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Women’s rights: not always a donor-driven agenda

ISLAMABAD,February 14,2005:Tumhi qatal karo, tum hi muddai tthehro (you are the one who does the killing, you are the one with the complaint), recited Kishwar Naheed, on Saturday, in a meeting held in Islamabad to commemorate the protest march against the Hudood ordinance by women activists in Lahore, 22 years ago on February 12, 1983.

The Women Action Forum (WAF) had then been in existence for two years. Four years had already passed since the promulgation of the Hudood Ordinance.Shariat Courts were being set up to speed up ‘Islamisation’. A campaign for gender segregation on campuses had started.

The Chadar aur Chardiwaari (veil and four walls) campaign had been initiated. The hadd for theft, set at amputation of a hand was the law of the land. Public flogging could be ordered for minor offences and a couple found guilty of adultery was sentenced in 1982 to the punishment of stoning to death. Shirkat Gah, set up in 1975, along with the WAF, led protests in the streets. They were able to obtain the endorsement of the All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA) and Raana Liaqat Ali.

“We had had dictatorships before but never before have we had anyone trying to change the very fabric of society. Only one man joined us 60-65 women. Habib Jalib was very ill and running high fever. I fed him countless cups of qehva and tea and before we knew it he had written a lovely poem which he recited before the procession. We all marched down The Mall. Then the baton charge started. A policeman brutally pulled Habib Jalib by the collar (garebaan). I was afraid that he was going to meet his end.

“Quite a few were dragged down to Kot Lakhpat jail to be let off late in the evening.“We were not funded by anyone, we were educated women who felt very angry and took up the cause. In Islamabad there were very few working for the WAF. There are still only five of us on the WAF working committee”, said Nageen Hayat.

Until the late 1970s, ‘gender’ issues were not politicised in the sense that the entire society agreed on female equity and empowerment. But this changed when General Zia ul Haq came into power. Since then much progress has been made in the reverse direction.

“We have twice had a woman head of government, but nothing happened,” said Kishwar Naheed to the audience of more than 150 at the Community Centre in Islamabad. Of the legislation last year, speakers at the seminar said it was too little and had come too late.

Accepting the suggestion of one speaker, the participants of the meeting agreed that the recommendations made two years ago by the National Commission on the Status of Women must be taken up. The meeting ended with a call for another march to protest the rape at Sui and the amendments to reduce the number of seats in the local government tiers that would adversely affect women’s representation.

Nageen Hayat, the WAF working committee convenor, then read out the following joint statement: “At the call of Women’s Action Forum, the Joint Action Committee for Citizens’ Rights (JAC) and the Citizens’ Action Group Against ‘Honour’ Killings (CAGAHK) join in observing Pakistani Women’s Day, in commemoration of the infamous police brutality and illegal action against a group of unarmed women activists peacefully exercising their basic human right to demonstrate against the proposed Qanoon-e-Shahadat (Law of Evidence) outside the Lahore High Court, at the height of General Zia ul Haq’s martial law regime on February 12, 1983.

“Progressive groups of gender, human rights and peace activists note, with the gravest concern, the continuing denial of, and the serious deterioration in women’s rights in particular, and basic human rights and civil liberties in Pakistan in general. The rise in cases of violence against women, especially rape and so-called “honour” killings is alarming. We strongly condemn the government’s response to the horrific case of the rape of a woman doctor in Sui, Balochistan:

(i) its attempt to cover up the involvement of her male colleagues — doctors belonging to the military establishment; and (ii) (ii) its inaction regarding a local jirga’s declaring her a “kari” and thus under a serious threat of falling victim to “honour” killing — are particularly reprehensible.

“The Women’s Action Forum and other progressive groups and sections of Pakistani society take strong exception to the retrogressive provisions and the omissions in the law relating to ‘honour’ killings and violence against women, as passed by the National Assembly in October 2004, by the Senate in December 2004, and assented by the President of Pakistan in January 2005. We urgently call for an amendment to this law, incorporating our longstanding demands as follows: “Compoundability: the law fails to remove the provision for compoundability through compromise and waiver of Qisas, thus laying the door open to muafinamas and raazinamas, as the perpetrators are most often also the guardians, heirs and close relatives of the victims. We demand that compoundability and waiver of qisas or ta’azir be deleted from the law.

“Role of the state as wali: we demand that the state must assume the role of wali in cases of ‘honour’ killings and ‘honour’ crimes; it must assume full responsibility for the registration, investigation and prosecution of all cases of ‘honour’ killings and other ‘honour’ crimes.

“We demand that the law lay down a strong provision for punishment for the use of the pretext of “sudden and grave provocation” by perpetrators of “honour” killings and crimes, and forbid the permissibility of this pretext by gender-biased sections of the police and judiciary.

“WAF joins civil society groups in strongly condemning the federal government’s proposal to decrease the number of Union Council seats from 21 to 13 for the forthcoming local government elections. Such a regressive move will result in a corresponding decrease of reserved seats for women, although the much-touted 33 percent quota will be retained. Women’s representation will come down to 18,066 from the current figure of 36,132 women councillors. We demand that the proposed cut be abolished and the original number of seats be retained. Likewise, the number of reserved seats for non-Muslim Pakistanis, peasants and labour categories will also be decreased substantially and we demand that the original number be retained.

“We strongly reiterate our long-standing demands for the immediate repeal of all discriminatory and retrogressive legislation, e.g. Hudood Ordinances (especially the Zina Ordinance), Qanoon-e-Shahadat, qisas and diyat provisions, Blasphemy law, Shariah Act, and others which militate against our struggle for the achievement of gender equality, social justice, human rights, and, above all, peace. We call upon all progressive and committed individuals and groups to join us in our ongoing struggle.” ayesha shaukat

Source: Daily Times


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