A ray of hope for women
THE government has taken a commendable step in reconstituting the National Commission on the Status of Women and inducting a number of women activists into this body. Headed by Anis Haroon, who has played a leading role in the women’s movement in Pakistan, the NCSW should hopefully be able to act as an effective watchdog for women’s issues as was the intention when it was founded in July 2000.
If the NSCW has so far failed to make an impact on the situation of women in Pakistan it is primarily because it had not been given the autonomy and powers needed to effect changes in the government’s policies and programmes. Although one of its functions was stated to be the review of “all laws … affecting the status and rights of women” in addition to suggesting “repeal, amendment or new legislation essential to eliminate discrimination, safeguard … the interests of women and achieve gender equality”, the commission remained a weak organisation that served more as an appendage of the government. Its earlier chairpersons and members cannot be held accountable for this failure because they were not empowered to play the role they were supposed to. It may be recalled that under Justice Majida Rizvi the commission had recommended in 2004 that the Hudood Ordinances be repealed as their enforcement had brought “injustice” in its wake. This was not done.
The mandate of the NCSW is quite wide and comprehensive. If the commission is empowered to play a useful role it should be able to achieve much, given the performance of many of its members in the field of gender rights. One hopes that the government will introduce the required changes to make the NCSW an autonomous body – at present it is a part of the women’s ministry – and grant it financial independence and ministerial powers to enable it to investigate cases, review policies and, most important, enforce its decisions. If similar bodies in other countries have proved to be effective, it is because they are more empowered. One hopes that the new members will make the empowerment of the commission their first priority.