Pakistan has laws that protect the rights of women, but the absence of an enforcement mechanism has meant that women are still deprived of basic rights, said Rabbiya Bajwa, a women’s rights activist and lawyer, at a seminar organised by the South Asia Partnership Pakistan (SAP-PK) here at the Alhamra on Wednesday.
“There shouldn’t be just cosmetic changes in the system,” said Bajwa, addressing the seminar on the state’s failure to protect women’s rights. About legislation on acid attacks, Bajwa said this had always been a priority for rights activists, “Acid attacks are terrorism against women,” she said.
Though parliament has taken steps to uphold the rights of women, Bajwa said there was a lack of attention paid towards “actual women’s concerns”. She said: “Most of the women in parliament do not belong to the class that actually suffers the most in our society.”
MNA Dr Samia Amjad demanded that a law similar to the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2012 be adopted at the provincial level. She said laws against domestic violence were needed not just in Islamabad, but the entire country. She said that despite their low representation in the National Assembly, women parliamentarians had tabled several resolutions on the rights of women.
MNA Sajida Mir noted that there was a lack of female leadership in institutions. There were more than 80 police stations in Lahore, but none of them were headed by a female SHO, she said, apart from the Race Course police station for women.
Justice (retired) Nasira Iqbal said it was unfortunate that the domestic violence bill had so far not been presented in Punjab. She said it was necessary to include other “vulnerable groups” in the scope of the bill to ensure protection of any victim of domestic violence, irrespective of gender. She condemned the assault on two women staffers at a polling station by a woman by-election candidate.
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Director IA Rehman said women should be inducted to the Election Commission of Pakistan. He said that women parliamentarians worked across party lines on causes. He said that equal pay for equal work and the right to marry by choice should be made fundamental rights of every citizen. He commended parliament for passing seven bills concerning women’s rights in the past 18 months.
SAP Pakistan Executive Director Mohammad Tehseen said that the current National Assembly had passed more legislation concerning fundamental rights than any dictatorship would have.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.