ISLAMABAD (12th December 2017): A dialogue between parliamentarians and civil society activists on women protection laws was organised on Tuesday to mark the international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence campaign.
The event titled ‘Dialogue between Parliamentarians and Civil Society on the Status of Women Protection Laws was organised by Oxfam in collaboration with Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), Bedari and Pakistan Institute of Parliamentary Studies (PIPS).
Speaking at the event, Oxfam Country Director Mohammed Qazilbash said that for 16 Days of Activism, Oxfam in Pakistan has chosen the theme ‘Domestic Violence Hurts Us All’ because Oxfam views violence against women and girls as one of the most significant barriers to our mission to end poverty.
“Domestic violence destroys the lives of victims, breaks families and communities, undermines development and the efforts to build strong democracies and just and peaceful societies,” Mr. Qazilbash said.
In his welcome remarks PIPS Executive Director said that while the concept of 16 Days of Activism is great, 365 days should be dedicated to fundamental rights. “The Parliament has blurred party lines to work for women’s rights and in the WPC we see the coming together of women parliamentarians from various parties and this is commendable. So the civil society must work with the members of the caucus to bring in pro-women laws.”
In her opening remarks, Bedari Executive Director Anbreen Ajaib said, “The parliament, the senate and the provincial assemblies have taken some effective steps to address Violence against women and girls. As we come closer to the 2018 elections, it is the right time to reflect upon the performance of these assemblies and to develop a future action plan.”
Calling for an end child marriage, Senator Seher Kamran said that “If the law does not consider someone under the age of 18 mature enough to cast a vote, drive a car or even purchase a sim, they can not be considered mature enough to bear the responsibilities of marriage.”
MNA Tahira Aurangzeb, in her keynote address said that behavior change and strong legal frame work is needed to protect women from violence. The population of Pakistan is one of the largest in the world and unemployment is very high. Skill-based education and entrepreneurship must be encouraged to promote women’s economic empowerment”.
Speaker Balochistan Assembly Rahila Hameed Khan said “I condemn violence in all its forms and vow to go to any length to end it. Both the government and the civil society are doing great work to ensure women’s rights in Pakistan but it is time for us to join forces and in this regard this event is a great initiative.”
MNA Suriya Asghar called for optimism in the fight for women’s rights. “There was a time when we could not even talk about domestic violence let alone pass laws to end it. Breaking taboos in setting discourse agendas is the first step which is followed by legislation. Great progress has been made in the way of women protection laws and if we keep faith we will one day end violence against women in Pakistan,” she said.
MPA Sindh Assembly Rana Ansar said progress has been made in the way of women’s rights but there is much more to be done in the way of implementation and awareness. “I am proud that Sindh is leading the way in ending early marriage and it is time for other provinces to follow suit,” she said.
MPA Dina Naaz from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa defending the inability of the current KP assembly to pass a women protection law said that the religious lobby is very strong in the KP assembly which has caused delays. “But despite strong resistance the women parliamentarians of KP have fought for this bill and promise those sitting here today that in the five months which are left we will ensure that this bill is passed,” she said
Discussing the sexual harassment act, Lok Virsa Executive Director Dr Fouzia Saeed said that attempts are being made to weaken the laws through amendments. “Our view is that a law should be given ten years before it is amended. There are a lot of room in implementation and once we have implemented this law to some degree, we may make amendments based on our learnings.”
Dr Saeed pointed out while it is commendable that Balochistan has passed a law to protect violence against women but this law does not criminalise domestic violence and efforts must be made to amend this law.
Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) Chief Executive Officer Saleem Malik said there is a lot of difference between domestic violence and other types of violence which is why dedicated laws are needed to tackle domestic violence. “We understand that laws are not enough to protect women against domestic violence but it is the first step in a long and arduous road,” he said.
Group Development Pakistan’s Executive Director Valerie Khan said “Pakistan is the only country in the world where a form of violence against women which is acid violence has seen a 50% decrease in the last decade. Now I call upon you to bring an end to a less visible form of violence i.e. child marriage”.
“Vote, lobby, fight. Call up your senators, quote the constitution, give arguments from religion. Make sure child marriage is outlawed in all provinces of Pakistan” Ms Khan said.
Bytes for All Coordinator Fatima Atif said “Violence in digital spaces cannot be isolated from violence in physical spaces. We must make all efforts to ensure that women are protected in digital spaces”.