In defence of women
WE have just observed the International Women’s Day and expressed our resolve to unburden the women of the centuries’old bondage placed on them.
Women in Pakistan have been denied the enjoyment of a whole range of rights — economic, social, civil and political.
They are denied not only the right to education but also the right to decide matters relating to their marriage and divorce. Those denied these rights are more likely to be deprived of the right to legal redress.
Often abuses are compounded: poor girls and women are trafficked and subjected to forced marriage, forced prostitution or exploitative work situations such as bonded labour. These deprivations are manifestation of discrimination against women, especially in tribal areas.
Gender discrimination and harassment at workplaces is also common. Women have to face a series of physical and verbal abuses every single day on their way to and from their institutions and workplaces. There is a need to restrict inappropriate male behaviour.
Domestic violence, ie rape, acid throwing, burning, and ‘honour’ killings, is widespread. Trafficking of women for domestic labour, forced marriage and prostitution is rampant.
Another menace is the jirga system — the parallel judiciary system — which must go. Though banned by the Sindh High Court in in 2004, it is still a dreaded institution for women.
Those who perpetuate it be barred from holding any public office.
Courts must be enabled to deliver quick and cheap justice. Every second day a daughter/son or a sister/brother or a mother/father falls victim to the whims of the so – called justice dispenser called notables/sardars, including DCOs, DPOs and DIGs who settle disputes among the feuding tribes.
Another way to strengthen women, particularly in the interior, is to arm them with modern education.
We also need high literacy ratio among women because only good mothers are a great source for making a good nation. At the moment female literacy in Pakistan stands at 28 per cent, way below the Third World average of 66 per cent.
Also, the impact of food crisis in Pakistan has been drastic for the poor people, mainly women. Increased workload at home, farm fields, stress and pressure by men to cut back in food consumption by the family have severely affected the health of women and children.
As a result of food shortage and price hike, families are compelled to pull their children out of schools so that they can serve as additional earning hands for the family or share the family’s workload at farm fields etc.
The economic hardship has increased tension within the families leading to quarrel, domestic violence and even suicide or weakening the family system.
In Pakistan, one in 89 women dies of maternal causes. Two – thirds of women still deliver at home.
Balochistan and the coastal belt of Sindh have by far the highest proportion of women dying from complications of pregnancy, childbirth, etc.
To address women’s economical crunch and other problems, the government has the ‘Benazir Income Support Programme.
An amount of Rs34bn would be given to the poorest of the poor under this programme, which will be later raised to Rs50bn. Under the programme a grant of Rs1000 per month will be given to each qualifying household, through banks and post offices.
The government is also distributing agriculture land among poor women peasants/haris. It was decided that deserving poor women would be selected through an open kutchery.
The first phase of land distribution has been launched from Thatta district where at least 25 acres of cultivable land will be given to the families of landless haris, especially the poor and deserving women. It will be ensured that land in other districts is also distributed.
The government is also considering making laws in the various assemblies of the country to protect women and their interests at large.
Being a member of the Sindh Assembly, I have already placed three bills on women’s issues. They are: (1) Sexual Harassment at Workplace, (2) Domestic Violence against Women and Children and (3) Acid Throwing as Heinous Crime. All these are under consideration.
The government is trying to ensure the development of womenfolk in Pakistan on the lines visualised by Benazir Bhutto, a great fighter for the rights of women.
Member, Sindh Assembly Thatta