the hostel management. This will make the Department a revenue generating entity.
Moreover, the Department has already begun work on the Punjab Day Care Fund Society (PDCF). The vision behind PDCF is the realization of the increase in number of women in the labour market and a need to facilitate them by sustaining their participation. PDCF grants will be mandatorily available for all licensed hostels under the new regulatory authority.
Besides enhancement of core service delivery, numerous cross sectoral initiatives have been proposed by WDD, including protection of women agricultural workers and incentives for sportswomen.
For universities that offer a sports quota in their admissions, WDD proposes an increase in the number of seats for females to encourage women to be more active in sports and thus, more women will get higher education. In Punjab, a considerable number of female students have emerged as athletes in the previous years. It is important to encourage this trend as it strengthens mental and physical abilities and leads to a positive self and body image.
Moreover, gender champions’ initiative is being launched to identify individuals who work for gender equality and facilitate the creation of a conducive environment within their schools, colleges and workplaces. WDD aims to empower around 100 gender champions who will take various pledges to further this goal.
Another notable action being taken by WDD, is their approach to bring legislative changes to empower women. In consultation with various departments, it has pointed out a need for change in around 13 laws. These include The Child Marriage Restraint 1929 Act, Punjab Fair Representation of Women Act 2014, Punjab Industrial Workers Act 2018, Punjab Mental Health Ordinance 2001, Zakat & Ushr Act 2018 etc. New legislations are being introduced including Domestic Workers Act 2018 and Home-based Workers Act 2018. The legislative reform agenda has further been shared with the federal government to further include provincial legislations for women’s protection and empowerment as part of federal legislative reform agenda.
Since its inception, WDD has made great strides in ensuring recognition of women. Its special institution, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), has emerged as another medium that touches the lives of women at the grassrootslevel. Under its purview, around 7000 Nikah registrars have been trained about the Nikkah Nama’s proper filing and existing pro women laws. It has also produced a gender management information system which acts as a computerized repository of women highlighting their status across all districts. Other than that, its helpline 1043 also encourages women to raise their voices in case of violence or other criminal offence.
Today, women in Punjab stand more informed and more resilient in the face of the bias and atrocities they face. Most of the credit goes to these organisations that have garnered the support of provincial government to introduce long term changes that positively impact a woman’s life. If such efforts continue, we are not too far from the time, when recognition and empowerment is ubiquitous across entire Punjab.
Fazeel Asif is the Head of the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit which is overseeing implementation of the 100 days Reform agenda by different departments of the Government of Punjab.