Islamabad: The National Women’s Day is celebrated every year across the country to pay homage to those brave women who withstood the wrath of state forces at the behest of a dictator on February 12, 1983 on Lahore’s Mall Road in the process of opposing discriminatory Law of Evidence.
The day not only marks the beginning of struggle for women rights in the country but also affirms our belief in the old saying, “Every great journey starts with one small step but persistence gets you there.”
What was merely a small women rally against discrimination and inequality on Mall, Lahore in 1983 has now turned into a movement for gender equality, for the safeguard of women rights and for social change. Acknowledging the symbolic significance of this day, the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2010 earmarked February 12 as the National Women’s Day.
It is an established reality that, in Pakistan, the cause of women has prospered during democratic stints whereas during authoritarian times, their march toward equality and progress has been hindered.
It is simply unimaginable for any country to grow without vibrant and equal participation of women in its economic, social and political life. Without attending to 49% of Pakistan’s potential, the dream of self-sufficiency will remain, but only a dream.
Our religion Islam has been a great proponent of women rights but, much to our chagrin, it has been misused and misinterpreted to deny equal access to womenfolk in all walks of life.
I want to quote from a speech of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah at a meeting of the Muslim University Union, Aligarh on March 10, 1944 where he said, “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 our houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live; they should be side by side with men as their companions in all spheres of life.”
Our great leader Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed was also a great votary of women’s economic empowerment. She deserves special place in the annals of women struggle for emancipation because she destroyed the myth built by the social taboo that the woman’s place is in the house that it is shameful or dishonourable or socially unacceptable for a Muslim woman to work.
In line with the vision of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto, the present PPP government has made strides in the realm of women’s social, political and economic empowerment. Parliamentary enactments have been made to curb brutal customs like vani and Swara and heinous crimes like acid-throwing. In order to provide the working women with an enabling environment, a separate law against harassment at workplace has been passed. 10 % quota has been fixed for women in all federal jobs. Women have been given top political, administrative and educational appointments to enhance their representation at the policy-making levels.
I have no doubt in my mind that women’s condition in the country has changed but it has not taken the best possible shape as yet. The path to women empowerment is still strewn with hindrances like 100 % girl literacy, technical and vocational training, stereotyping, lower wages, glass-ceiling etc.
Laws have been framed but their implementation remains an abidingly daunting challenge. Governmental bodies, civil society organizations and all the societal stake-holders have to work hand in hand for the attainment of this challenging task.
I want to take this opportunity to assure that from now onwards, in collaboration with all stake-holders, part of my efforts will be directed towards addressing the issues of domestic violence and home-based workers through awareness and by bringing in legislative enactments on these areas.
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Haji Ahmed Malik
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