The battle must go on

By Zubeida Mustafa

SUCH are the paradoxes in Pakistan’s politics, that at a time our politicians are locked in a grim power struggle in Islamabad, the same gentlemen joined hands to pass unanimously the women’s commission bill last Thursday.

Whether this show of unity on a matter concerning women should be interpreted as an act of chivalry or a demonstration of ‘woman power’, it will be widely welcomed. One must, however, admit that it was the clout of the women’s caucus and the determination of the speaker — also a woman — to get the treasury and opposition benches to forge a consensus that ultimately carried the day. The bill is expected to have a smooth sailing in the Senate.

This certainly has been an uphill struggle. When the commission was set up in July 2000, it was widely felt that its mandate was too weak to allow it to function as an effective body. This view was confirmed in July 2001 when Aurat Foundation and Shirkat Gah organised an international conference where representatives from abroad briefed the participants about the powers wielded by similar bodies in their countries.

It became increasingly clear that the announcement made with great fanfare by Gen Musharraf was no more than a gimmick.

The National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW) lacked the capacity to bring about the emancipation of women and the elimination of discrimination against them.

Hence it was demanded that the powers and independence of the women’s commission should be enhanced to optimise its performance. The participants of the Islamabad conference also called for greater transparency and accountability in the commission’s selection and working.

It took more than a decade and a lot of hard work and advocacy to get the government to consider a change in the status quo.

The new body with the simple nomenclature of the National Commission for Women will certainly have more teeth in some respects as compared to its predecessor. It will be autonomous with the power to raise its own finances. Its composition will be more representative. Thus a bipartisan parliamentary committee will give a list of nominees from which the prime minister will select the members.

The prime minister will appoint the chairperson with the agreement of the leader of the opposition. This would hopefully ensure that the working of the commission is not hamstrung by inter-party conflict. Autonomy should allow the commission to bypass the red tape of bureaucracy and proceed to take up issues it feels are urgent.

The bill adopted by the National Assembly is significant in another way. The commission has been empowered to take up complaints of violations of women’s rights and even hold an enquiry into the matter if it is not being attended to. It can also inspect jails to check on female prisoners. In effect it will have the powers of a civil court. The ordinance of 2000 did not grant this power to the NCSW which could only monitor such violations and individual grievances, and then undertake initiatives for better management of justice and social services through the concerned forums.

In respect of the commission’s power of reviewing and monitoring the laws, policies and programmes of the government in the light of their implications for gender equality, empowerment of women, political participation and representation, the new law upholds the provision of the previous ordinance. It can also recommend repeal, amendment or new legislation as its predecessor could do. As before, it is authorised to sponsor research and maintain a database on gender issues as well as recommend the signing or ratification of international instruments.

The catch in all these provisions is that the commission can only make recommendations. It has no power to enforce its own views. When Justice Majida Razvi was the chairperson of the NCSW she had the Hudood Ordinances reviewed and the commission very strongly recommended their repeal. Her appeal fell on deaf ears. It was only later that the injustice inflicted on women by the Hudood Ordinances was neutralised by adopting the Women’s Protection Law of 2006. Will an autonomous commission have more powers of implementation? Most unlikely.

India’s National Commission for Women has been described as a strong body and yet one of its former members, Syeda Hameed, writes in her book They Hang, “The stories I tell are, of course, stories of women abused and violated by men wielding brute power. But they are also about the National Commission for Women, the nation’s apex body for women vested with the power to summon the highest functionaries of the land and seek redress — yet it remains ineffective for the most part … Perhaps it was ignorable or ignorance combined with indifference, but the truth of the matter is that the commission’s reports and jurisdiction are not binding on anyone, and its jurisdiction stops at its front door.”

Our commission can expect no better treatment from the male-dominated administration. But there is still hope. If the chairperson is an active and experienced person as the incumbent (Anis Haroon) is, she can use her office to draw public attention to the issue that needs to be addressed.

Working in close liaison with women parliamentarians the National Commission for Women can make an impact on the laws.

In other words the battle has to go on. But every victory helps create greater awareness and should be used in the campaign to mobilise women at the grass-roots. That is where lies the strength of the women’s movement wherever it may be.

