ISLAMABAD: Countries cannot progress when half their populations are marginalised and mistreated, said wife of the ambassador of the United States Dr Marilyn Wyatt.
She was speaking at a roundtable discussion, “Sharing Perspective: Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence,” organised by the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, in collaboration with the US Embassy here on Wednesday.
She said that women are better able to lift their families and communities if they are accorded their rights and equal opportunities in education, healthcare, employment and political participation.
Protection of women’s rights is a life-long priority for the US, she said, adding that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often says, “Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
“Gender-based violence is not solely a women’s issue; it affects all of society. It affects families, men and women, boys and girls.
It is a development issue, humanitarian issue and security issue,” she said.
Dr Wyatt added that she had been in Pakistan for only a month but had met a number of impressive women who were building awareness about women’s rights and working hard to ensure that legislation is enacted to protect these rights. “In just the past few months, here in Pakistan, legislation against sexual harassment was enacted. This was the work of many committed people, primarily women,” she said, adding that the next challenge will be the implementation and steps are being taken on this as well.
“We have learnt in the United States that legislation alone is not enough to ensure progress towards protecting women’s rights. It takes all parts of society to change attitudes and identify weaknesses,” she added.
Wyatt underlined the need for training police officers to recognise gender-based violence, hotlines to report incidents, and school administrators and company HR officers to investigate women’s complaints.
For the purpose, she said, the US Embassy is helping to impart training to police officers on gender-based violence awareness and prevention. “We are supporting women’s shelters across Pakistan and are working with NGOs to ensure male engagement in preventing violence against women,”she said. Besides, she said, we are also working on the economic empowerment of women because studies show that women who control their own resources are much less vulnerable to being targeted because of their gender.
She further said that there is also a need to train the media in bringing the issue into police dialogue.
Students and faculty members of Quaid-i-Azam University also participated in the discussion and pinpointed factors responsible for gender violence and violation of human rights in the society.
The consensus was that poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness and social and cultural taboos are responsible for the violence against women, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas of the country.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2010.