Tag Archives: Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill

Mukhtar Mai’s search for justice continues

Mukhtar Mai case protest

In 2004, TIME magazine reported that the brutal gang rape of Mukhatr Mai “sent shock waves across Pakistan.” For her strength in standing up to challenge the practice of honor rapes and killings in rural villages, the magazine named Mukhtar Mai one of Asia’s Heroes. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof dubbed her, “The Rosa Parks for the 21st Century”. Seven years later, the latest chapter in Mai’s story has come to a close, and justice remains elusive.

Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the men who gang raped Mukhtar Mai, freeing all but one. Human rights groups in Pakistan are publicly speaking out against the verdict.

They expressed concern over the long delay in dispensation of justice. “The victim was raped in 2002 on the orders of a local panchayat. The Chief Justice of Pakistan took a suo motu notice of the case in 2005. And despite the intervention it took more than six years to come up with this decision, which is a source of concern for the women of Pakistan.”

They feared that the decision might further strengthen anti-women parallel legal and judicial systems and mechanisms in the country. “The criminal justice system too is not pro-women and is patriarchal in nature. Impunity is the order of the day.”

But Mukhtar Mai is not giving up. Her legal counsel, Barrister Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, announced plans to file a petition seeking review of the judgment, and Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian and presidential media advisor Farahnaz Ispahani Tweeted that President Zardari was personally requesting the government look into the case.

Sadly, the media response to the Supreme Court’s decision has taken a back seat to headlines defending Pakistan’s spy agency. Some of Pakistan’s more liberal journalists have spoken out against the injustice, lambasting Pakistan’s Supreme Court for “rendering a heinous crime such as gang rape almost unpunishable.” But much of the more conservative Urdu media has avoided in depth discussion of the issue. In response to one notorious case, Pakistani journalist Sana Saleem wrote an open letter to popular talk show host Mubashir Lucman for his harsh, unsympathetic treatment of Mukhtar Mai on his show.

If Pakistan’s media hasn’t paid much attention to Mukhtar Mai’s case, however, Pakistan’s government has. Last week, President Zardari instructed Interior Minister Rehman Malik to “take every measure to ensure protection to Mukhtaran Mai.”

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, politicians have spoken out against violence against women and pledged to provide security and legal aid to Ms. Mai as well as to women across the country.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Women Wing Sindh Information Secretary, Sharmila Farooqui, said here on Saturday that the government is committed to provide full protection and justice to needy women in Karachi and other parts of the country, besides providing legal assistance to rape victim Mukhtaran Mai in her decision to file a review petition in the court.

“Women in Karachi are performing their duties with dignity and courage after the government enacted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act and passed the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill last year. The government has also established a women police station in Karachi and more such stations will be established across Sindh,” she said in a statement.

This is the root of Mukhtar Mai’s cause – educating people about the rights of women, protecting women who are threatened by violence, and working to change both attitudes and outcomes in a manner that ensures greater respect and justice for women in Pakistan. Working together, government leaders and human rights organizations have the opportunity to provide a brighter, safer future for Pakistani girls and women. They deserve our support.

Democratic Government Continues Push To Advance Women's Rights

The democratic government in Pakistan continues to advance women’s rights as a legislative priority. Just last month, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill and appointed Dr. Shama Khalid the first woman as Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. Now, the democratic government is moving closer to passing legislation that will ban domestic violence.

Despite recent progress on the issue of women’s rights, Pakistan continues to see dramatic and violent attacks on women. According to the Aurat Foundation’s 2009 report on the Situation of Violence Against Women in Pakistan, “A total of 8548 incidents of violence against women were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan and in capital territory Islamabad during year 2009.” And these are only the cases that were reported in the media, meaning that the problem is likely vastly more severe.

The proposed legislation would go far not only in providing criminal penalties for violence against women, but in establishing an infrastructure that could help deliver a cultural change that would get to the root of the problem.

The bill lays out a broad definition of domestic violence beyond assault, including emotional abuse, stalking and wrongful confinement. Depriving a spouse of money or other resources needed to survive is also considered a violation.

The bill strives to cover everyone in a household, including elderly parents, children and husbands. It also sets up local ”protection committees,” which are required to include women and empowered to file complaints on behalf of victims.

Abusers can face months or years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines if they violate court protection orders, the bill says.

Ambreen Salman, writing for the blog Global Voices, discusses the importance of supporting the democratic government in passing this legislation.

Pakistani women can achieve their goal by joining hands together and motivating each other. Educate women which will ensure awareness of what is happening to women around the world today is an essential step towards improving their situation. It is a surprising fact that women are made to do some of the things simply because of the fact that they are women. No one can change the world by themselves, but many people doing a little can make a real difference in the society. The nations that put up with the ill-treatment of women must know that they are being watched. A good number of governments are run by men who may not have the wish to transform things unless the world makes some noise.

The things which we can do at our level are:

  • We can educate ourselves.
  • We can be supportive of organizations that promote women’s rights.
  • We can join hands and make our governments know that we are conscious of what’s happening around the world and we will not allow it.
  • We can write to foreign embassies about the violence so that they can help us in promoting awareness.
  • We can increase awareness.
  • We can read about it.
  • We can write about it.
  • We can blog about it.
  • We can talk about it.

Pakistan’s National Assembly has demonstrated in recent weeks that members are able to put aside party politics and unite in consensus around important issues. Without this sense of democratic unity and cooperation, the historic 18th Amendment to the constitution could not have passed. Let them show the same urgency in passing this bill to provide protections to Pakistan’s women and continue the important progress that has been made this year.

Democratic Reform And Women's Rights

The current democratically elected government of Pakistan has made tremendous progress in bringing traditionally underrepresented groups to the table, especially with regard to women’s rights and empowerment in society.

Democratic reform is about more than simply holding elections and letting people vote. Many nations with significant deficits in democracy hold elections. A true sign of democratic progress is whether or not traditionally marginalized and underrepresented groups are made part of the governing process, so that all people are represented in the government.

Earlier this month,  President Zardari signed historic women’s rights legislation, the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill.

President Zardari signs historic women's rights bill

“We have to create a Pakistan where the coming generations, my daughters, can be proud of the fact that they live as equals. We will make sure that those who wish to harm the ideology of the Quaid-i-Azam, which was for equality for men and women, shall not succeed,” said President Zardari.

But this is not the only historic progress for women’s rights that has occurred recently. This week, President Zardari appointed Dr. Shama Khalid the first woman as Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan.

PM Gilani speaking with Dr. Shama Khalid

Dr Shama Khalid is a leading social worker who voluntarily worked in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan by establishing free summer medical camps every year.

Women in Pakistan continue to face significant obstacles to equal participation in society. Religious extremists have been specifically targeting these advances in women’s rights, attempting through threat of violence and death to force Pakistan’s women into subjugation.

The bombing that killed three US soldiers in February was actually an attack by the Taliban on a girls’ school. Sixty-three Pakistani schoolgirls were injured in the attack, three others lost their lives.

The actions of the democratic government both in outlawing harassment of women and in appointment women to positions of authority are essential elements in transforming attitudes in Pakistan so that all women can, as President Zardari said, “live as equals.”