National Commission on the Status of Women

Govenrment of Pakistan

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Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson NCSW meets UN Secretary General with Women Parliamentarians

Aug 14, 2013

At a meeting with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson NCSW spoke about the women’s movement in Pakistan.

"Women’s movement in Pakistan: A brief overview"   

Your Excellency Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Madame Ban, Dr. Fehmida Mirza Chair of Women Parliamentary Caucus, distinguished parliamentarians, women’s rights activists, representatives of UN agencies, ladies and gentlemen. It is indeed an honour and a pleasure for all of us to have you here with us on this auspicious day – Pakistan’s 66th birth anniversary -- for this short but I am sure a meaningful interaction.

I was asked to give an overview of the women’s movement in Pakistan. Given the limitation of time I will confine myself to the symbiotic relationship between the women’s movement and women in legislatures.

Throughout Pakistan’s history – from the movement for independence to periodic crises that the country has faced women have responded to the need of the hour –and at each stage not only have they raised the threshold of their struggle for justice and equality they have also renewed their resolve. Women came out at the call of the Quaid in large numbers to struggle for an independent country; they rallied together for relief work post-independence when millions of refugees poured in home-less and hapless; they participated in the 2007 movement for an independent judiciary; they reached out to women displaced by natural disasters and military action and mobilised in unprecedented numbers for the May 2013 elections -- the first time that transfer of power occurred democratically from one civilian government to another. 158 women ran for NA seats and 298 for provincial assemblies as independent candidates – inspired no doubt by women who have entered parliamentary politics and provided potent role models.

Women have always been in Pakistan’s legislatures, except once (1956-58), but not in critically significant numbers. Their presence in legislatures was enhanced in 2002 after the relentless decade long struggle of women’s rights activists and women politicians to the present reservation of 17% seats in NA, PA and Senate and 33% in local government (the latter is under threat of reversal these days). Some of the rights activists are present here today; the majority were neither seeking office nor seats but wanted women’s voice in the highest decision making bodies. In addition to the quota (60 seats in NA; 17 in Senate) women can also contest elections on general seats. Thus 16 women in the previous NA were directly elected; and 6 this time. That many more are ready to contest is an indicator of changing aspirations among women even from underprivileged and conservative and remote areas.

Pakistan’s has been a history of active engagement between women inside legislatures and women’s rights activists outside. When the women’s rights charter proposed by the two women legislators in the first Constituent Assembly was dropped from the agenda it was the protest of women’s rights activists outside the assembly that led to it being put back on the agenda. It was the women activists march against the Law of Evidence Bill in 1983 in the darkest days of a military dispensation, that gave strength to women and men legislators to take a stand and have the Bill watered down. More recently the robust engagement and technical and moral support of activists and the women’s movement to women legislators especially engagement with the cross party Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, under the patronage of Dr. Fehmida Mirza (the first woman Speaker of the Muslim world) paid valuable dividends. I would like to pay tribute here to the vanguard role that women parliamentarians have played not only by their full engagement in all law making – as indeed all laws have a women’s perspective -- but especially in steering some of the most sensitive and difficult legislation related to women in the previous assembly e.g. the Anti-Sexual Harassment at Work place Act, Acid Crime Act, Anti - Women Traditional Practices Act, the RH Services Bill, and the NCSW Act whereby the Commission, constituted in 2000 in response to a longstanding demand of the women’s movement, was strengthened and made financially and administratively autonomous. NCSW’s mandate is to promote and protect women’s rights through law and policy review and act as a watchdog on government’s compliance with its Constitutional and international commitments.

However there are many challenges ahead of us as activists, parliamentarians and the National Commission. Most important perhaps is that of gender based violence accompanied with equally potent fear of violence which has been exacerbated by the current environment of militancy that stalks our country and our citizens – men, women and children alike. It is in this area that we look up to the UN experience for devising workable strategies and demand driven sustainable mechanisms and systems to combat this menace.

Before I conclude I would like to express deep gratitude to the Un system in Pakistan operating under your expert guidance for providing technical support to the National Commission, other rights organisations, Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and for facilitating opportunities for broad-based stake holder meetings for debate and discourse.

Thank you for a patient hearing.

14 August 2013

Presented at the interactive meeting of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon with women parliamentarians

Islamabad

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