Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) is set to make history when for the first time five women will be contesting its upcoming elections on general seats. This is a positive and welcome development, but what does this really means in real terms? Five is a negligible number for the 49-member assembly. Of the nearly two million voters in AJK, nearly half the number of registered voters consists of women. With five seats reserved for women in the AJK Assembly, five more women contesting the polls on general seats still make for dismal representation of nearly half the population. Among the major national parties, the PPP has awarded tickets to two women, the PML-N has fielded one candidate and most disappointingly, the PTI has failed to field a single female candidate on general seats.
Our mainstream political parties often make tall claims regarding women representation and ‘women’s rights’ but the reality on the ground is starkly different with the reserved seats for women in our assemblies having increasingly become the beginning and end of their political participation.
Attention is drawn to sexism in parliament in Pakistan:
Defence Minister Khawaja Asif’s recent remarks against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Shireen Mazari reminded everyone of the ugly sexism women in parliament and politics deal with daily, in their work life. Politicians are generally easy target of public mudslinging by their opponents. However, women politicians face an added disadvantage for the specific gendered image and roles attached to them. If they seek to be equal partners in politics, despite their low headcount, their opponents have a wide variety of tools to ‘put them in place’. These may range from remarks directed at their physical appearance to smear campaigns, including doctored images circulated on the media. It is no surprise the most vocal women parliamentarians in Pakistan have been repeatedly targeted by this vulgar mentality. The credit goes to the likes of Benazir Bhutto, Sherry Rehman, Marvi Memon, Shazia Marri, Sharmila Farooqi and many others for not giving in to this blackmailing.
Sexism targeting women in politics and legislature also demonstrates the patriarchal mind-set’s refusal to accept of women as partners in political sphere. The 89 women in Pakistan’s senate and national assembly are major contributors to the agenda of the House. Last year, they presented 22 out of 26 private members bill, demonstrating their seriousness towards legislative business. They passionately push the cause of anti-violence, health, education, environment and governance. Performance-wise, they shine in each annual report on parliament’s conduct. Yet their ‘utility’ is repeatedly questioned, indicating affirmative action facilitating their participation in legislature is still seen as charity and a matter of male privilege.
From Pakistan excerpts from a powerful piece by Saad Hafiz:
In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared violence against women as an ‘epidemic global health problem.’ The WHO report highlighted the transnational exploitation and violence towards women and girls. It calculated that one in three women worldwide would experience sexual or physical violence, most often from their husband or male partner. This tragic situation can be attributed to a combination of factors: 1) the toxic male chauvinism that devalues women’s lives 2) a by-product of cultures that accepts violence and harassment against women and 3) an institutionalised misogyny intended to continually violate the rights of women.
Derived from the Greek misogynia (anti-woman), misogyny is an unreasonable fear or hatred of women. Misogyny differs from male chauvinism. The latter supports male political privileges and favours female subjugation in law; misogyny is an emotional prejudice based on phobia or dislike. Misogyny is by no means limited to modern civilisation. It occurred in many kinds of societies, and at all levels of human social organisation, including in the earliest cultures, and at all times in history.
More female leaders would also help to diminish gender barriers by providing other women and girls with visible role models. Women in politics, business, management and education can provide powerful examples for others. Moreover, societies need to value work done in home — in raising families — the same way they value work in the office. Women and men alike face judgment and discrimination for choosing to stay at home with their families instead of remaining in the work force. Furthermore, children must be taught to value equality, to practise respect and to stand up against discrimination.
But changing the male mindset remains the most significant challenge in combating gender exploitation and violence. Powerful cultural change cannot happen when only half of the population works toward that change. We cannot expect real change to occur if we do not teach every citizen the same values of respect and equality.
More from Pakistan on remarks by Khawaja Asif:
After walking out of Parliament in protest of Khawaja Asif’s disparaging remarks, Shireen Mazari has made the unexpected move of referring the matter to the judiciary.
This move is unprecedented considering the fact that never before has a speech on the floor of the national assembly been referred to the Federal Ombudsman for Harassment of Women in the Workplace.
Pakistan and the obstacles against protecting women:
Most religious groups and political parties denounce honour killings, but when it comes to enacting laws with harder punishments, political, social and religious forces challenge them
Typically, in cases of violence against women, we hear a chorus of individual voices but none on the collective level. ‘There is a realisation that violence against women is a serious issue but there is an absence of political will to address it, because a majority of parliamentarians are men from feudal, tribal, or conservative backgrounds, where such violence, especially ‘honour killing’, is an accepted fact of life,’ says Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist.
