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Saturday December 04, 2021

Rights for women

December 28, 2020

In an encouraging initiative, last week President Dr Arif Alvi addressed an event held at the presidency on Gender Based Discrepancy. During the discussion, he spoke about the need to empower women in various areas and also ensure that the laws put in place to grant them their rights were fully implemented. He argued that, while most Pakistanis believed in the rights of women, as advocated by the Holy Quran, and the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, there were cultural taboos which held back women from obtaining these rights. The president was joined by federal ministers, civil rights activists and other prominent figures in the country, some of them via video link.

The president is, of course, quite correct in stating that the laws on the statute books need to be implemented. This has been a standing problem with most legislation in Pakistan. But it is also somewhat ironic in this respect that the new rape law, which has been widely hailed by the government and its members, was passed by ordinance on December 15 rather than put before parliament, debated, discussed and then placed on the books. What the women of the country need is legislation that holds true meaning and will and commitment. It is also a fact that we need to think about legislation carefully. A set of laws, guarding against domestic violence or which address the issue of rape or sexual assault are not enough. The main concerns of women remain implementation of law, as well as economic empowerment and the right to access information, education and health. This is still denied to them in too many parts of the country. Unless these issues are addressed, there can really be no hope of women achieving the rights guaranteed to them under the constitution of Pakistan.

The issue of legislation needs to be planned carefully, beginning with issues that young girls face right after they are born. We also need to look into many other areas and perhaps most importantly of all, convince people that women are as valuable and have as many rights as their male counterparts in the country. Women are still widely regarded as the property of first their fathers and then their husbands – and sometimes even their sons. Their right to stand on their own as equal citizens with their own right to choose is often underplayed. It is these issues that need to be urgently addressed. We must accept that women have a status that must not be denied to them. And beyond legal protections, there also needs to be social and economic change, which can guarantee that their rights will be protected and the effort to do so will be pursued at all levels of government and administration.