Women empowerment calls for responsibility and requires them with intellect taking up the posts instead of women who have been selected by their male counterparts.
In 1944, Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah said in a speech,
“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners.”
The lives of Pakistani women have changed during the past 30 years and they are more empowered and emancipated then they were ever before. Today, more and more women are entering the workforce yet still women face many problems, discrimination and harassment in the work force.
Women empowerment refers to the ability of women to transform economic and social development when empowered to fully participate in the decisions that affect their lives through leadership, training, coaching consulting and the provision of enabling tools for women to lead within their communities, religions and countries.
Women empowerment generally has three components: Women’s sense of self-worth, their right to control their own lives, and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a just world. Empowerment has multiple, interrelated and interdependent economic, social, personal and political dimensions.
Economic empowerment means to empower women by giving her rights of properties, financial responsibilities, adequate shares in jobs, and business opportunities. In social dimensions, it means women’s social status should be equal to that of man by avoiding all discrimination based on injustice and inequality.
Women are required to have respectable status in society
Politically, women should be empowered by reserving their seats in national as well as provincial assemblies and providing their independent right of one woman one vote. Personally, they should be given equal liberty and freedom in their personal affairs, such as, in the case of marriage, vocational pursuit. As a whole, women empowerment aims at providing women with their social, economic, political and personal rights.
Let’s examine various laws passed regarding women in Pakistan. The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act (2010) seeks to create a safe working environment for women. Harassment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by the working women preventing others who want to work to bring themselves and their families out of poverty.
This Act will pave the way for women to participate more fully in the development of the country, and builds on the principles of equality and women’s right to earn a livelihood without any fear of discrimination. This Act complies with the government’s commitment to high international labor standards and empowerment of women.
It also adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women and the International Labour Organization’s Convention 100 and 111 on workers’ rights. It adheres to the principles of Islam and all other religions which assure women’s dignity.
This Act requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal code of conduct and a complain/appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment for all working women.
Prevention of Domestic Violence Act (2008)
The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, but the bill lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within the three months period required under the Constitution.
Legislators from both opposition and government parties told Human Rights Watch that even though Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani supported the bill, it was delayed by unofficial opposition from some ministers.
The Domestic Violence bill seeks to prevent violence against women and children with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt trials of suspected abusers. The measure makes sexual harassment or intimidation punishable by three years in prison, a 500,000 rupee fine (4,750 USD), or both. The bill includes protection in public places such as markets, public transport, streets or parks, and more private places, such as workplaces, private gatherings, and homes.
Hudood Ordinance (1979)
The Hudood Ordinance was enacted in 1979 as part of Pakistani General Muhammad Ziaul Haq’s Islamization and replaced or revised in 2006 by the Women’s Protection Bill. The Hudood Law was intended to implement Sharia law, by enforcing punishments mentioned in the Holy Quran and Sunnah for zina (unlawful sexual relations), qazf (false accusations of fornication), offence against property, and drinking.
As for zina, a woman alleging rape is required to provide four adult male eyewitnesses. The ordinance has been criticized as leading to hundreds of incidents where a woman subjected to rape, or even gang rape, was eventually accused of zina and imprisoned becoming a victim of extremely unjust propaganda.
In 2006, then President Pervez Musharraf again proposed reforms in the ordinance. On November 15, 2006, the Women’s Protection Bill was passed by the National Assembly, allowing rape to be prosecuted under civil law. The bill was ratified by the Senate on November 23, 2006, and became law after President Musharraf signed it on December 1, 2006.
In Islam the importance of women and their success as human beings is measured with completely different criteria: their fear of Allah and obedience to Him, and fulfillment of the duties He has entrusted them with, particularly that of bearing, rearing and teaching children.
Nevertheless, Islam is a practical religion, and responds to human needs and life situations. Many women need, or wish, to work for various reasons. For example, they may possess a needed skill, such as a teacher or a doctor. While Islam does not prohibit women working outside her home, it does stipulate that the following restrictions be followed to protect the dignity and honor of women and the purity and stability of the Islamic society, the conduct of women, after all, is the backbone of any society.
The political representation of women in Pakistan is higher than India, Sri Lanka and Iran. Pakistan is listed as 45th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s (IPU) list of women in national parliaments and stood ahead of several developed democracies, including Canada, the UK and the US. The only positive development thus far has remained the relatively large representation of women in the National Assembly, the Senate and provincial assemblies in comparison to other countries.
Of the 342 seats in the National Assembly, women now comprise 22.2 percent of those seats. In the Senate, women make up 17 percent of the parliamentary seats. This indeed is significant departure from the past considering that women are often discouraged from entering politics. Pakistan is also one of the 30 countries which have a woman as Speaker of the National Assembly.
The political growth of a country requires both male and female participation in government affairs. Women representation in the government ensures that work is done for the overall good of both genders. However, women participation calls for responsibility and requires them with intellect taking up the posts instead of women who have been selected by their male counterparts.
Saira Ronaq is a writer and graduate student in gender studies at the University of Karachi. Read other articles by Saira.