Empowerment of women
In his message on International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif said: “The government is committed to ensuring empowerment of women, as their participation in all walks of life is necessary for sustainable development”. This day, indeed, symbolizes achievements as a result of the struggle waged by women over centuries to realize their social and economic rights. On 8th March 1857, women workers from clothing and textile factories staged a protest in New York City against poor working conditions and low wages. The protestors were attacked and dispersed by police. In 1908, 15000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better wages and voting rights. However, after the 2nd World War with the establishment of United Nations, women’s rights were recognized at international level.
In Pakistan, the obstacles to women’s equal participation in governance are deeply embedded in South Asian culture. In the bureaucratic and political institutions, their participation is restricted due to patriarchal nature of the society and the fact that politics is seen as a lucrative source of income and power which men attempt to control. This trend, however, is being reversed as more and more educated, talented and motivated women are entering into the field. In 2002, reserved seats for women seats in national assembly, provincial assemblies and senate were increased. Today, women have 60 seats in the National Assembly instead of 20 in the past. In addition to their representation in assemblies and senate, they have representation right up to Union Councils’ level.
There is no denying the fact that a woman is an indispensable and basic unit that ensures continuation of human race; and also guarantees its survival. Article 25 of the 1973 constitution, which was exhaustively debated and unanimously passed by democratically and directly elected legislature of Pakistan reads: “All citizens are equal before the law, and are entitled to equal protection by the law. And there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender alone”. A lot has yet to be done to restore the status of women in the light of original 1973 constitution, as Article 34 of the constitution provides: “Steps shall be taken to ensure the full participation of women in all spheres of national life”. Yet, women had been denied their rights, and their plight in rural areas is dismal.
In the backward areas of Pakistan, remote villages of Sindh, Punjab and tribal society of Baluchistan, women are killed in the name of honour killing. Secondly, the reality of woman as a piece of property or a commodity is also reflected in the ways in which society continues to dispose off her body. She can be offered as a compensation for damage to life and property; she can be given as blood money to compensate for murder; and in some cases to settle debts. Under the cover of karo-kari men kill innocent women to settle old vendettas, to acquire land, to secure money to pay off debts, to be freed from the obligation of paying back debts, to get rid of an unwanted woman and to have a second wife.
However, through the Women Protection Bill 2006, women will be protected against discrimination. In 2010, a bill was passed namely Protection against Harassment at the workplace to provide protection to women. In January 2012, the National Assembly unanimously passed an important legislation to ensure further empowerment of women with most of the male and female parliamentarians contributing to the legislation to make it meaningful and effective. Unprecedented interest, commitment, cooperation and dedication were expressed by around half a dozen women parliamentarians along with two male members who introduced around 40 amendments into the bill which had already been improved by the respective standing committee. However, problem is that these laws are not being implemented in letter and spirit.
In Islam, importance of women can be understood from the example of Hazrat Khadija who was herself a trader and Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) looked after her business. She was the first lady to embrace Islam on the first revelation on Hazrat Muhammad (SAW). Historical evidence suggests that during ‘ghazawats’ women used to look after the wounded. At that time there was no concept of industry or vocation, therefore the question of active involvement or participation in economic and social fields did not arise. Nevertheless, before advent of Islam, the women had no social or economic rights; hence no share in family’s property. It was in fact Islam that gave them their rightful share in the property also. Unfortunately, some obscurantist elements interpret Islam to deny them their rights.
It has to be said that empowerment of women is directly linked to the greater economic role, which is dependent on increased access to education and skill development. The fact remains that no society can be considered civilized if women are deprived of their rights, and no nation can progress if half of its working population is denied the opportunity to take part in its productive process on the basis of gender. The founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his speech at Aligarh University in 1944 had said: “The nation cannot rise to the highest glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are the victims of evil customs. It is crime against humanity that our women are shut up in the four walls of the house as prisoners.”
It goes without saying that women are equal partners in the development of the nation and have the right to equal opportunities in all walks of life. It was in response to his call that the women had actively participated in the freedom movement and creation of Pakistan. Yet they were denied their due role in the nation-building process, let alone sharing the decision-making process of the country. They must be provided opportunities that would facilitate the realization of their potential in the intellectual, professional or cultural fields. After 60 years of slow and steady progress in the field of women’s rights, their persistent struggle has been fructuous, and today they are playing an important role from union council, district council to provincial and national assemblies and upper house (Senate).