Aurat Publication & Information Service Foundation
Launching NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW – 2012, and National Women’s Assembly., Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad.

Islamabad Hotel, Islamabad.

Launching NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW – 2012, and National Women’s Assembly.

 Aurat Foundation organized the  launching ceremony of  Pakistan NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW – 2012, on Thursday, December 13, 2012, at Islamabad Hotel.  Ms Lena Lindberg, Country Director, UN Women -Pakistan participated as the Guest of Honour.  Ms Anis Haroon, Member, Board of Governors, Aurat Foundation, presided over the ceremony.  Ms Maliha Zia and Ms Riffat Butt, authors of the report presented main findings of the report.  Ms Tahira Abdullah, one of the four contributors, who wrote separate chapters, was the Guest Speaker.

The various attempts made by the Government to improve the legal, socio-economic and political status of women are commendable, but they are few in number and have proven not to be very effective. The agenda for eliminating all forms of discrimination against women failed once again to make its place in the priority list of the Government. As a result, there remain numerous issues for women, resulting in de facto and de jurediscrimination against them, which are either ignored by the Government, or are not sufficiently dealt with.
Mr Naeem Mirza, Chief Operating Officer of Aurat Foundation, while elaborating the process of producing the  NGOs alternative CEDAW report, said  that Aurat Foundation has been preparing the shadow report on CEDAW for a couple of years. The report, technically called ‘NGO Alternative Report on CEDAW’, attempts to examine the response of the Government of Pakistan to concerns expressed in the observations of the CEDAW Committee on the earlier Country Report in 2007. An examination of these responses reveals that the major impediments to gender equality and the elimination of discrimination are an ambivalent political will on the part of the State, and resultantly its institutions; the absence of a firm commitment to the inherent principles; and a reluctance to own the State’s obligations under the CEDAW Convention.   

He also criticized the government and the Ministry of Human Rights that didn’t consult the civil society and other concerned quarters while it was preparing the government’s CEDAW report for the UN.  He expressed strong disapproval that  the M/o HR even didn’t bother to make its report public, and demanded that  the government shall urgently make it public and seek response and opinion from concerned quarters  and women’s rights organization.

Ms Riffat But,  one of  the  author, said that  4th report covers the period from 2005-2009, Ministry of Women Development prepared but it was submitted by the M/o  HR in 2011. This report mentions the challenges of earthquake, poverty, political instability, issue of IDPs while having impact on the efforts of government to fulfill its obligation of the DEDAW Convention.   

Ms Maliha Zia, the second author of the report, said that although a number of pro-women laws were passed from the year 2009 to 2012 including Protection against Harassment at the Workplace Act 2010 and three amendments in Criminal Law during 2010 and 2011 which focus on harassment against women; customary practices including deprivation of inheritance, forced marriages, exchange of women in settlement of cases, marriage of women to the Quran; and acid crimes. This has been an appreciated move by the Government. However, the State continued to avoid the passage of laws or amendments that are considered more controversial due to the fact that they might affect the traditional set up of the family and society and above all their political alliances. These include laws pertaining to domestic violence, social protection and child rights and amendments pertaining, among other topics, to citizenship rights of women and their spouses. It is pertinent to note that the majority of pro-women initiatives have been taken by Private Member Bills as opposed to Government Bills. 

Ms Tahira Abdullah, who contributed a chapter on ‘Implementing CEDAW in Pakistan’ in the report, elaborated on the lack of political will and commitment to ensure the  participation of CSOs and women’s rights  activists in the preparation of the government’s CEDAW report, and to ensure  the harmonization of domestic laws with the State’s binding legal obligation to adhere to CEDAW and other ratified instruments.  She presented 38 action recommendations for the  implementation of CEDAW, which, 16 years after Pakistan became a State Party to CEDAW, are now long overdue. 

The shadow report is primarily a commentary on the Fourth Periodic Report of the Government, identifying gaps and presenting an objective analysis of the situation of women in Pakistan. This analysis is conducted from a perspective held by the unambiguous position of mainstream women’s rights and human rights activists and organisations on core issues of women’s rights.  The Report is authored by Maliha Zia and Riffat Butt and; has been reviewed by Neelam Hussain, Naeem Mirza, Nasreen Azhar and Younas Khalid. 

The Shadow Report also attempts to give the reader a brief overview of the situation of women in Pakistan beyond the reporting time period, till the present day. This overview is essential in light of several major developments that have taken place after the reporting period. Realising the significance of a few landmark developments related to democracy, governance and the deteriorating situation of minority women, four addendum chapters have been included in the report. These are contributed by Tahira Abdullah, Ayehsa Khan, Rubina Saigol, Peter Jacob and Jennifer Jag Jewan.

Aurat Foundation took the lead in compiling and drafting an alternative Report to the Government Report on behalf of the civil society of Pakistan in 2008. The process concluded in 2012, consisted of a number of steps, was based on the principle of inclusion and ownership of the Report by civil society organisations. The Report has been prepared with the earnest intent to strengthen Pakistan’s national institutions and entities working for women’s rights.  It is hoped that mainstreaming gender into national policies and laws and bringing them in conformity with the articles of CEDAW will result in de facto equality for women. 
At the end of the  launching ceremony, the participants, human rights activists and organizations, hailed the selection of Ms Khawar Mumtaz  as Chairperson of National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).  They expressed satisfaction and hope that her selection would further strengthen the NCSW. Ms Anis Haroon, former Chairperson of the NCSW, expressed happiness and satisfaction on  the selection of Ms Mumtaz as the new Chairperson of the NCSW.  She said that Khawar has the  courage  and potential and long enough experience to benefit  and further extend the recently achieved autonomy of the NCSW.

