Dr. Fehmida Mirza,
Speaker, National Assembly
Mr. Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar,
Advisor to the Prime Minister on
Mr. Saeed Ahmad Alvi,
Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights
Ladies and Gentlemen
It gives me immense pleasure to address this ceremony on the occasion of International Women’s Day today. This Day, which is observed globally each year, reminds us of the heroic struggle waged by the women rights activists for the attainment of women rights. It also affords an opportunity not only to acknowledge women’s contributions in different fields but also evaluate the direction of the government’s policies for women empowerment.
Pakistan, as an important and responsible member of the global community, also celebrates this Day in recognition of great achievements being made by the talented Pakistani women in all walks of life. I often say that the minorities and the women are my constituency. So, my presence in today’s function is a demonstration of my government’s unwavering commitment for women empowerment. I would like to congratulate the women in general and the Pakistani women in particular on the occasion of International Women’s Day, who by any standard, constitute a vibrant segment of our society.
I would begin by referring to Quaid-e-Azam’s speech that he delivered at a meeting held at Muslim University Aligarh on March 10, 1944. The great Quaid said and I quote:
“Another very important matter which I want to impress upon you, is that no nation can rise to the height of glory, unless women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity to shut up women within the four walls of houses as prisoners. Let us try to raise the status of women according to Islamic ideals and standards. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable conditions in which our women have to live. We should take the women along with us as comrades in every sphere of life.” Unquote
Commemoration of this Day is indeed an expression of the will and determination of the Pakistani women for a better tomorrow, not only for themselves but also for the future generations and ultimately, for the progress and prosperity of the country. Their will and determination to march on is abundantly evident from this year’s national theme that is ‘Legislation for Protecting Women’s Rights’.
The International Women’s Day is an annual occasion to take a brief account of the situation of women vis-à-vis pro-women initiatives. On this front, the democratically elected government has always been proactively pursuing the agenda of women empowerment. During last four years, historic decisions were taken in political, administrative, economic and legislative fields to empower women.
The journey for women’s development starts with Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto who became the first ever democratically elected Prime Minister in the entire Muslim World. Mohtarma was a powerful symbol of women’s empowerment who made relentless efforts for the cause of women’s uplift.
She did not allow any kind of obstacles to stand in her way of realizing the dream of women empowerment. She used to say, “We, the women, have nothing to fear but fear itself.” She sacrificed her life for the sake of the downtrodden sections of society and thus, emerged as a great role model and as well as an icon for the women.
In line with the vision of the Quaid-e-Azam and Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, the present Parliament has undertaken landmark legislation on many issues which were detrimental to the image and status of women. Issues such as acid throwing, forced marriages, marriage with Quran, denial of right to inheritance, and harassment at workplace etc have been made offence in the eyes of law. We consider these evils, not only as crimes against women but crimes against humanity. These crimes are deep rooted in our social fabric through centuries old customs and un-Islamic traditions.
It is in this context that legislative enactments such as “Women Protection from Harassment at Workplace Act 2010, Amendment in PPC 509, Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011, the Prevention of anti-Women Practices Act 2011 and Fund for Women in Distress and Detention Act 2011” would go a long way in empowering women to take charge of their lives.
These measures are reflective of the government’s commitment and sincere efforts to address women-related issues to ensure their greater participation in the national mainstream. On this occasion, I would like to salute the honourable members of Parliament across political divide who rose to the occasion and made history through these historic steps.
Dr. Fehmida Mirza, Speaker, National Assembly and Chairperson, Women Parliamentary Caucus, in her address, has amply highlighted these issues and the efforts of the Parliament in the passage of pro women Bills.
On its part, the present government is proud of enacting these legislations. At the same time, the government is also fully cognizant of its responsibility for effective implementation of all these laws. I am confident that the media, civil society, academia and other leading actors will also play their role in implementing these laws in letter and spirit.
With the Women Development Ministry devolved to provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, new threats and opportunities have emerged so far as the subject of women empowerment is concerned. This has put a greater responsibility on the provincial governments to observe this day in a befitting manner.
I would, therefore, impress upon the provincial governments to address the issue of gender equality in the light of new political, legal and economic framework post-devolution. This requires renewed political commitment to see pro-women reforms through.
Projects aimed at economic empowerment are part of the government’s efforts to create income generating activities for the marginalized women. The Benazir Income Support Program is the largest ever programme to provide financial support directly to the women of the poor households. Among others, it provides skills and technical training, health insurance and interest-free loans.
It is not only contributing directly to the income of seven million poor families across the country but has also empowered women by channelling cash transfers through them. Initiatives by the BISP have contributed to women empowerment in FATA as well. Door-to-door poverty survey has been completed in Bajaur and Kurram agencies while it is under process in other tribal areas.
The programme for distribution of land to landless Haris, initiated in November, 2008, is another major step. Over 56,000 acres of state land have been distributed among over 6,000 women beneficiaries.
The government is fully aware of the devastation caused by the floods of 2010 and 2011. It has severely impacted the economic and social status of the rural women. The ultimate brunt of the unprecedented damage caused to the life, property, livestock, and crops, especially in Sindh was borne by the rural women who lost everything and remain the poorest of the poor. Despite these heavy odds, Pakistan women possess the resilience to fight off these challenges. The Government has been making concerted efforts on a continuous basis to redress the grievances of the affected women.
The National Commission on the Status of Women, established in the year 2000, is going to be replaced with a new National Commission on the Status of Women. The new Commission will have enhanced administrative and financial autonomy. The Commission will, thus, become more effective to promote and safeguard the interests of Pakistani women in all spheres of life.
The presence of Pakistani women can be witnessed both at the national and international level also. Women continue to play their due role in the national development in different capacities such as Ministers, Advisors, Parliamentarians, bureaucrats, diplomats and military officers. Eleven missions abroad are currently being headed by women.
The UN system has also benefited from the experience of Pakistani women in different capacities, including three serving experts of the UN Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. It clearly reflects caliber and potential of our women. On this occasion, I would like to make mention of Ms Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy who won the first ever Oscar Award.
Utilizing the forum of today’s Convention, I would assure the world community that Pakistan stands committed to its international obligations emanating from Convention of the Eliminations all forms of Discrimination Against Women, Beijing Platform for Action and the observations made by the CEDAW Committee on our compliance report. The technical and financial support extended by the donors in our efforts of planning and programming for women’s empowerment is praise-worthy.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that the efforts of the Government in promoting women’s rights are supported and complemented by a free electronic and print media, and the vibrant civil society. Their constant support, monitoring and constructive criticism have helped the government in its endeavours towards mainstreaming women.
In the end, I would laud the efforts made by the Ministry of Human Rights in organizing this successful Convention in such a befitting manner.
I thank you all!
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