Women Empowerment in Pakistan
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Women Empowerment in Pakistan
2. Women Empowerment and Pakistan
3. Women Empowerment at global level
4. Causes of anti-women practices in Pakistan
a. Male dominance and discrimination on the basis of gender
b. Pseudo-religious scholars’ misinterpretation of scriptures
c. Feudalistic, Political, Economic and Socialistic system of government
5. Effects of Anti-women practices
a. Abysmal state of women
b. Honor killings, marriages with Quran, denial of inheritance, Watta Satta
c. Women as bargaining chips in customs like Vani and Swara
d. Harassment of women at workplaces and Trafficking
6. Pro-women legislation done so far by different governments
a. Domestic Violence(Prevention and Protection) Act 2012
b. Prevention of the Anti-women practices Bill, Act 2011
c. The protection of women at workplace, Act 2010
d. Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2008
e. Women protection Bill, 2006
7. Anti-women Legislation
a. Hudood Ordinance 1979
8. Need of Empowering women in Pakistan
a. Economic aspect
b. Social aspect
c. Religious aspect
d. Political aspect
e. Legal aspect
It is beyond any doubt that women play a significant role in development of society. History bears the testimony to the greatness of women as vibrant members of society. Even in the current scenario women have stood shoulder to shoulder with men for the general cause of humanity. But, it is unfortunate that their efforts have not been given due recognition in society. In the name of various customs, rituals and practices, women are being deprived of the legitimate rights. Consequently, women are found in the abysmal state. The need of hour is to give women workplaces and business environments that support and welcome them to improve society at a large; a mass movement that Pakistan desperately needs to help push it out of Economic and Social quagmire in which it finds itself today.
“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of house as prisoners.”
(Quad-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, 1944)
The Pakistani society is one of the different kinds, where on one side it places women as the centre of attention and life; it then on the other hand considers them no more than a secondary citizen. For years the role that a women played as a citizen, a member of family or a home-maker has been highly undermined and today it has turned into a tradition to degrade women’s ability. However, over the years this scenario has changed, and the awareness of her abilities, her rights and her status has reached almost all parts of Pakistan. This country was formed on the basis of Two-Nation Theory, which emphasized Islamic teachings and values, and is therefore called as Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Islam gives the best and most balanced code of life, but Pseudo-fundamentalists converted the teachings of Islam to read in the best interests of men and highly unjust towards women. Despite this the women of Pakistan has come a long way in proving herself. The lives of Pakistani women have changed during the past thirty years and they are more powered and emancipated then they were ever before. More and more women are entering the workforce today as their predecessors, who made the first time at the workplace and also made life easier for women, lent them the encouragement to do so.
The U.N Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women defines Empowerment as:
“Empowerment means that people-both women and men can take control of their lives; set their own agendas, gain skills (or have their own skills and knowledge recognized) increase self confidence, solve problems and develop self reliance. It is both a process and outcome”
By empowering women it is meant that women should be allowed to participate fully in economic life across all sectors and throughout all levels of economic activity. With the tagline of “Equality means Business” the U.N has put together seven “Women’s Empowerment Principles” designed to bring about a gender-equal environment in workplace and business. They include:
• Establishing high level corporate leadership for gender equality
• Treating all women and men fairly at work, respecting and supporting human rights and non-discrimination
• Ensuring the health, safety and well being of all women and men workers
• Promoting education, training and professional development for women
• Implementing enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practice that empower women
• Promoting equality through community initiatives and advocacy
• Measuring and publicly reporting on progress to achieve gender equality
With the passage of time and economic development women have attained high level of liberty in the developed countries. Women in said countries are enjoying almost equal rights in accordance to men. They have acquired such status due to high literacy rate, better infrastructure, enlightenment and sincerity of the ruling class.
Unfortunately, man has woefully militated against God’s commandments in Pakistan. He has brought down women’s social status to the level of a third rate citizen. Three main factors have encouraged man to do so.
