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Women ministry Rights bodies split over devolution

ISLAMABAD: Leading civil society and women rights organisations in the country are divided on the issue of devolution of the Ministry of Women Development and have decided to convene a grand meeting next week to thrash out a united position.

A meeting of the representatives of the rights organisations here on Saturday criticised those, particularly Aurat Foundation, for opposing the devolution of the ministry to provinces.

On the other hand, Aurat Foundation said it was against the devolution of the ministry because it can create problems in formulating uniform gender policy, legislation and in terms of fulfillment of commitments made with international organisations.

The Saturday meeting was attended by representatives of Mehrgarh, Pattan Development Organisation, AASHA, Bedari, Women Councillors Network, Potohar Development Organisation, Centre for Civic Education, Women Organisation for Rights and Development, Folklore Society of Pakistan, Gender Study Centre and some women rights activists and gender experts.

Later, through a joint statement, the participants “noted with concern” that Aurat Foundation had not only “criticised the post-18th amendment devolution programme” but also “termed the devolution of the ministry anti-women and unjust.”

The statement added: “We believe that mainstreaming gender within the devolution framework as well as setting up women`s specific safeguard at the provincial level is the only way forward and we fully support this process,” they said.

They believed that “people via provinces have the capacity and commitment to work for the benefits of all citizens.” Moreover, “the Constitution provides the basic framework within which all provinces can work for the rights of women.”

“We strongly support the devolution of the ministry for women development within the context of post-18th Amendment whereby most of the ministries are being devolved, it is vitally important that the mainstreaming of gender across ministries must be made the responsibility of the provinces,” they added.

When contacted, Chief Operating Officer of Aurat Foundation Naeem Mirza said his organisation in principle supported the process of devolution but it had taken the position primarily because it had concerns as how the gap to be created after devolution of the ministry of women development at the federal level, particularly in context of gender policy discourse, legislation and compliance of international commitments, would be filled.

He said the Aurat Foundation believed that it would be prudent to at least have some understanding among different stakeholders and women rights organisations to identify a mechanism to fill the gap.

Mr Mirza said a meeting of mainstream women and human rights organisations was being convened to evolve a common position and strategy.

Replying to a question, he said he had not formally made contacts with other organisations but believed that there were some mainstream bodies which would support him in the meeting. When asked to name the organisations supporting his position, he said they included the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Shirkatgah and Women Action Forum.

Source: Dawn