Pakistan women hope to gather gains as bill moves forward to Senate

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Pakistan Member of National Assembly Ms Nafisa Shah 2011
Pakistan Member of the National Assembly Ms. Nafisa Shah addresses the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) High-Level Segment at the UN Geneva July 6, 2011. Image: Jean-Marc Ferré/UNphoto

(WNN) Islamabad, PAKISTAN: As the lower legislative body, the National Assembly in Pakistan, passed a new bill unanimously on January 19 to protect women’s rights in the region, women are beginning to gain more confidence that ‘real sustainable rights’ for women may be around the corner.  Although the new bill must now be past in the Senate, the higher governing body in Pakistan, the move heralds support from both sides of the widely divided political spectrum in Pakistan.

The new bill is expected to pass easily through Pakistan’s senate

Progressives see this as a definite triumph that will now allow the work of Pakistan’s National Commission for Women to have ‘more teeth.’ In the process new member nominees for the National Commission will also be chosen by the parliamentary committee. From this list Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani will then choose the official representative members of the Commission.

The goal for the bill is to hold back the tide in the growing incidence of domestic violence, honor crimes and acid violence in the Pakistan regions. Basic human rights for women under the law and in court will also be an important part of the goal as the National Commission for Women. Once the bill has been approved by the Senate, the Commission will be given the freedom to act as an autonomous agency with the power to inspect conditions for women in prison. It will also be given the power to act on complaints of justice against women in civil court.

In spite of the Commission’s new ability to work around Pakistani bureaucracy, some political doubters feel the power of the Commission may still be less than optimum to bring on-the-ground changes to the system of gender inequality throughout Pakistan.

As it has done in the past at a level that is not as strong as the present bill is presenting, the National Commission for Women will also be encouraging women in political leadership as it recommends actions to Pakistan’s National Assembly to bring greater specific empowerment to women.

Unfortunately the down side to the new National Assembly’s bill is that Pakistan’s legislators are not bound to accept or act on the recommendations of the Commission.

“Our commission can expect no better treatment from the male-dominated administration. But there is still hope,” says Ms. Zubeida Mustafa a freelance journalist who writes a weekly column for Dawn, Pakistan’s most widely known newspaper founded in 1947 with offices based in the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. 

“Working in close liaison with women parliamentarians the National Commission for Women can make an impact on the laws. In other words the battle has to go on. But every victory helps create greater awareness and should be used in the campaign to mobilise women at the grass-roots. That is where lies the strength of the women’s movement wherever it may be,” Mustafa continued.


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