Earlier in the day, Aurat Foundation, in collaboration with Insan Foundation Trust, also organized National Women’s Assembly at Islamabad Hotel. Both the organizations are working to advance women’s cause at different levels. Partnering with UN Women, AF is working in 6 districts and Insan Foundation in 25 districts of Pakistan including FATA, AJK and GB under the said initiatives. The event provided community women from various ethnic backgrounds and cultures, CSOs, activists, parliamentarians, students and academia an opportunity to share their experiences, role and contributions in promoting peace and security in all the regions of Pakistan.

The first panel on ‘Situation and impact of conflict on women’ was chaired by eminent human and women rights activist Ms Tahira Abdullah. Speakers representing five provinces of Pakistan and AJK, representing various ethnic backgrounds, urged the policy makers to incorporate women’s perspective in the efforts of social cohesion and their active participation in peace-building in bringing meaningful results. They stressed the need to  root out violence from the society and create environment religo-ethnic and cultural harmony They stressed that women can and do play a vital role in combating extremism, prevention of the crisis, and broadening the perspective of the relevant stakeholders for developing gender sensitive mechanisms for the protection of women from sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) in crisis situations. The women also shared their stories as survivors of conflict which brought sadness and tears in the eyes of most of the participants. 

A women participants from Balochistan, of Hazara ethnic group, gave an emotional  / heart breaking account of the ethnic cleansing of  Hazara community.  Kashmala from AJK said that while travelling from her home  to Islamabad, the  Capital Territory, she had a strong sense of  deprivation, that people, and women,  from  far flung areas do not have opportunities. She also read a poem ‘mujh ko dekho  izat sey, aurat nahien insaan hoon mien.  Shakeela Asghar from  interior Sindh demanded the government to clear the  society from weapons so  that to bring peace. The weaponization in the society has also marred way for free and fair elections and democracy in Pakistan. Fatima from Swat said that she would speak not for herself but for the whole Swat, for the  girls and women of Swat who have been facing violence since long.

Ms Tahira Abdullah, while concluding the session, demanded the government to reduce the military expenditure and  instead increase the budget for  education, health and other development sectors.

The second panel of respondents on the ‘Role of State and Democratic Institutions in Prevention of Conflict’ was chaired by Ms Anis Haroon. Representatives from National Assembly and provincial assemblies spoke at the occasion including Ms Ghazala Gola, Minister for Women’s Development, Government of Balochistan, Ms Ms Shagufta Sadiq, MNA MQM, Sindh, Ms Naseem Nasir Khawaja MPA PML-N, Ms Shirin Fatima, MNA, PPP, Gilgit Baltistan, and senator Ms Syriya Amir-ud-Din, PPP.

Ms Shirin Fatima said that since last 65 years, Pakistan  ignored the people of Gilgit-Baltistsan and combined the issues of Gilgit-Baltistan with the issue of Kashmir, and gave  it anonymous title of ‘Northern Areas’ which was like depriving various ethnic group of GB of their identities.  While highlighting various positive steps of the Government of Gilgit-Batistan, she said that the government has ensured 10% women’s quota in  all government departments due to which a lot of women joined the police department.  She said  that although GB government has introduced many positive legislation but we still need strong commitment and line of action for implementation.   She said that soon they will introduced the bill to combat sexual harassment of women at workplace, which would be made as per the  cultural and social needs of Gilgit-Baltistan.    
Ms Shagufta Sadiq said that women parliamentarians are struggling hard to get the domestic violence bill sail-through the Sindh assembly. Ms Suriya Amir-ud-Din, senator from Balochistan, while analyzing the situation of Balochistan, said that at first only the people from Punjab, living in Balochistan, were targeted but now each and every community is being targeted; political activist are  being kidnapped,  and turning them into ‘internally displaced persons’.  She said the  all political parties and the civil society shall together work for bringing peace in  the country.  Ms Ghazala Gola,    

 Ms Ghazala Gola while highlighting the positive steps of Balochistan government said that her party (PPP) introduced a lot of pro-women legislation including bill to curt sexual harassment of women and legislation for empowering  home-based women workers.  She said the all women legislators in the Balochistan assembly are struggling hard to pass the law against domestic violence.

Ms Anis Haroon, while concluding the session, said that criticizing the politicians is not the good strategy but need to find out a solid political strategy to bring peace in the country.  She also emphasized the need that all the political parties shall work together for bringing out a solution how to end terrorism and violence in the society.  She also demanded for enhancing of reserved seats for women from 17% to 33% in all legislatures.  
Ms  Kishwar Sultana, Executive Director, Insan Foundation, coordinated the  question-answer session. Ms Arifa Mazhar of Aurat Foundation, read the declaration of the women assembly which the  participants approved collectively.