Saturday December 02, 2023

Press for progress

March 09, 2018

International Women’s Day is celebrated across the globe on March 8 annually to recognise the achievements of women. This day also provides an opportunity to salute the outstanding women playing dynamic roles in various fields of life. The annual theme of this year’s women’s day, ‘Press for Progress’, emphasises the importance of gender equality.

Although the status of women in various societies is diverse, there are no two opinions about the fact that women are respected in every religion. In Hinduism, prosperity and progress is associated with the happiness of women. One of the central figures in the Hindu epic, Ramayana, is Seeta Mata, highly regarded among all Hindus. According to the holy Vedas, women are a gift of God, and it is the ultimate responsibility of a man to protect women. The Vedas teach that a woman’s primary duty is to help her husband perform the obligatory duties of raising a family. However, history revealed that Hindu women, like the Rani of Jhansi and Lakshmi Bai, also held pivotal administrative positions.

The mother of Jesus, Mary, is accorded the holy title of ‘the Blessed Virgin’ in Christianity. Similarly, Islam also asks to ensure that women are respected. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), in his last Hajj sermon, emphasised on being polite towards women. Sociologists also agree on the fact that human society is incomplete without women, and to ensure social prosperity, women must be allowed to play an active role. Despite all these positive teachings, it is regrettable that women still face oppression and discrimination even in the 21st century. There is no doubt that today women in the West enjoy much more freedom and liberty as compared to women in other regions, but they also have a long history of struggle for the protection of their rights.

Historically, the first Women’s Day was observed in New York in 1909, to commemorate the strike female workers of a garments factory had organised a year before against poor working conditions. But it was in 1910 that March 8 was declared the International Women’s Day at the first International Women’s Conference. This women’s conference was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, to make the most of the new wave of awareness. It was attended by over a hundred women from 17 countries. Finally, in 1975, the UN decided to observe the International Women’s Day on an annual basis.

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah was also a huge advocate of women’s rights. In a speech once, he said that, “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women”. The (mother of the nation) Fatima Jinnah also played a significant role in mobilising women for the Pakistan Movement. Similarly, right after Partition, the first lady of Pakistan, Raana Liaqat Ali, took effective measures to strengthen the nursing sector.

To mark this women’s day, different seminars, walks, and conferences were organised by government and semi-government institutes in Pakistan. Since the last many years, Pakistani women have been making significant progress. Their active contribution can be observed in many fields such as health, education, engineering, politics, business, arts, defence and fashion.

Benazir Bhutto, Asma Jahangir, Bilquis Edhi, Arfa Karim, Muniba Mazari, Malala Yousafzai, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy and Samina Baig are some prominent names that have made Pakistan proud on one international level or the other. The participation of women legislators in the procedures of parliament is remarkable. Dr Fehmida Mirza, appointed the speaker of the National Assembly in the last PPP government, Rahila Durrani the current speaker of the Balochistan Assembly and Shehla Raza, the incumbent deputy speaker at the Sindh Assembly, have all performed their duties diligently. These examples also reflect the political vision of the women of Pakistan.

On the other hand, it is a matter of shame when women are victimised. There are many heinous crimes that are reported on a daily basis wherein women are mistreated, offended, abused, oppressed and even killed in the name of honour. Forced conversions and marriages and honour killings are bringing a bad name to Pakistan’s society. Everyone should collectively raise their voice against these acts of violence against women.

The harassment of women at the workplace also needs to be given serious attention. Although legislation on women protection has been ensured at the federal and provincial levels, but there are still a lot of difficulties and hurdles in implementing it. A bill unanimously passed in the Sindh Assembly against forced conversions, failed to become law. Another bill against honour killings and rape of women presented by former PPP senator, Farhatulllah Babar, in the Senate remained pending for three years before it was finally approved.

To ensure women empowerment and gender equality in Pakistan, we need to introduce a democratic way to elect women members of parliament. A female member, coming in parliament through the power of the vote, is in a much better position to defend women’s rights as compared to some blue-eyed close relatives of the political leadership. On the occasion of this International Women’s Day, we need to ensure that all women are provided equal opportunities without any discrimination.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the

Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani