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Women’s commission bill passed by NA

Raja Asghar

ISLAMABAD: In a most significant pro-women move in nearly four years of its life, the National Assembly unanimously passed on Thursday a government bill to create a powerful National Commission on the Status of Women as the fruit of years of efforts of a women’s caucus, overcoming some last-minute hitches that held it up for a day.

The vote came after the adoption of 22 consensus amendments agreed between the treasury and opposition benches following overnight consultations, just before the house was prorogued after an eight-day session.

The bill, stipulating what the house was told a commission administratively and financially independent with powers of a civil court compared to some previous toothless predecessors and with a key role of parliament in its constitution, must also be passed by the Senate to become law. It seeks the repeal of the existing National Commission on the Status of Women Ordinance, 2000.

Its preamble cited the main objectives of what the government called the fulfilment of one of its promises for the emancipation of Pakistani women as “promotion of social, economic, political and legal rights of women” as provided in the Constitution and “in accordance with international declarations, conventions, treaties, conventions and agreements relating to women, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women”.

The vote on the 22-clause bill, as already approved by a 21-member house standing committee on human rights, was scheduled on Wednesday, but was put off for a day owing to changes demanded by PML-N’s legal expert, Zahid Hamid, who incurred some sharp criticism of his party by women activists of ruling coalition for his move.

However, as the house took up the draft as the only legislative business of the day on Thursday evening, differences seemed to have been resolved in what one negotiator said were three hours of an overnight meeting between the two sides presided over by Speaker Fehmida Mirza herself and some last-minute consultations inside the house between Mr Zahid and some members of the parliamentary women’s caucus, which has been pursuing the issue for more than three years.

The consensus was reflected in the unanimous vote on the final vote as well as on amendments moved from both sides to make changes in all clauses of the bill, including the procedure for the appointment of the commission after approval by a bipartisan parliamentary committee – as is done in the appointment of judges of the superior judiciary and members of the Election Commission.

With a woman of more than 15 years’ experience in working on women’s rights and “committed to the cause of women’s empowerment” as its chairperson, the commission will have two members — at least one of them being a woman — from each province, one woman member each from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, the Islamabad Capital Territory, and minorities, five ex-officio but non-voting members representing ministries of law, finance, foreign affairs, interior and the ministry concerned with women’s rights of not below BPS-20, and chairperson or a designated member of each provincial commission on women’s rights set up under provincial laws. A member must be at least 30 years of age, having experience on women’s rights for more than five years and “committed to the cause of women’s empowerment”.

The bill said chairperson and members, including ex-officio, would be appointed by the prime minister from among names recommended by the parliamentary committee from a list agreed with the leader of opposition in the National Assembly containing three names for each post – or separate lists to be sent by the two in case of difference between them.

The parliamentary committee of up to 12 members will be constituted by the National Assembly speaker with 50 per cent representation each for the treasury and opposition benches based on the strength of parties to be nominated by their respective parliamentary leaders, one-third of them being from the Senate.

FUNCTIONS: A long list of functions of the commission include examining the federal government’s policy and programmes for gender equality, women’s empowerment, political participation, representation, assessing their implementation and making suitable recommendations, reviewing all laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women and suggesting repeal, amendment or new legislation to eliminate discrimination, safeguarding and promoting the interest of women and achieving gender equality.

Other functions include sponsoring research, maintaining a database on gender issues, interacting with non-governmental organisations, mobilising grants from domestic and international agencies approved by the government, recommending signing or ratification of international instruments, inquiring complaints of violations of women’s rights, and inspecting jails.

OVATION FOR PM: Earlier, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani received a standing ovation from the treasury benches as he arrived in the house as a mark of appreciation for his appearance before the Supreme Court earlier in the day in response to a contempt notice.

But he left the house before the vote on the bill after making a policy statement on the state of the country’s economy.

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