International Women’s Day has become an important regular feature in the international calendar of events and, in that context, it is heartening that the theme for this year is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women” because of its particular relevance to the status of women in Pakistan.
Today, without unrestricted participation of women in every sphere of life, no society can make significant progress. Therefore, we are witnessing not only a vibrant role of women, but also observing their significant contribution to the uplift of forward-looking modern societies.
We are also aware of the fact that the father of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, remained a strong advocate of women’s participation in every sphere of life. Similarly, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto emphasised the importance of women’s emancipation and it was the visionary leadership of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto that envisaged policies particularly focusing on women’s rights and empowerment, aiming at their increased participation for the sake of national development. Unfortunately, as a result of political and social apathy towards the mainstreaming of women, we still cannot benefit from the huge potential of these policies.
However, we have witnessed some encouraging developments recently, as the present democratic government has successfully revived the legacy of Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto.
The signing of the ‘Protection of Women from Harassment at Workplace Bill 2009 by President Zardari is a landmark achievement, aimed towards providing a better and secure environment to working women.
This legislation will be instrumental in helping overcome a major obstacle in the way of women who want to work. Moreover, it will help in changing our mindset with regard to women in the workplace. It is also worth mentioning here that the present democratic government has also been working on another sensitive and important issue, that of domestic violence. Other significant steps include complete administrative and financial autonomy to the National Commission on Status of Women and a 10 per cent quota for women in government jobs.
Similarly, the launching of the largest social safety net in South Asia — the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) — and declaring women as beneficiaries of the programme, could be termed as a leap towards the goal of women empowerment and emancipation. The reason for this is that the programme focuses on that segment of society where participation of women in socio-economic activities was, till now, more or less non-existent. At present, 3.5 million families have registered with the BISP and the plan is to double this number.
The programme is helping empower women because many who have taken financial assistance or vocation training as a result of it have been able to set up businesses of their own. Also, there is no discrimination in giving assistance to a family that is headed by a woman. Also, if I may add, around 10 million women have managed to obtain their CNICs during the last two years, in large part because that is a prerequisite to becoming a BISP beneficiary. This, in turn, has enabled these women to open and operate their own bank accounts, obtain a passport and so on.
One can only hope that these measures will help facilitate the achievement of the objective of socio-economic empowerment of women in Pakistani society.
Inspired by the vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, we have made considerable achievements. However, a lot more needs to be done and this day provides us with the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to continue the struggle for the empowerment of women with the same zeal and vigour.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2011.
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