An independent NCSW
HOW effective has the National Commission on the Status of Women been? Set up in 2000 as an autonomous body to review discriminatory laws and make suggestions for equalising socio-economic opportunities, its recommendations to repeal the Hudood Ordinances, for instance, were never given the due attention they deserved. Instead, a watered-down version of the women’s bill was passed last year.
Is it then the fault of the commission that it has not taken up as many discriminatory laws as it could have? The government is signatory to many international laws that require it to end gender discrimination and move towards empowering women but it has failed to honour commitments like CEDAW. That the NCSW was without a chairperson for over eight months two years ago is a good indicator of the government’s low commitment to women’s issues. It is particularly disappointing, given the increased representation of women legislators in the assemblies from whom it was hoped one would see a momentum on women’s issues. Meanwhile the commission has – and had – in its ranks some courageous and outspoken people who have aired their views, without fear of reprisal; but beyond making recommendations, they can do nothing. This explains the growing demand for the commission to be made independent so that it can take up issues, without interference or pressure from government quarters, and then work towards providing solutions to those problems. This demand was made on Friday in Karachi at a meeting organised by the Aurat Foundation.
It makes sense to have an autonomous body, along the lines of the one in India which is now so powerful that it can call on any government official when it is addressing a petition. The Indian model may be a good place to start, particularly in understanding its working, sources of funding and so forth. The government also stands to benefit from having an independent body which will be committed to ensuring that no discriminatory laws are enacted. Such watchdog committees are needed in the country. An independent commission will still have to work with the government in redressing many of the issues that require a change in the laws – be it the citizenship act or the law of evidence. The commission can also be a powerful lobbying force that parliamentarians can turn to when drumming up support for a repeal of laws.