Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) organized its second regional dialogue in collaboration with Gender Equity Program (GEP) titled ‘Effective Implementation of Pro Women Laws and Women’s Access to Justice’ held at Mehran Hotel on Wednesday, 28th December 2016. The dialogue was attended by civil society activists, law makers, legal experts, journalists and members of Bar Association. The purpose of the dialogue was to deliberate upon the de facto and de jure challenges associated with recent women friendly legislations. The agenda was carried forward during mentioned sessions as of below:
Significance of establishing Sindh Provincial Commission on the Status of Women
Implementation mechanism for Domestic Violence (Prevention and protection) Act 2013; The prevention of Anti Women Customary Practices Act 2011; Child Marriages Restraint Act; Sexual Harassment at Workplace 2010
Role of law enforcement agencies/ medico legal services in enhancing/hindering women’s access to justice.
Legal Support mechanism for women litigants and referral system
Mr. Naseer Memon– Chief Executive SPO, Ms. Afia Zia –Women’s Rights Activist, Member of Women Action Forum- Karachi, Ms. Mussarat Jabeen- Director Women Development Department- Govt. of Sindh, Dr. Naseem Qamar Senior WMLO-JPMC Mr. Mohammad Ali- President Roshni Help line and Ms. Mahpara Shakil Ghouri were among the speakers a
Ms. Shazia Shaheen, project manager SPO, briefly elaborated overall objectives of the project. She informed the participants how the project has strengthened its ties with legal community/lawyers of different districts across Pakistan. She presented a presentation elaborating the nature of cases which were dealt over the period of previous 6 months by 325 pro bono lawyers in 12 districts across Pakistan. It was indeed questionable trend that has been found out in the data base that over 80% of cases of women litigants comprises family suits such as claim for dowry, maintenance of children and seeking divorce or Khulla. However, very few cases were registered under the women friendly legislations e.g. Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Domestic Violence or Anti Women Customary Practices. Pakistan has been ranked the second-worst country in the world for gender inequality for the second consecutive year, she added further. According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report 2016, Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index, way behind Bangladesh and India which rank 72nd and 87th respectively.
Pakistan is also the worst performing state in South Asia and has been for the last couple of years, while Sri Lanka ranks 100th, Nepal 110th, the Maldives 115th and Bhutan 121st.
Hence the global picture doesn’t depict the same in which Pakistan counted among the highest ranked dangerous country for women and we are placed at 142 out of 146 countries at Gender index. She said that almost 625 lawyers will be trained on the issue of pro-women laws. Ms. Afia Zia, an eminent women rights activist deliberated that gang rapes, sexual assaults and killing of women in the name of “honor” is proliferating in Pakistan. Though gender-based violence is a global phenomenon, however the culture of impunity surrounding such crimes distinguishes Pakistan from other countries. She added that though the Law on Anti Honor Killing has been passed and quite significance deliberations have already been made before passing the law yet there are certain lacunas. The law will surely safeguard women, but the issue of compoundability has not been delinked from the Law that has left the law again not providing relief to women. The notion of impunity is by default feature of Qisas and Diyat Law that has been proven a killing field for women in Pakistan. Women’s movement have always demanded to delink “honor killing” from Qisas and Diyat Law and make it a crime against the state rather than against individual thus to make honor killing a non-compoundable offence against the perpetrator and there should not be any option given to the family to forgive the criminals, Ms. Afia added.
Ms. Khadija, women rights activist and a lawyer by profession shared that there is less than one per cent conviction rate in cases of violence against women. It is a pity that inadequacies and legal lacunas of Anti-Honor Killing Bill have overshadowed the Anti-Rape Law (Criminal Amendment Bill) that merits much praise. Despite the controversy created by the Council of Islamic Ideology on the admission of DNA test as an evidence in cases of rape, the Law accepts DNA as a primary evidence. It is a victim or survivor centered law. It is comprehensive by default which addresses all social and protective aspects and procedures, media reporting that trespasses on victims’ right to privacy, dignity and confidentiality and the tinkering of evidence in the way of investigation of rape cases by any police official.
Mr. Naseer Memon, the CEO of the SPO said that we are facing the brunt of malevolent socio-cultural, economic and political structural barriers that create conditions of vulnerability for women and subject them to gender-based violence. The most dangerous is the law of the land that plays mayhem with women’s lives especially the Qisas and Diyat Law that was introduced as a part of General Ziaul Haq’s Islamisation that provided the converted legitimacy to crimes and allows amnesty to perpetrators. He added that the only exception at present, exists in cases of terrorism where compoundability (forgiveness) provision cannot be invoked. He further added on the recently unanimously passed and much appreciated law on forced conversions by Sindh Assembly. The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Act 2015 acquired three years to reach a vote in the Sindh Assembly and rights activists, Hindu communities and other non-Muslim groups much approbated the passage of much needed law. However, it took only three weeks for Sindh Assembly leaving us in shock that they are considering backtracking on landmark legislation that sought to protect minorities from forced conversions by making it a criminal offence. Forced conversion is a repugnant and extreme offence and an issue that has become prevalent across Sindh which must be eliminated by recognizing the importance of tolerance, peace and respect for all religions and persons, irrespective of their religion. This bill is a “ray of hope” for non-Muslim communities of Pakistan and will put a stop to “injustice against the minorities since everyone has the right to feel protected and openly practice their faith.
Speaking on the ‘Gender Equity Program’ Ms. Mahpara Shakeel Ghouri, director capacity building GEF, shared details of four core objectives of the program, including access to justice; combating gender based violence; empowerment at home, in the workplace and public domain; and capacity building of institutions that advocate gender equity. This project aims to amplify confidence among women of the country, she added, saying number of women has been found who know what kinds of issues they had faced and how they tackled them.
Mr. Muhammad Ali- Executive director Roshni Welfare organization shared that the Helpline established to support and facilitate women survivors had proved to be a much instrumental in giving legal assistance and counseling to women survivors.
Ms. Mussarat Jabeen, the additional secretary of the Women Development Department, said that laws related to women rights will need time to be implemented as they are related to typical mindset. Speaking about the laws of harassment at workplace, she said that around 1260 enquiry committees have been established at different institutions where almost 250 cases have been lodged since 2013.
Ms. Jabeen said that women complaint cells have also been established in different districts of Sindh province. “Our officials register complaint at these cells. We help them [women] from counseling to legal aid.