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AAWAZ National Conference on ‘Women, Peace and Social Harmony’ demands gender reforms, Islamabad


AAWAZ National Conference on ‘Women, Peace and Social Harmony’ demands gender reforms

There is not much to celebrate while commemorating ‘16 days of Activism on Ending Violence against Women’ in 2013. Things have deteriorated more than they have improved, generally in the context of women’s overall condition in the society, and in particular, with regards to state responsiveness on women’s concern. This was the crux of the national moot ‘Women, peace and Social Harmony’ held in Islamabad to conclude the 16 days of activism campaign by AAWAZ-Voice and Accountability Programme. The 16 Days of Activism is an international campaign on ending violence against women.

AAWAZ, consortium of five well known civil society organizations of Pakistan including Aurat Foundation, South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, Strengthening Participatory Organization, Sungi Development Foundation, and Sustainable Development Policy Institute with DAI being the managing partner organised series of activities across 45 districts of Punjab and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, on this occasion.

The National conference was chaired by Ms Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women. Other speakers include Barrister Zafar Ullah Khan, Federal Secretary, Law Justice and Human Rights, Justice (R) Nasira Javed Iqbal, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman, Pakistan Ulema Council, Ms Neelam Toru, Chairperson, Provincial Commission on the Status of Women, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Naeem Mirza from Aurat Foundation and Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani from Sungi Development Foundation.

The speakers at the conference demanded gender reforms, implementation of pro-women laws  and enactment of legislation on domestic violence.  The conference started with the welcome note by Mr Sajid Mansoor Qaisrani. In his remarks he said that justice can never be established in society unless women who constitute half the population are freed from violence. Ms Anbreen Ajaib gave a brief history of 16 days of activism campaign and its relevance with current socio-political situation of women in Pakistan.

Mr Naeem Mirza said now that the women’s ministry has been devolved, NCSW must be represented in the cabinet and the National Commission of Human Rights should be established without any further delay. He regretted that ministry of human rights has been downgraded to a wing in the ministry of Law and Justice. He pointed out that the gender crime cell was an ineffective body as only two out of twenty two vacancies have been filled. The representation of women in the parliament and local governments had been reduced which is worrisome. Though the local government in Balochistan has retained 33% women seats yet women were not allowed to vote in some areas. Why there is no follow up of GRAP recommendations, the National Plan of Action 1997 and National Policy of 2002, he asked. He demanded that all discriminatory legislation against women and religious minorities must be repealed. 

Barrister Zafar Ullah while agreeing that they were still many areas which need improvement expressed the view that on many levels things had improved. There were more women lawyers and judges and women were more active in public life in general. He stressed that unless we have justice for all there will be no justice in society. He said the role of law is limited as compared to customs, values and norms. His ministry was working to push forward the bills related to laws of marriages and divorce for Christians and Hindu citizens. He was also keen that domestic violence bill should be adopted by the parliament as soon as possible.

Allama Tahir Ashrafi said that peace and social harmony is not possible in a country where religion becomes a tool to achieve personal and political gains. The state is also silent about those elements who have occupied mosques and using religion as business. He also criticized the government for appeasing banned organizations. There are laws present to discourage hate speech and promote religious tolerance in Pakistan but are not implemented. Things will not improve untill the citizens stand up and reclaim the space that has been appropriated by ignorant and retrogressive forces who use religion for political purposes. He said that it was difficult for him to stand up against Salman Taseer’s assassination, marriages of Hindu girls and DNA issue in CII, but he opposed these actions and such courage needs to be shown by all of us. Pakistan Ulema Council is trying to reclaim the true spirit of Islam which stands for peace, tolerance and equality of men and women.

He said that Islam dictates that there should be no violence against women, children, the elderly and non-combatants, yet women and children are murdered in Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi in the name of Jihad.

Justice Nasira threw light on the history of Qisas and Diyat laws. She said that in 1990 FSC gave a ruling that ‘Currently offences against body’ in PPC are against the Islamic injunctions. Consequently, Qisas and Dyat law was introduced. As a result, murder became a private matter and relatives of victim have been given the authority to decide whether to punish or waive an offense of murder. In the whole world, punishment is authority of the state but in case of Pakistan the law has been distorted and the authority is given to individuals. Samiya Sarwar case of early 90s is the glaring example of the atrocities of Qisas and Diyat laws. In 2004, law on honour killing was introduced but this law has some lacunae which need to be addressed. Qisas and Diyat law has also been reviewed by NCSW which also suggested its repeal. 

Neelam Toru said women face a lot of socio-political barriers in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa. The literacy rate among girls is very low. They are afraid to go to schools following the militant attacks on schools in KP. Provincial Commission on the status of women is seeking to have nikah nama registered and raising awareness on the importance of the right of the women to divorce.

Ms Khawar Mumtaz said that inspite of present difficulties especially from terrorism the struggle for women rights will continue. Laws were important but awareness at the local and national levels was also necessary. She commended the AAWAZ consortium for raising awareness on these issues in 7000 villages and urban settlements. She said that there is an inter-provincial ministers coordinating committee which needs to be strengthened and must play a more active role. Concluding her remarks she said the women will continue to struggle without fear and face all challenges that lie in the way.

A stage play on Pakistan’s political history was also presented in the end by the Interactive Resource Centre.