Firstly, it is the physical strength and a false sense of superiority as against women’s physical weakness that makes her vulnerable to oppression. Man has enforced the law of Jungle where the weaker leads life at the mercy of stronger.
Secondly, it is the so-called religious scholar i.e. the ill-educated pseudo-scholar who interprets the Holy Quran in the light of his own gender prejudices against the women folk. Himself being man he preaches absolute property rights of men over women.
Thirdly, it is the feudalistic, political, economic and socialistic system of government that has taken charge of national affairs ever since independence. In the political field, this autocratic order has denied advent of democracy in the country. In some parts of the society, she is not allowed to exercise her right to vote. Restoration of right to vote has not much difference because she is not free to vote as per the voice of her conscience. In the economic sphere teeming millions are leading lives of serfdom. Denied opportunities to improve her economic lot she has been the worst sufferer. Dependent on man for every bit of her needs she virtually leads slave’s life. Feudalistic order has kept major part of nation illiterate but women have been left far behind literacy, knowledge, awareness and education. In some quarters even education is a factor that tends to indulge in sinful activities. It has therefore preferred to keep them illiterate and pious. In social matters man has successfully managed to keep her ignorant of her human rights. He has introduced devilish customs that victimize woman to accord her the status of domestic animals. The practice of Vani, Swara, honor killing, marriage of daughters with the Holy Quran, commitment of gang rape under orders of jirga etc are some of the examples of man’s inhuman treatment of woman. Target of all these social evils has always been woman.
Anti-women practices have adversely affected the status of women in Pakistan. The inequality and depression of women have negative impacts on society. The implications of anti-women practices on society are as follows:
Firstly, women are found in an abysmal state in Pakistan. When father is not a father and brother is not a brother, man has taken undue advantage of vulnerability of the weaker sex. That is the mark of his cowardice. When it comes to address women’s problems, father is not a father but only a “MAN”. He would hand over his child girl in marriage to an eighty year old man just to get out of a difficult situation in which circumstances have placed him by chance.
Secondly, the brutal customs of honor killing (called as Karo-Kari in Sindh), Watta Satta marriages, marriage with Holy Quran and denial of inheritance are prevailing in society. A real brother is not a brother but only a “MAN” who would kill his sister mercilessly just because in his view, she has disgraced him and his family. To deny inheritance, the father in collusion with sons, would marry his daughter to the Holy Quran. To get rid of an unwanted daughter or to get a daughter in law of his choice, he would give her away in forcible marriage exchange. This practice is called as Watta Satta which often ends in miseries and eventual breakup marriage; on both sides. Husband is not a husband but only a “MAN” who utters the word of divorce thrice in one breath and sends the woman home. Man makes her work like an animal and beats her up whenever he feels the urge to do so. Domestic violence in the form of physical thrashing and mental torture with which woman is treated is considered to be the birth right of man. Man who is ordained to protect women by the Almighty God as per teachings of Holy Quran and Sunnah, leaves her exposed to every kind of threat, fear, misery, misfortune, indignity, uncertainty, unhappiness that one can imagine in this life.
Thirdly, women have been used as bargaining chips to resolve disputes in disgraceful customs of Swara and Vani. Swara is a custom usually practiced in tribal areas, in which woman is used as a commodity to resolve feud between two clans. Similarly, in Southern Punjab Vani is a custom practiced in order to settle blood feuds. Vani could be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money called as “Deet”. Otherwise, the young bride may spend her life paying for the crimes of her male relatives.
Fourthly, women face harassment in society, especially at their workplaces. The bosses particularly harass them. Trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon. It is the smuggling of women for the purpose of prostitution. Many women are abducted or blackmailed from Pakistan to other parts of the world and intra country also.
To correct the despicable scenario, the law men sitting in the Assemblies have off and on enacted various laws to wipe the rampant social vices and customary practices that distort the fair image of women.
