LAHORE: In a country as politically unstable as Pakistan, women’s rights activists and experts say, adoption of legislation to protect women is only a first step towards the long struggle that lies ahead for empowering women.
“Passage of the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 is just the first step and should be taken as just that, because devolution [under the 18th amendment] has left much to be desired in terms of implementation,” Valerie Khan, chairperson of the Acid Survivors Foundation, told a seminar on gender-sensitive legislation held in Lahore on Thursday.
Khan was a panellist at the seminar organised by NGOs Mumkin Alliance, an umbrella organisation of 16 member groups working against violence against women, in collaboration with South Asia Partnership – Pakistan. Representatives from across Punjab participated in the event.
Participants agreed that determining a mechanism to effectively implement a law’s provisions, particularly at the grassroots, is the biggest challenge in the fight against gender-based violence. Police behaviour and indifference of society towards violence against women were termed as other obstacles by grass roots activists and political workers.
“An implementation mechanism is not clearly determined when legislation is prepared and that is the one link which can help bridge the gap between law and its implementation,” said Salman Abid, regional director of the Strengthening Participatory Organisation. He said legislation on the issue had been regularly taking place but attitudes had remained entrenched. “The ‘woman question’ needs to be internalised and the matter needs to be taken up as a national cause rather than as a question of gender only.”
Greater female representation in parliament was termed a positive development, but absence of support at the grassroots level was identified as a hurdle.
“The presence of women parliamentarians has been a driving force behind gender-sensitive legislation,” said Mumtaz Mughal of the Aurat Foundation, citing research conducted by her organisation. “However, following devolution [of the subject of women’s rights] to provinces, delays have occurred in creating gender-sensitivity among relevant departments.”
Mughal used Punjab as an example where constant shuffled in bureaucracy have led to inordinate delays in the passage of a bill on domestic violence, which has been drafted and tabled in the Punjab Assembly. “The bill will protect vulnerable individuals, regardless of gender.”
“The Punjab government is committed to passing bills on violence against women, primary of these being the bill on domestic violence against women,” said Begum Zakia Shahnawaz, an adviser to the Punjab chief minister, who was the chief guest.
A consensus appeared among all participants on the significance of local bodies to ensuring implementation at the grassroots level.
“The Punjab government should appoint a woman provincial ombudsman who is authorised to receive complaints on violence against women,” suggested Justice (retd) Nasira Iqbal.
“Men have to help create a space where the debate for accepting women can be generated,” said Bushra Khaliq of the Wise. “A girl, from the moment she steps out of her house to acquire an education and throughout her career, struggles against obstacles put up by society.”
Violence appears to be acceptable behaviour in Pakistan, said executive director of SAP-Pakistan Muhammad Tehseen Shah.
Grassroots activists raised the question of a lack of awareness about legislation among the activists themselves. Workers from women wings of various political parties, namely Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, participated in the seminar as well and criticised the ineffective implementation of laws.
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