‘Empowerment of women’ and expression of resolve to safeguard their rights have always been used as a slogan to win over the support of women folk by various regimes, political parties as well as women rights organization. But fact of the matter is that provision of equal rights and opportunities is still a dream for women in our society, especially in the backward and rural areas, despite the long struggle in this regard.
Although there have been necessary legislations as well as some modest steps in the right directions, persecution of women in one form or the other is still a norm of the day. Women are deprived of their due rights either in the name of social customs, family honour, cultural traditions or wrongful interpretation of religious teachings, etc. Protecting the rights of women, redressing their social and legal grievances and expanding opportunities available to them has been at the heart of the Government of the Punjab’s commitment to the people, under the leadership of Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif. Throughout its tenure the Government has responded to the call of aggrieved women against social injustices. In the course of exercising its executive functions, the Government has become acutely aware of inherent imbalances in our legal, social and economic structures that discriminate against women.
On the eve of International Women’s Day on 8th March, 2012 the Government has announced a comprehensive package of measures “Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012” that corroborates the government’s firm commitment to addressing the social and economic rights of women who make up half of the population of Punjab. The recommended Package has two aspects: first, it will provide ways and means to effectively safeguard women’s rights and second, it is expected to have far reaching effects on their socio-economic status by expanding opportunities available to them.
A workable, publicly accountable system shall be put in place that ensures that these measures are implemented not just in letter but in their true spirit. The salient features of the Women Empowerment Package, 2012:
It has been observed that rights of the female heirs are not properly safeguarded due to existing lacunas in the laws and rules governing land administration. Hence, after Inheritance Mutation, partition of the properly is being made mandatory through amendment in the law for protecting rights of women.
**Upon the death of a land owner, proceeding for inheritance mutation shall proactively be initiated by the Revenue Officer forthwith, without moving application by any of the parties, and shall sanction the mutation as soon as possible.
**Reference to CNIC and B form will be mandatory while sanctioning inheritance mutation so as to ensure that no legal heir is deprived of his/her Fundamental Right to Property.
**Upon sanctioning of inheritance mutation and without application from any of the parties, the Revenue Officer shall forthwith commerce proceedings for partition of land.
In order to ensure that there is appropriate operation against those delinquent officers who due to collusion, non-exercise of due diligence or mala fide intention deprive a legal heir of his/her right or award less share or less valuable land in the mutation/partition.
Comprehensive legislation will be enacted to provide assistance to the female victims of violence covering all kinds of gender based violence including domestic violence.
The following measures are being taken forthwith for the effective implementation of the law:
??The Government appoints an Ombudsperson under Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace.
??’Code of Conduct for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace’ shall be implemented in all public offices.
A Provincial Committee is established to oversee implementation of the Act.
I. An amendment will be made in the Poisons Act, 1919 to discourage acid throwing incidents on women.
II. Acid throwing shall be dealt with under the anti-terrorism laws.
A Provincial Board for Acid Burns Survivors and a Fund shall be established to recommend specialized medical and psychological care and its monitoring.
Government of the Punjab has formulated a policy for the Home based Workers covering the strategies, plans and programs for the protection and promotion of rights and benefit of Home Based Workers who mostly comprise of female workers.
Women Crises & Rehabilitation help desks at district level providing legal, psychological and basic health referral services shall be provided under the supervision of the DCO and legislated accordingly.
A 24/7 toll free help line shall be established.
The Punjab Government is giving proprietary rights under following schemes:
??Jinnah Abadi Scheme in rural areas of Punjab (approx 90,000 households)
??Residents of Katchi Abadis (approx 110,000 households)
??Regularization of residential occupants of state land in village abadis (approx. 700,000 households)
In all the above mentioned schemes, joint title is being given to husband and wife (50% share each).
??Amendments shall be enacted to relevant laws to enforce the right to equal remuneration/wages to men and women for work of equal value.
A Media Campaign shall be launched for raising awareness of women on legal issues and rights.
The following steps are being taken to encourage the role of women in public sector employment:
??Quota for women in public service employment including posts recruited through PPSC shall be enhanced to 15%.
??Women will fill 25% of general seats as Members of the Punjab Public Service Commission.
??All Boards of statutory organizations, public sector companies and committees as well as special purpose task force and committees shall have at least 33% female representation.
??There shall be at least one woman in all selection and recruitment committees for regular and contractual employment.
??Government shall take affirmative action to radically increase women representation in all administrative leadership positions (including departmental heads and key field offices).
??33% of consultants in Provincial Ombudsman Office shall be women.
??All women contractual employees shall be entitled to avail an additional chance of transfer to place of residence of spouse in case of marriage.
??House rent of only one spouse will be deducted if government accommodation is allocated and both are government servants.
The following changes shall be made in rules:
??Application of maternity leave shall deem to be approved as soon as maternity leave application is moved to the immediate superior
??Women will not be required to provide fitness certificate on joining after availing maternity leave.
??Maternity leave shall not be less than 90 days. Condition to avail 45 days before and 45 days after will be abolished.
??One week paternity leave will be admissible for male employees for two children.
Age relaxation upto 3 years shall be allowed to females for fresh induction over and above normal upper age ceiling including existing general relaxation, for the purpose of encouraging employment in the public sector and to enable women to join professional career after marriage & childbearing.
The Chief Ministers Day Care Initiative is being announced with the following elements:
??A Punjab Day Care Fund is being established to support working women to make workplaces women friendly on a co-finance basis.
??An initial grant of Rs. 100 million is being provided to the Fund for disbursement through an open proposal mechanism for NPOs, NGOs/CBO and public organizations. The Fund will comprise of independent trustees with Women Development Department working as its Secretariat.
??The Punjab Civil Secretariat will set up a Flagship Day Care Center.
??Day Care Centers will be mandatory in all public sector offices (including universities, colleges, hospitals and other organizations) with 5 or more than 5 female employees.
??Amendment in appropriate laws will be enacted to make it mandatory for all commercial/industrial establishments to have a Day Care on their premises.
??Daycare shall also be an eligible category for financing out of the Workers’ Welfare Fund.
??Guidelines and standards will be developed and communicated by the Women Development Department.
??Punjab Skills Development Fund, as per its mandate, shall finance training for developing skilled workforce for the Day Care Centers.
The Bank of Punjab announces a “Women Entrepreneurship Financing Scheme” for loans for commercial ventures by women for initiatives including: Day Care Centers, bakeries, eateries, catering, furniture, interior designing, boutiques, fitness gyms, event management, vocational institutes, driving schools, jewelry, clothing and accessories, and any other feasible projects.
??Rs. Two billion has been allocated to this scheme.
??Business Development Services will be extended by BoP. A panel of experts will be engaged for initial advice followed by feasibility study & business plan preparation.
??Job creation shall be one of the criteria for approval of loan application by the Bank of Punjab.
??Green field projects shall also be eligible.
Government of Punjab will allocate an additional Rs. One billion for the year 2012-2013 for disbursement of loans through Akhuwat with a target to support at least 33% women of its total beneficiaries.
??Career Development Centers will be established in all Public Sector Women Universities. Counseling facilities shall be set up in post-graduate college.
??Amenities for women shall be provided in all public office: separate washroom and prayer room be designated in existing buildings.
??All new buildings should incorporate proper facilities for women including washroom and prayer room. (Writer is Punjab govt’s Director-General Public Relations)