The passage of Domestic Violence (Prevention and protection), Act 2012 and establishment of Women’ Rights Commission with financial and administrative powers aimed at promoting social, social, economic, political and legal rights of women in Pakistan, who constitute half of its population is laudable. But, our history bears the testimony that commissions to uplift the status of women was made and they were not successful because they were not independent. It has remained a custom to put good laws on paper but a little effort in history has been made to implement them.
The Prevention of Anti-women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 is a milestone to empower and enlighten women. The struggle of women for emancipation and against discrimination has a long history throughout the world. Even in Pakistan, it is the high time to introduce a legal redress to ensure basic rights of women in society and to protect them against discriminatory traditions. The aim of this bill is to reduce injustice against women by discouraging several practices and customs in vogue in the country which are not only against human dignity, but also in contrast to Islamic injunctions. It is therefore, necessary that such inhumane practices and customs are done away forthwith and those who are found guilty should be dealt severely by providing penal and financial liabilities.
The Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace, Act 2010 is also an important legislation done to protect women against harassment at workplaces. The objective of this Act was to create a safe working environment for women, which is free from harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view to fulfilling their right to work with dignity. Harassment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by the working women preventing others who want to bring themselves and their families out of poverty. This Act builds on the principles of equal opportunity to women and their right to earn livelihood without any fear of discrimination as stipulated in the constitution. This Act complies with the government’s commitment to high international labor standards and empowerment of women. It also adheres to Human Rights Declaration, the United Nations Convention for Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and ILO’s Convention 100 and 111 on worker’s rights. It adheres to the principles of Islam and all other religions which assure women’s dignity. This Act requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal code of conduct and complain/appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for all working women.
The Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, 2008 was passed unanimously by the National Assembly, but, the bill lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within three months period required under the constitution. The domestic violence bill seeks to prevent violence against women and children with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt trials of suspected abusers. The bill includes protection in public places such as markets, public transport, streets or parks and more private places such as workplaces, private gatherings and homes.
The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendments) Act 2006 was enacted to provide relief and protection against misuse and abuse of law and to prevent their exploitation. This Act provided “Thirty Important Amendments” in “Offense of Zina and Qazaf” (Enforcement of Hudood Ordinance 1979). This Bill allowed rape to be prosecutable under civil law.
Apart from this empowering and enlightening pro-women legislation, there has also been anti-women legislation in Pakistan in the form of Hudood Ordinance 1979. It was a step to downgrade the status of women in the name of Islam. The Hudood Law was intended to implement Sharia Law, by enforcing punishments mentioned in Holy Quran and Sunnah for Zina, Qazaf offence against property and drinking. As for Zina, a woman alleging rape is required to provide four adult male eye witnesses. The Ordinance has been criticized as leading to hundred incidents where a woman subjected to rape, or even gang rape, was eventually accused of Zina and imprisoned becoming a victim of extremely unjust propaganda. This Ordinance gave woman the symbol of dirt, filth and mainspring under the sun has been heaped upon the poor hapless women. This was the abysmal depth where woman lay almost half dead some decades ago. But the amendment in Bill in 2006 had removed the major road block that stood in the way of women’s empowerment. Her rights received recognition and her status was restored as an honorable member of society.
Equal treatment of women and men is not just the right thing to do but it is also good for business. By accepting Gender stereotype and keeping the workplaces and business as no-go area for women, is an act which is weakening Pakistan’s economy. The need of hour hour is to rob both Pakistani men and women of the chance to improve their lives and perpetuate an unbalanced and unequal society. Following are some recommendations for the empowerment of women.