Source: Dawn

12 thoughts on “The battle must go on

  1. women have more rights and power than men in Islam, the problem is we did not study our own religion and its concept of women’s rights,
    so we are educated-illiterate and so-called intellectual
    always involved in debates and arguments for nothing just to show our own masterly might and knowledge,
    if any one feels hurt I am sorry

    1. How do you justify saying, "Women have more rights and power than men…".
      Can they escape the Hadood Laws?
      Can any woman lead a weekly Juma Namaz in a mosque?
      Can a woman claim equal inheritance ?
      Sir, Stop making claims without thought or legitimate authority to back them. It does not serve the cause of equality of opportunity.
      Can a woman be the Chief of the general staff? Can a Muslim woman head the State ? Islam is a prison as it operates in Pakistan and the Saudi Arabia.
      The state of Pakistan a signatory to every civilised international convention re liberty ,rights of citizen and the protection of citizen's property, how many of these laws apply and work in Pakistan! Where are the disappeared people? What happened to the Balloch leaders ?
      It is a poor country made worse by the Mullahs. Without peace the industry can not work, without work resources for services can not happen. If you do not spend more than you spend on Army and police put together on education you will remain in a perilous position as you are.
      I hope Women of Pakistan can have equal rights but it is million miles away.
      Let me put a question. Why a woman be the c-in-c of the defence forces? Why not hold an open competition and the top people should be recruited for the profession of their choice.
      It would not happen .

      1. Why we focus so much on women? Leave them alone. They are leaders. They lead us. Do not we follow them whereever they go. Why you want them to lead the prayer anyway? Do not take this job from men, please. Women are superior; they can bear a child and men can't. Women can bear one, two, three and even 12 children. Women can't lead an army or navy or airforce. They do not have to; they have their grown-up kids to lead these organizations. Men and women are two different biological samples. They are good what they do in their own environment. By the way mullahs have nothing to do with the poor situation in pakistan. Pakistani society is not producing good mothers these days. Thus every other Pkaistani young boy or girl are either singer or a dancer. Pakistani women (or the women the world over) are not producing a scientist, an engineer, a philosopher, thinker, poet, writer or a leader. Women are producing too much trash these days.

        1. When a person — whether a man or a woman — has been reduced to a state of powerlessness one cannot really expect him or her to do much to change the situation. We focus on women because as you rightly point out she has a lot of say in the upbringing of children. But even here without economic empowerment and independence she cannot really change much. Then there is also the need to change her mindset. It is unfair to blame her for all evils without giving her any power.

          1. You are very much right that WOMAN must be strongly powered. A woman is a index of family. Healthy housewife means healthy family. Educated housewife means educated family. You say ' need to change her mindset' but I say 'need to change mindset of other family members and society'.

            Yes it is totally unfair to blame woman for any unhappy or unpleasant days. Scientists have already researched and further have been accepted by all that it is the man who is responsible for a boy or girl. The quality of SPERMS do it all but still it is the woman who is being blamed for giving birth to female. Today media news is that in Afghanistan a mother strangled to death, by her mother-in-law and husband for giving birth to second girl. One can read it at:

            I have already commented that mere legislation is not sufficient. Change of mindset of all will result into desired result. Female must be respected and cared at all levels of her age.

            It has also been said wisely: A house becomes HOME with entry of woman and empowered woman converts into a real HOME.

            Battle must go on…………….

        2. You are fudging the issue. Again ,the debate has gone away from the "rights" of women. What "rights" a female has in a Muslim society?
          The Individual attributes of sexes, or of citizens do not reduce the rights of the citizen. The rights of men do not decrease, if a man is crippled and they do not increase if a male is physically very strong individual.
          The capacity of the individual is a separate issue. There are ways to differentiate to find the best suited to the job.However, the first question is, if an individual is entitled to be considered as equal in all respects as a human being and a citizen of the state? If because of the gender issue one is regarded as a second class citizen, that impinges on the equality of rights. Why the right to equal inheritance be not accepted ?

