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Women need mechanism to implement laws


LAHORE: The Dastak Charitable Trust organised a seminar on Wednesday, where panelists discussed how to provide security to women in a dignified way, as well as steps and strategies to combat violence against women.

The panelists included rights activists IA Rehman, Hina Jilani, Interactive Resource Centre’s Muhammad Waseem and MNA Shaista Parvez. The session was moderated by Munizae Jahangir, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

Ms Jahangir quoted Mukhtaran Mai who once claimed that if there was any change that had come, it had not come in society, in fact it had come in women who had stood up against violence and injustice.

About Jahangir’s question addressed to her, Ms Jilani said the introduction of new pro-women laws had definitely brought out a change but mostly at the psychological level. She gave the example of the 2002 Women’s Protection Act, where the section of rape was amended which caused a huge change in the number of women in jails. She said there was a “100 pc difference” after the removal of the rape clause which often gave women the penalty as fornicators rather than provide them security and justice as rape survivors. These women were kept in jail for years without a sympathetic judicial system.

Ms Jilani said one major flaw in laws was that although they stated penalties, they did not give women the mechanisms on the ground. They did not, for instance, give women the mechanism to lodge a complaint. Often the legal system did not follow certain laws properly. The Muslim Family Ordinance was approved and passed, and was considered a revolutionary act of the time, but the authorities often avoided their implementation. Women’s real issue, said Jilani, was the introduction of a practical mechanism. She also said the provincial governments should also realise that they were responsible for the protection of human rights and that it was not just the federal government’s responsibility.

Mr Rehman said the mass media had not helped decrease the number of acid attacks on women. The reason was that the mentality of the people had not changed. He added that in fact women, by demanding their rights, were now in an even more dangerous position than before. He suggested that the best way to go about with the situation was to sensitise law makers, law implementers and the media. He also suggested that all provinces must have a council of common interest, instead of having separate laws and rights for their citizens.

MNA Parvez agreed to an extent about the slow procedure with which assemblies passed women rights’ bills, but also defended the provincial government, saying that work was definitely being done on those matters. She promised a new package for the International Women’s Day being held on March 8, when the Punjab Government would introduce a bill increasing the decision making power of women at all levels. She also said it was difficult to work on just one issue when women were plagued with different issues such as the lack of basic education and poverty which often affected their awareness of rights.Mr Waseem said that in his traveling theatre throughout Pakistan, he had noticed that poverty and education had little to do with domestic violence as it even occurred in educated and rich families.

Begum Zakia Shahnawaz joined later promising more steps to be taken on March 8.