By: XARI JALIL
LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly Women’s Caucus held a meeting on Tuesday to discuss its one-year roadmap. The caucus is also supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) whose representatives were also present at the consultation.
The caucus system was announced on March 7 in commemoration of International Women’s Day with each provincial assembly having its own caucus, as well as one working in the National Assembly.
The caucus will have 78 members, basically all the women MPAs with Zakia Shahnawaz as its patron, Azma Bukhari (convener), Hina Butt (general secretary) and Naushin Hamid (treasurer). Marvi Sirmid representing the UNDP was also present at the consultation.
The caucus is meant to work beyond the party lines, said Azma Bukhari while explaining agenda for the first year.
“This is meant to collect women in the assembly under one umbrella, and to organise the scattered attempts of the women on the floor. The women are to work within the caucus thinking of themselves first and foremost as women and not as party representatives,” she explained.
She said after speaking to some gender experts and activists they had already outlined what needed to be done and had agreed upon some priorities.
Three main strategies were: introducing new laws, amending present laws, and most important implementing these, said Bukhari.
“We will soon be taking the chief minister, the speaker of the assembly and the speaker of the opposition into confidence. The opposition is important because we have women in the caucus from all parties.”
Some bills that have to be introduced are the domestic violence bill, bill to regularise women home based workers, reproductive health bill especially because of high infant and maternal mortality rates and connected to this a legislation which will push for important medical tests before marriage so that diseases such as leukemia are not passed onto the child, the family laws especially for minorities like Hindus who have no family laws.
Speaking to Dawn, Hina Butt said domestic violence bill and another bill regarding the protection for household staff especially maids would be introduced separately.
Bukhari shot down the fact that the Council of Islamic Ideology could force them to make any decisions regarding DNA evidence in rape cases or enforcing child marriages and second marriages without consent.
In a dismal ending however, reporters from various media channels and papers asked questions which humoured the issue of the women’s caucus. Questions asked ridiculed the matters at hand, such as domestic violence, and one media person even asked if the caucus was going to follow an ‘Islamic’ agenda or a western agenda, since according to him “in the West women were respected not loved”.
Marvi Sirmid told Dawn although it was a good start to make a caucus at a provincial level, the fact was that the caucus would face a lot of challenges starting from the media itself as it seemed obvious. “Media which is unbiased and insensitive will also cover issues the same way and report them the same way. Even in Balochistan I have not seen the press behave this way,” she lamented.