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Women’s access to justice: ‘change is gradual but it is happening’

Women’s access to justice: ‘change is gradual but it is happening’

KARACHI: The issues of women’s access to justice and effective implementation of pro-women laws were discussed at a regional dialogue organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) in collaboration with Centre for Peace and Justice Pakistan at a hotel here on Wednesday.

After the representatives of departments such as the Social Welfare Department and Women’s Development Department had spoken about their work for women, MPA Mehtab Akbar Rashdi remarked that all such departments looked good on paper but they were faced with a lot of challenges.

“Starting from lack of funding, the CSS officers appointed secretaries soon get tired of getting through to the bureaucracy and lose interest in their work. No funding, no offices, no intent in government departments and hence no empowerment of women,” she said.

About the laws made to provide justice to women and the issues coming in the way of their implementation, she said there was a need for sensitising of the police officer, who first received a woman’s complaint and up to the judge who heard her case. “No, you are not to dismiss her by calling an act of violence against her, her personal matter. What if your sister or daughter finds herself in such a difficult situation?”

“Here if the assembly says that DNA evidence is accepted in sexual assault cases, or if it increases the age of marriage and in the case of a second marriage makes the first wife’s consent mandatory, we have our religious scholars bringing in the Shariat to veto everything. How can they bring up Shariat while forgetting about the status given to women in Islam?” she said.

“There are numerous examples of giving respect to women and supporting their rights by the Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him], which they must not forget. Throughout history, there are so many other examples, too, of strong Muslim women standing up for their rights. The problem with us womenfolk now is that we are asking for justice in this unjust society.”

Anis Haroon, convener of the Women Action Forum representing Sindh in the National Human Rights Commission, said that still one should remain positive as there had been some work done that had helped women. “So many women used to be imprisoned under the Zina Ordinance but after it was taken to the penal court there is not a single woman in jail today under the Zina Ordinance. The developing of the Domestic Violence Act, now, will also lead to good things,” she said.

Retired Justice Majida Rizvi, chairperson of the Sindh Human Rights Commission, also said that she preferred looking at the brighter side. “The passing of these laws have made some difference. So many childhood marriages have been stopped and people have been sent to jail for it. I know the change is gradual but it is happening,” she said.

Uzma Noorani, managing trustee of the Panah shelter, said that a woman who stood up for her rights was not viewed as decent so there was a huge need to change the attitudes and mindsets. She also requested relevant people to not call murders of women in the name of honour ‘honour killings’. “They are murders, plain and simple! There is no need to associate ‘honour’ with such murders,” she said.

Former president of the Karachi Press Club Imtiaz Faran also suggested the term ‘honour killing’ be changed to ‘terror killing’.

Supreme Court Advocate Ghulam Mustafa Lakho lamented that women’s testimony in courts was still considered as half proof. “The laws are there but they will remain useless if you don’t know how to put them to use,” he said.

Shahida Mangi of Centre for Peace and Justice Pakistan, Zenia Shaukat of Sindh Human Rights Commission, Mussarat Jabeen of Women Development Dept, Riaz Fatima of Social Welfare Dept, Mahpara Shakeel Ghouri of Capacity Building-GEP, Shazia Shaheen and Naseer Memon of the SPO and former senator Javed Jabbar also spoke.

Dawn

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