Speakers at a women councillors’ convention on Wednesday exhorted the local government representatives elected on reserved seats for women to play their role in combating gender-based violence.
The Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, with the joint support of the Strengthening Participatory Organization, the Australian Government and the Australian Aid, organised the convention, bringing women councilors at district, taluka and union council level from various parts of the province.
The convention, which was held mainly to discuss the role of women local government representatives in combating gender-based violence in Sindh, was attended by a large number of women councillors from the province’s different parts.
Speakers, including civil and women rights activists, government officials, women parliamentarian and councillors spoke to various sessions. Themes of the sessions were ‘Redressal Mechanisms on GBV – developing links & coordination between departments and councilors’, ‘Gender-based violence – contributions of the civil society’, ‘The role of women councilors: past, present and future’ and ‘the role of political parties in strengthening women councilors.’
Speakers said that honour-related killings, domestic violence against women, forced marriages of minor girls and women in line with the local custom to settle blood feuds, early marriages, and kidnappings of women were common in the province, with many blaming them on the inefficiency of the government, law enforcement agencies and various segments of society.
“I believe we are in dire need to strengthen our bonds to make communication possible through networking,” said Nuzhat Shireen, the SCSW’s chairperson. “We need to break the wall of helplessness to create an environment which will help other women to approach councillors without any hesitation. We need to trust women instead of rebuking them, and that will only be possible if the councillors are well aware of the law and their responsibility towards its implementation.”
Sindh Women Development Minister Shehla Raza stressed the need for the creation of networks and said that a meeting would be held with the provincial police chief to sensitise the police force about dealing with violence against women.
She also apprised the women activists of various difficulties and ensured them their participation in politics. She said that women’s participation in politics was so difficult in the 1990s because of pressure from society. “When I was arrested for the first time in the 1990s as a student leader, many people were questioning my family about my political participation and studying in a co-education system in the university,” she said.
Tanzeela Qambrani, a parliamentarian from the PPP, said that councillorship was a key platform for women to start a journey in politics. Qambarani, who was a councillor in Matli municipality before becoming MPA, shared her experience of councillorship and said that in her first meeting, she was the only woman in the first meeting and relatives of other three women councillors were attending the meeting on their behalf.
She also said the Sindh Assembly had credited with passing the maximum number of pro-women laws, but unfortunately, they were poorly implemented mainly because of the women and people concerned were not aware about laws.
Malka Khan, an activist who has worked closely with women councillors, said that women were given 33 percent representation on local government bodies in 2001 and elected through direct voting. “But it is sad to say that now women’s seats in local governments have been reduced, and instead of becoming elected through direct voting, now they have selected on reserved seats for women by political parties,” she said.
Rahima Panhwar from the SPO said that it was heartening to see over 200 councillors in the convention from all the way from Thar. “Networking is one of the most efficient ways to combat GBV collectively. We aim to create a network amongst the councillors, allowing us and the wider public to better grasp the gravity of the issue. We have been playing our part by supporting the commission through monetary means and we ask all of you, to help strengthen the commission,” she said.
Farieha Aziz from the Bolo Bhi said the networks were very important because it was difficult to provide assistance from Karachi, so there must be a system in place to look after the legalities and councilors: “The network should also be able to respond on an emergency basis and it cannot work on a 9 to 5 basis because there is no fixed time for any untoward situation and it should be dealt with on such basis,” she said. Justice (retrd) Majida Rizvi, and rights activists Ali Palh and Zulfiqar Shah also spoke to the convention.
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