Eminent women rights activist on Thursday gave their recommendation on how to empower women in the South Asian region on the second day of the Aawaz Pre SAARC Women Community Leaders Regional Conference.
Chairperson Provincial Commission on the Status of Women Punjab Neelam Khan Toru said that the core issue women face is economic constraints, which can only be overcome when they are given equal opportunities at work and education. “The gap will not lessen until these issues are addressed,” she said adding that the implementation of the law was another pressing matter.
“There are beautifully drafted and legislated laws but the question is that how many of them are implemented. Not many women are aware of the laws that can empower women and the laws that protect them,” she said.
She further said that the women who come out in the political arena often have to face character assassination. “Somehow, women who join politics are looked down upon and this attitude is coming from both women and men, which creates a scare. There is a need to sensitise men and women to promote women in politics,” Toru added.
She recommended that gender studies must be included at school-level to educate young boys and girls about the role of women in the society. “The role of student unions needs to be revived because this is where the first training towards elections takes place. Moreover, as of now there is a 33 per cent representation of women in the parliament but there is a need to increase the representation to 50 per cent at the local government level in all SAARC countries,” she said.
It was also suggested that direct voting should take place compared to reserved seats. “There is no sensitivity at all and there is a need to come up with pro-women legislation and facilitation along with jobs and bills,” Toru said highlighting the need to practice alliance building with SAARC countries at the regional level and dealing with extremist views against women.
On a similar note, Srishti Joshi Malla, chairperson of Sabah Nepal, highlighted that there is a need to raise awareness of women-friendly legislation needs to take place. “There is also a need to strengthen institutional support to achieve the SDGs at the local level,” she said while mentioning that economic empowerment is crucial for women empowerment.
Gender Equality Manager OXFAM Asia Mona Mehta suggested that there is a need to have a SAARC-level network of community leaders across countries because it is critical for women leaders to share strategies and learn from each other. “There is also a need for reviewing laws and ensure they are implemented because in every country there are laws that promote women leadership but they need to be reviewed and implemented appropriately,” she said while stressing on the need to analyze the best practices, contradictions and the commonalities.
Mehta also recommended the need to continue building capacity for women in different spheres to encourage them to think and link beyond their countries and network.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 29th, 2016.