LAHORE: Speakers at a multi-party conference organised by the Awami Workers Party (AWP) stressed on Saturday the need for an alliance of left-leaning and secular forces to confront right-wing extremism in all its manifestations, including economic exploitation of working people.
They also vowed to wage a joint struggle against attempts by the religious right aiming to have the Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act withdrawn or amended by the government according to their wishes.
A joint declaration passed by representative of 29 political and social organisations and trade unions at the end of the conference condemned religious parties for preventing recognition of women’s right to protection against domestic violence and stressed the need for public mobilisation in support of a progressive agenda.
“Before discussing Punjab’s Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act, we must think in depth why it was criticised in Punjab alone despite the fact that more or less the same law was passed by the provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan,” Awami National Party general secretary and former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister Mian Iftikhar Husain said while talking to Dawn on the sidelines of the event.
He challenged Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chief Imran Khan to get KP women protection draft bill approved by the Council of Islamic Ideology that it had earlier rejected and termed it against the principles and spirit of Shariah.
Husain extended support to the declaration and urged the gathering to seek allies without parliamentary parties and state institutions. He said struggle for a society free of gender-based violence needed to be waged in collaboration with all like-minded forces.
AWP President Abid Hasan Minto said the law passed by the provincial assembly was not adequate to guarantee recognition of women’s constitutionally guaranteed rights and protection from domestic violence. However, he said it was important for all progressive political parties, social movements, trade union activists and civil society organisations to gather in support of the law and resist religious parties’ opposition to domestic violence and other pro-women laws.
He condemned the provincial government for beginning negotiations with religious parties to address their concerns over the law. He said progressive forces should not let the government submit to pressure from religious parties and weaken the institutional framework proposed under the law to provide redress to victims of domestic violence.
Minto called “absolutely wrong” the verdict issued by a five-member Sharia bench of the Supreme Court to declare agriculture reforms against Islamic norms, and said: “It was all done during the regime of Gen Ziaul Haq, who intentionally wanted this case treated in such a way.”
Women’s Action Forum’s Hina Jilani said the state could not be allowed to shy away from its responsibility to protect its women citizens from acts of violence. She said all crimes that affect women should be recognised as crimes against the state rather than against individuals.
Supreme Court Bar Association President Ali Zafar said that alongside street agitation against religious parties an intellectual battle was also needed to discredit their propaganda on pro-women laws.
Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party President Mahmood Khan Achakzai extended support of his party to the declaration and said his party’s activists would join progressive forces in their struggle against the religious right-wing.
Representative of several other progressive political parties, trade unions, human rights organizations, non-violent social movements and civil society organisations participated in the conference, including National Party, Balochistan National Party-Mengal, Jeay Sindh Mahaz, Sindh
United Party, Hazara Siyasi Party, PPP-Shaheed Bhutto and Workers, Supreme Court and Lahore High Court Bar Associations, Punjab and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, Pakistan Trade Union Federation and Pakistan Bhatta Mazdoor Union (Punjab), Anjuman Mazareen Punjab, National Students Federation and Democratic Students Alliance and Feminist Collective.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and eminent rights activist I.A. Rehman and others also attended the conference.