          Yes, leading a significant prayer in a week or for other occasions is important , as are having the right to be the head of state or the head of the national defence force , which spin on the accepted rights of a citizen in a Muslim Society. Stop making a mockery of Islam, by not giving the right to women to drive a motor car, as in the Saudi Arabia for instance. What that got to do with Islam. It is the rule of the ignorant.
          If a Religion proclaims that a female should not hold an office,whatever that office may be, that is the negation of the basic Right which can not and should not be accepted.
          How many of you will dispute the fact that Venerable Aisha commanded the Army against the Venerable Ali and the Muslims fought against Muslims, while Aisha's half brother was on his step father's(Venerable Ali) side. If Venerable Aisha can be the leader of any Army, why not others of her gender?

          Like the proverbial Mullah if you do not answer the question head on, you are arguing something that does not belong to this debate.

  2. I agree we cannot afford to be complacent. As we go into another stage of the struggle our energies should be directed towards implementation strategies.
    Thank you for the piece puts things into perspective.

  3. democracry is an interminable work-in-progress; this is positive and impressive, given the surrounding contexts;
    i do think that not until women the world over, and especially in countries with preponderant muslim populations, take on religion as that final and most oppressive of male constructs, the battle is not truly joined.
    badri raina,

  4. my mother noor us sabah begum was married to my father in 1920 who was
    in the khilafat movement-she later took part in the pakistan movement
    and has been honoured by a gold medal and a postage stamp.incidentally
    she never studied in a school-her master sahib had never seen her.but
    both my mother and father subscribed to and read a lot of magazines
    and books in sherpur which is on the nepal border.she observed purdah
    during the pakistan movement but she brought the muslim league out
    from new delhi to old delhi where the common people lived and she
    'used' begum moulana mohamed ali the only woman member of the all
    india muslim league working committee to achieve her objective-llater
    in pakistan she wrote several books and many articles for
    newspapers.when asked by radio pakistan in an interview meant for
    posterity ' if she liked the new free life or the old sherpur
    life'-she said 'she liked the sherpur life'.

  5. Thank you for writing about issues that our 'independent' electronic media doesn't find worthy of attention.

  6. It should be called a positive attitude of Politicians on Women's Bill.

    But the main central point remains there. Do women need such Bills Or Will Women use this and other various Bills as ladder to climb ahead of men.

    In real sense for some women these Bills have no importance and they believe upon their own POWER. From history we can know too many women has proved it very clearly and strongly. The first name comes to my mind is of Marie Curie of Poland. She was the first woman to get Nobel Prize in Science and first person for multiple sciences. Florence Nightingale is another well known name. Jhansi ki Rani, Indira Gandhi, Benazeer Bhutto, Golda Meir of Israel, Thatcher of UK can be taken as examples. Presently we have Merkel of Germany, Shinawatra of Thailand, Sonia Gandhi, Rabbani Khar, Sherry Rehman, Chief Ministers (Shiela Dixit, Mayawati, Mamta, Jaya) of some states of India, Asma Jahangir – pak top most prominent lawyer, Pratibha Patil, etc. etc. On 26th January for the first time a female SNEHA SHEKHAWAT Flight Lieutenant lead the Air Show on 63rd Republic parade in New Delhi. All these penetrated their way without any support of Bill or reservation but on their OWN efforts. Now a days girls have outsmarted boys in many fields.

    But still much is to be done for the uplift of Women as women are also National Assets equally. For this mere Legislation or Bills will not be sufficient. Men Folks sacrifice is a must. Ego power needs to be undone. Inferiority complex amongst many women would not evaporate with Bills. Law (any where in world) never allows to rape a girl but still even minor girls are being raped and killed. So apart from framing the Bills/Act there is need to formulate also.

    Recently a very bad news from Delhi that two years girl was beaten mercilessly and we feel ashamed of deeply that my head goes down between two knees. Even a dreaded terrorist would not behave with a baby girl of two years. A total cruelty and brutality. Dignity of girl/women attacked. It must have appeared in Pak media. Please read the story (who are very tender at heart should not read) at:….

  7. As far as the problems confronting the womenfolk are concerned sincere and proactive efforts are needed to be taken but many obstacles are getting in the way of resolution of the womenfolk grievances. Just setting up of organization does not matter but empowering the forum deliver only. A raft of laws were enacted and revoked but no sea change was brought about in the lives of the opposite sex.

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