Abdullah gives example of the domestic violence bill, which was drafted and presented to the elected governments of the PPP and PML-N, and later was tabled in the parliament under the military dictatorship of Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and again during the PPP and PML-N governments. ‘The bill was successfully used as a bargaining chip by the JUI-F for its own political agenda, on Salala, Nato supplies, etc.,’ she explains.
Many women parliamentarians spoke up in favour of the bill but their leaders scuttled their voice. ‘Almost two decades later, the parliament has still not enacted the bill although it has been done by the Sindh, Balochistan, and Punjab legislatures,’ she adds.
Abdullah believes political parties and the Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses are two entirely separate issues. ‘We sometimes see women parliamentarians come together in the women’s caucus on a particular issue, irrespective of their party positions’.
Most religious groups and political parties denounce honour killings, but when it comes to enacting laws with harder punishments, political, social and religious forces challenge them. Women parliamentarians raise issues, their proposals go to committees, and where they stagnate till another tragedy happens.
This February, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while speaking at the screening of Sharmeen Obaid’s Oscar-winning short documentary, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, said the perpetrators of honour killings will not be forgiven by family members. His statement was perhaps in conjunction to developments in the Senate where the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill was passed in March 2015, and which is now pending in the National Assembly. The bill seeks to eliminate the option of murder committed in the name of ‘honour’ to be ‘forgiven’.
Zeb Jaffar, Member National Assembly (MNA) and former political assistant to the Punjab chief minister, believes that all political parties condemn such acts but such issues are brought in the House at an individual level. ‘A women caucus makes efforts to raise these issues and recommend policies and legislation but when it comes to the party, the issue is viewed on political grounds and the opposition parties demolish such efforts to make laws or policies and waste time just for the sake of opposition,’ she says.
‘Pakistan People’s Party government has always recognised women’s rights as a mainstream issue and taken maximum action,’ claims Sherry Rehman, PPP senator. ‘However, such bills on women issues cannot make way until male colleagues support such initiatives as a bill or a resolution,’ she adds.
A 2014 research report on manifestos of major political parties, supported by Oxfam and Aurat Foundation, titled, A gender-based critique of 2008 election — manifestos of key political parties, says political parties issue strong statements on women’s rights and welfare but they lack practical measures to achieve what they claim. The study, done by Naheed Aziz, a researcher, says manifestos lack practical strategy or measures to ensure gender balance in different sectors.
Read also: Chronicle of a movement
Tahira Abdullah emphasises that the law against ‘honour’ killings enacted in 2004 be urgently amended to remove such killings from the ambit of Qisas and Diyat laws in order to prevent forgiveness and compensation agreement between the victim’s killer/s and next of kin; and to make the state the wali and petitioner on behalf of the dead victim.
Also, all political parties should consent to this amendment as ‘honour’ killing has nothing to do with religion, she says.
Legislative changes are only a part of the solution. A recent statement by the Human Rights Watch states, ‘The Pakistani government should now ensure that the police forces impartially investigate ‘honour’ killings without bowing down to political and other pressures from local and religious leaders… The government should also ensure that safe emergency shelter, protection, and support are also made available to any woman or girl, who may be at risk from her family’.
Pakistan - a forceful discussion of the denigration of women:
For no good reason, the events of the past few months suggest a wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate
Women generally have it bad in Pakistan but there is a growing display of callous disregard for the rights of women and downright maleficent behaviour by senior representatives of government and parliament that can only result in – indeed is resulting in – wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate. Almost as if women were offenders rather than victims.
And, yet, according to the government’s own figures, three out of four girls don’t get schooling beyond primary level. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has for several years now been reporting hundreds of women killed every year in the name of honour. Men’s honour of course, never women’s.
Read the full article here:
Pakistan refines policy on violence aganist women:
Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) is pro-actively working on fine-tuning of various women and children friendly laws which would be tabled in the parliament soon.
This information was shared by DG MoHR Hassan Mangi at Show and Tell Convention organised by Aurat Foundation (AF) in collaboration with Trocaire and AusDFAT. The event provided an opportunity to Gender Based Violence (GBV) response institutions to showcase their performance and services related to the strategies adopted for minimising GBV against women and girls.
He said that the draft policy on violence against women which was recently developed in collaboration with AF would soon be sent for approval. Similarly, the ministry has successfully introduced amendments in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Law, which has been recently signed by the President of Pakistan which terms any cruelty with the child as criminal activity. The amendment increases age of criminal responsibility from 7 years to 10 years.