Economically, it is essential to identify causes that keep women subservient to men. One of the most critical power that men wields to keep women under his thumb. This power should be shared between the two. Joint ownership of agricultural land and all other moveable and immoveable assets should be made mandatory for a house-wife in particular. Income and wealth created by women should be her role ownership. Man should have no claim over it. Secondly, daughters’ share in inheritance along with brothers should be legally ensured in accordance with the mandate of the Holy Quran and its denial should be strictly protected from being usurped by her husband or the in-laws. Thirdly, the orientation of all public sector policies, programs and projects should be equally favorable to both men and women. There should be no discrimination.
Sociologically, the deadly customs of society will continue to have their sway so long as the inhuman system of Feudalism is not buried deep down from where it should never be able to pop up its ugly head. Feudalism is too firmly entrenched in this system. It will be eliminated only in the wake of a revolution. Until then it is the responsibility of NGOs that should spring up like mushrooms throughout the country and to come to the help of women. Highly educated, economically independent and politically emancipated women will partly be able to look after her rights. Feudalism has to be side-tracked to empower the women so that it refuses to be exploited by man, may he be a husband, a father or a brother.
Religiously, the importance of women and their success as human beings is measured with completely different criteria in Islam, their fear of Allah and obedience to Him and fulfillment of the duties, he has entrusted them with, particularly that of bearing, rearing and teaching children. Nevertheless, Islam is a practical religion and responds to human needs and life situations. Many women need, or wish to work for various reasons. Islam does not prohibit women working outside her home, it does stipulate that the following restrictions be followed to protect the dignity and honor of women and the purity and stability of Islamic society, the conduct of women, after all is the backbone of any society. Outside employment should not come before, or seriously interfere with her responsibilities as wife and mother. Her work should not be a source of friction within family, and the husband’s consent is required to avoid later disagreements. If she is not married, she must have her guardian’s consent. Her appearance, manner and tone of speech and overall behavior should follow Islamic guidelines. Her job should not be one which causes moral corruption in society, or involve any prohibited trade or activity, affect her religion, morals, dignity and good behavior, or subject her to temptations. These guidelines clearly show that a woman is not prohibited to go out of her home for the purpose of a job, if she has the right intentions.
Politically, the representation of Pakistani women in Politics is higher than India, Sri Lanka and Iran. Pakistan is listed as 45th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s list of women in national parliaments and stood ahead of several developed democracies including Canada, UK and the US. The only positive development thus far remained the relatively large representation of women in National Assembly, the Senate and Provincial Assemblies in comparison to other countries. Increased number of seats in Union, District, Provincial and Federal assemblies has partially given her reason to live meaningfully and lead an honorable life. This trend should grow to enable her participate in shaping the destiny of the nation in a big way.
Legally, the pro-women bills have been passed in recent past but the need of hour is to implement those laws to empower women. There is much weight in calls by women’s groups to set up an implementation mechanism because it is quite common to put laws on paper but there is little government will or sturdy mechanism to get them enforced, the creation of an implementation mechanism may be spur required to put these laws into practice and strengthen the struggle to eradicate the appalling customs of society. It goes without saying that the framing of laws and their implementation is only the first step towards reforming society and ridding it of Anti-women practices. A continuous effort from all segments of society, including public condemnation of destructive traditions is needed to create awareness. The challenge is considerable, but it is commendable that laws have been made to strengthen women.
In the nutshell it can be said that God in his infinite wisdom created women to play her role in the advancement of human affairs in her own way, and man was ordained to provide her protection so that she may perform her assigned duties with honor and respect. But man has subjected women to all kinds of exploitations i.e. social, economic and political. She became the worst victim of gender discrimination. The result is that half of the population that women constituted is put aside as good for nothing. The religious prejudices further made her life miserable. To be in her true self contributing to the advancement of the society in her assigned manner, she needs to be empowered in every walk of life. It is a globally accepted fact that when women have full agency and participation in business, economies are strengthened, societies become more stable and just, internationally agreed goals for development, sustainability and human rights are achieved, the quality of life improves not just for women, but for men, families and communities, the entire businesses’ operations and goals are pushed forward to success.
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