Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced The Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2014 in connection with the international women’s day last week. The package aimed to advance the status of women in the province through safeguards, legislative action and increased representation in government institutions.
The Express Tribune caught up with representatives of women’s rights groups, the opposition in the Punjab Assembly and the government for their opinion on the initiative.
Aurat Foundation Provincial Manager Mumtaz Mughal said the legislation was welcome. The Fair Representation Act 2014 [passed in the Punjab Assembly on March 8] aimed to ensure women’s participation in decision making and amendments to the Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929, the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act 1939, the West Pakistan Family Court Act 1964 and the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act 1976 were highly appreciable.
She said however, as it has been in the past, the announcements appear to be just what they are- words. A similar package announced in 2012, which aimed to provide safeguards against domestic violence, was never completely implemented, she said.
Mumtaz said unfortunately, the government had not been able to pass legislations for women’s protection and prevention of domestic violence. The chief minister had then announced Women Crises and Rehabilitation help desks at the district level and a 24/7 toll free help line that was also not established. This time around the government has formulated a policy for home-based workers, covering strategies, plans and programmes for their protection, but has hesitated to legislate on the matter because it would require a budget for implementation, she said.
Mughal said, “We need political will and finances to ensure that we build on the progress we have made and do not lose ground.” She said awareness campaigns should be launched alongside government initiatives so women can benefit from the initiatives.
Working Women Organisation Executive Director Aima Mahmood said that the Fair Representation of Women Bill 2014 was commendable but had left out many important demands for the empowerment of women workers.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s MPA Dr Nausheen Hamid said the Punjab Fair Representation of Women Bill 2014 only targeted privileged and educated women by increasing their representation in statutory organisations, public sector companies, syndicates and special purpose task force committees. “It has nothing for women from unprivileged and oppressed classes that form the majority of women.”
She said there was no mention of the long-awaited Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Bill that should have been a priority.
She said legislation targeting home-based workers was necessary, “they do not have safeguards and are exploited by middlemen who deprive them of their rightful wages”.
She added that the government had failed to announce policies to improve the maternal mortality rate and the women’s literacy rate.
“The government did not share feedback regarding the implementation of the previous package. The Harassment in Workplace Act requires the formation of a 3-member committee and display of the law in all offices...this is not being implemented in most of the organisations,” said Hamid.
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s MPA Uzma Bukhari, who is also the convener of the Women Caucus, told The Express Tribune that they would ensure the implementation of all policies drafted to improve the status of women in the province. “The Women Empowerment is a step in the right direction,” she said, “We have made 33 per cent representation of women mandatory in all statutory organisations, public sector companies, syndicates and boards.”
She said women members of the parliament had worked hard on drafting amendments to the Child Marriage Restrain Act 1929 and the Domestic Violence and Protection Bill will be passed soon.
“We welcome constructive criticism but mere criticism for its own sake is not good,” Bukhari said.
Minister for Women Development Hameeda Waheeduddin told The Express Tribune that the initiatives announced by the government would help create additional 25,000 jobs for women in several departments, syndicates and boards. “We are committed to empowering women in the province. We are working very hard for the implementation of these initiatives.”
Salient Features of the Women Empowerment Package 2014
• Establishment of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women
• Toll free women’s helpline
• Task force to formulate the Domestic Workers Policy
• Revision of the Nikahnama
• The Child Marriage Constraint Act 1929, the Dowry and Bridal Gifts (restrictions) act 1976 and the West Pakistan Family Court Act 1964 to be amended; the Muslims Marriage Act 1939 to be dissolved
• The Domestic Violence and Protection Bill to be tabled in the PA
• Contract to operate canteens in women’s educational and training institutions to be given to women only
• Free vocational training for women belonging to minority communities
• Microfinance Rozgar Bank to provide at least 30% women small loans
• Space for women to set up small women-only bazaars at Sunday and Ramazan baazars
• Training programmes for 4,000 women from rural areas by the Punjab Skill Development Fund
• Establishment of 65 day care centres for children of working women through the Punjab Day Care Fund
• Helpdesks for women at every police station in the Punjab
• Scooters for working women
• Gynaecology Wards and labour rooms to be upgraded
• Regularisation of lady health workers’ service
Published in The Express Tribune, March 18th, 2014.
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