KARACHI: Women’s quest for empowerment and the challenges they face was the topic of an academic study at the 4th International Conference on Women Empowerment, held on Tuesday, in an effort to lessen the suffering of women and enhance their self-actualisation.
The conference was jointly organised by the department of social sciences at Szabist and Advanced Educational Institute and Research Centre.
Chief guest of the conference, women rights activist Anis Haroon recalled the setting up of the Women’s Action Forum in 1981 in response to Ziaul Haq’s restrictions on women. According to her, to rectify the marginalisation of women and improve their status in society, it is essential to make them an empowered political force.
“Basic rights such as education, health, right to work and right to marry, as well as family planning, are all part of gender equality. According to the Constitution, women are also citizens and they must be given equal rights,” she said.
The Constitution of the country extends equal rights; however, laws formulated in the country are discriminatory, she explained. There was an overt differentiation between men and women, and even between religious minorities.
She also spoke about how malnutrition was severely affecting children and how their growth was affected by it. “So if one mother is educated she will be in a better position to take care of herself and her child.”
Thinking that women’s death is unavoidable because of lack of access to healthcare during childbirth is a fallacy, she explained.
In this day and age of science, it can only be considered as neglectful and something that needs to be rectified.
Dr Syed Aziz of Health Canada, Ottawa, gave a detailed presentation on different types of cancer plaguing women, as well as highlighting the types of symptoms one must be on the lookout for.
The premise of his presentation was to not only create awareness, but also encourage a sense of self-preservation among the audience who would work actively towards preventing the different types of cancer.
Dr Severine Minot, assistant professor of social development and policy at Habib University, gave a talk on men, women and the role of emotional intelligence [EI] in their lives. She spoke at length about how research indicated that EI was related to empowerment because “it entails improved awareness of the self, of others and of the social/material conditions of our lives. These all are affected by each other”.
She said that EI was a driver of leadership. “Responses are mature, weighted, enlightened and profoundly meaningful within the frame of personal and collective well-being.”
Emotions and cognitions are intrinsically related and there is no separation between the heart and the mind, Dr Minot explained. “We think better in some emotional states and we think worse in other emotional states. In disruptive emotional states we have a hard time learning and thinking.”
Federal government official Sikandar Mughal spoke about how the law had evolved to include acts that protect women against harassment in the workplace.
He gave a detailed presentation on how a complainant could bring the issue of harassment to the federal ombudsman, which was then handled with care and sensitivity. He also said that individual cases were not allowed to linger and a decision was given in the shortest amount of time.
In the question hour session however, a few women raised several issues and shared stories where the federal ombudsman’s office had led the women who had appealed for help, down. In some cases, almost a year had passed with no decision.
Mr Mughal heard several concerns and complaints and insisted that on the federal level, strict protocols were followed, though this might not be the case at the provincial level.
He placated the audience and assured them that he would look into the complaints and closely investigate any irregularities or delays at the provincial level.
The performance of Sheema Kermani of Tehrik-i-Niswan was a powerful rendition of a woman’s journey battling regressive mindsets which had caused her to develop a debilitating medical condition that had left her isolated and ostracised from society.
Other speakers at the conference tried to explain how the concept of feminism is dictated by individual perspectives and can also be shaped by cultural narratives. But all were of the view that equality between men and women is essential for Pakistan to truly develop with regards to its social equality, health indicators, as well as improving the literacy rate.