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Old Saturday, November 12, 2011
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Default Women Empowerment in Pakistan

Women Empowerment in Pakistan

By Tabina Sirhindi

Quaid-e-Azam said in a speech in 1944, “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 a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners.” The lives of Pakistani women have changed during the past 30 years and they are more empowered 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 work place and also made life easier for other women, lent them the encouragement to do so.

The supporting and opposing views with regard to working women can be analysed by taking into account various aspects of the society regarding the subject namely the social, legal, religious and the political.

Sociological aspect
Technological advancement has added to the urbanisation of society, yet the old customs and norms often act as impediments to the progress of a modern society. While many advocate women empowerment, others oppose the very idea. There are various reasons of the above stated attitude towards working women. Firstly, a woman who remains at home and can, therefore, look after her children in a much better and productive way. She keeps a check on their studies, is more aware about their everyday activities and is capable of bringing them up in a healthy way. On the contrary, a working woman is always busy in her work schedule leading to neglected children. A change of priorities from children to work makes her negligent towards her children.

Secondly, a woman when remains at home is sheltered from the callous attitude of other elements of the society. She is safe at all times and does not face any kind of depression as a result of such unhealthy behaviour towards her. On the other hand, a working woman has to withstand the teasing behaviour of men all the times—from starting her journey to work to the workplace itself. Gender discrimination and harassment at workplaces is common in almost every sector perceived as achievement activity. This leads to high depression levels amongst women shattering their personality and their productivity at work.

The advocates of working women believe that that they can contribute to the financial matters of the family. With ever rising prices and inflation, two earning people would surely help run the financial affairs of the family. Apart from the material gains, working women are self-actualised entities. They are confident as they know how to utilise their abilities best. This inculcates in them a sense of satisfaction and contentment, while the housewife often has a low self-esteem as she is financially dependent on her husband and is mostly considered good-for-nothing.

Legal aspect
Let's take a look at various laws or bill passed regarding women in Pakistan.

The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act (2010)
The objective of this Act is to create a safe working environment for women, which is free of 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 work to bring themselves and their families out of poverty. This Act will pave the way for women to participate more fully in the development of the country. This Act builds on the principles of equal opportunity to women and their right to earn a livelihood without any fear of discrimination as stipulated in the Constitution. This Act complies with the government's commitment to high international labour standards and empowerment of women. It also adheres to the Human Rights Declaration, the United Nations Convention for Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and ILO's Convention 100 and 111 on workers' rights. It adheres to the principles of Islam and all other religions which assure women's dignity.

This Act requires all public and private organisations to adopt an internal code of conduct and a complain/appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for all working women.

Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2008)
The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, but the bill lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within the three months period required under the Constitution.

Legislators from both opposition and government parties told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that even though President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani supported the bill, it was delayed by unofficial opposition from some ministers.

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 measure makes sexual harassment or intimidation punishable by three years in prison, a 500,000 rupee fine, or both. 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.

Hudood Ordinance (1979)
The Hudood Ordinance was enacted in 1979 as part of General Muhammad Ziaul Haq's Islamisation and replaced or revised in 2006 by the Women's Protection Bill. The Hudood Law was intended to implement Sharia law, by enforcing punishments mentioned in the Holy Quran and Sunnah for zina, qazf, offence against property, and drinking. As for zina, a woman alleging rape is required to provide four adult male eyewitnesses. The ordinance has been criticised as leading to hundreds of 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.

In 2006, then President Pervez Musharraf again proposed reforms in the ordinance. On November 15, 2006, the Women's Protection Bill was passed by the NA, allowing rape to be prosecutable under civil law. The bill was ratified by the Senate on November 23, 2006, and became law after President Musharraf signed it on December 1, 2006.

Religious aspect
In Islam the importance of women and their success as human beings, is measured with completely different criteria: 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. For example, they may possess a needed skill, such as a teacher or a doctor. While Islam does not prohibit women working outside her home, it does stipulate that the following restrictions be followed to protect the dignity and honour of women and the purity and stability of the Islamic society, the conduct of women, after all, is the backbone of any society:

1. Outside employment should not come before, or seriously interfere with her responsibilities as wife and mother.

2. Her work should not be a source of friction within the family, and the husband's consent is required to avoid later disagreements. If she is not married, she must have her guardian's consent.

3. Her appearance, manner and tone of speech and overall behaviour should follow Islamic guidelines.

4. 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 behaviour, or subject her to temptations.

The above 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.

Political aspect
The political representation of women in Pakistan is higher than India, Sri Lanka and Iran. Pakistan is listed as 45th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union's (IPU) list of women in national parliaments and stood ahead of several developed democracies, including Canada, the UK and the US. The only positive development thus far has remained the relatively large representation of women in the National Assembly, the Senate and provincial assemblies in comparison to other countries. Of the 342 seats in the NA, women now comprise 22.2 per cent of those seats. In the Senate, women make up 17 per cent of the parliamentary seats. This indeed is significant departure from the past considering that women are often discouraged from entering politics. Pakistan is also one of the 30 countries which have a woman as Speaker of the National Assembly.

The political growth of a country requires both male and female participation in the government affairs. Women representation in the government ensures that work is done for the overall good of the woman folk. However, the woman participation in the state structure calls for responsibility on the part of women and requires them with intellect taking up the posts instead of women who have been selected by their male counterparts.

Source: Women Empowerment in Pakistan
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