|International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. Every year International Women’s day is celebrated on 8th March across the world. Since Pakistan in general and NWFP in particular has been experiencing conflicts during the last few years, the development process of the provinces is severely affected by it. The deteriorating law and order situation has also affected the social services delivery of the state.
In this context SPO Peshawar decided to commemorate the women’s day by setting a theme relevant to the prevailing situation in the province. A day long seminar on “Women Development Issues in the Context of NWFP” was organized by SPO Peshawar on March 8, 2010 in Peshawar. The seminar was attended by around 155 participants from across the broad spectrum of society such as development activists, political workers, academia, media, community organizations, politicians and government representatives.
Prominent among those who spoke on the occasion were: Mian Sardar Hussain Babak, Minister for Education, Ms. Sarwat Jehan, Directress Elementary Education, Ms. Samina Afridi, Gender Specialist/ lecturer in Department of Philosophy, Ms. Sumera Khan from Department of Social Work, Mr. R.D. Williams, member SPO Board of Directors, Ms. Shagufta Malik, MPA of ANP, Ms. Nasreen Khattak, ex-MPA (PMLQ), Ms. Tabasum Younas Katozai, MPA of ANP and Ms. Rakhshanda Naz, women rights activist and General Body member of SPO, Ms. Sitara Ayaz, Minister for Social Welfare & Women Development NWFP and Ms. Parveen Akhtar, SPO BoD.
Objectives of the seminar were: to highlight the main challenges faced by the women in NWFP and formulate recommendations for women development in education, health, economic development. To make the event more fruitful, interesting and productive SPO arranged two panel discussion sessions with different themes followed by group discussion for collecting participant’s recommendations on women developments in field of economic, health, education and conflicts.
The event started with the recitation of the Holy Quran. Arshad Haroon, Regional Head SPO Peshawar shared the seminar’s objectives and the elements of SPO core program, thereby highlighting the importance of gender as a cross cutting theme of all SPO interventions. He said that SPO is striving for good governance by strengthening democratic institutions. He emphasized the importance of social justice in building peace in the region, which is a prerequisite for social and economic wellbeing.
In the first session of seminar Mian Sardar Hussain Babak highlighted the issues faced by women in education throughout the province. He said that the government is not oblivious to these problems, however the government has fewer resources to tackle these. He appreciated the role of civil society in this regard. Emphasizing on women education he requested the International community to help the government rebuild the education facilities for women destroyed militants in NWFP.
Sarwat Jahan said that education is not only a basic human right but it is also critical for socio-economic development. She further mentioned that it is common knowledge that Pakistan has the poorest education sector indicators in the world. She further shared that WFO (World Food Organization) is assisting NWFP government in providing some incentives like cooking oil to girls students for making their health better and motivating parents to send their daughters to schools. This practice enhanced enrollments in the schools.
Sumera Khan informed the participants that in NWFP 33 percent women are literate. Pukhtoon women are facing a lot of discrimination in field of education, health, culture, rights, social and work load. She said lack of religious knowledge and misinterpretation of religion has further exasperated women status. Women‘s access to education, employment, health, property and justice had been severely restricted for years.
Samina Afridi criticized the present education system in which a student cannot learn even a single language properly. She said Pukhtoon culture has greater role in putting women education in the list of none preferred items. She proudly mentioned and quoted from history that Pukhtoons were never against the education of women, however during the recent past it’s the psyche of men to control women and dis-empower them from getting knowledge through education.
Shagufta Malik pointed out the miserable conditions of women regarding health facilities. She alarmed that almost 24000 female lose their lives during pregnancy and childbirth in Pakistan annually. Similarly 40 million women are living below poverty line. She cursed the swara system, and mentioned that it is such a travesty by sacrificing a woman for something she has never committed. She said that government is encouraging vocational trainings to women for their economic empowerment. She emphasized that woman participation should be made mandatory in big Jirgas. Similarly Dar ul itfal, Dar ul aman under Social Welfare department are working with the spirit to reduce women sufferings.
Rukhshanda Naz said women are demanding equal rights to their male counterparts but still there is a long way to go. She alarmed that these are difficult times for women in Pakistan as the country ranks 106th out of 137 on the Gender-related Development Index and 66th out of 75 on the Gender Empowerment Measurement Index. Despite religious, constitutional and legal rights, women’s position in Pakistani society is weak. She appreciated the work of organizations dedicated to women rights. She urged the government to implement policies envisaged under UN convention for women rights and CEDAW.
Nasreen khattak mentioned that on the eve of international women’s day, public focus will be on the theme adopted by the United Nations, “Equal rights, equal opportunities and progress for all”. This comes as a reminder that Pakistan still has a long way to go before equality of rights and opportunities is translated into reality. Women should actually have access to these services which can facilitate their progress that in turn allows society to develop. She said that we should bring change in our behavior so that we can celebrate every day as women day.
Tabassum Younas Kathozai said that Islam awarded great respect and dignity to women and Islam has allowed women to go out for work on need basis. We should have firm believe that secret of our success is positioned in following Islamic principles. She said that Pukhtoons have rich and dignified culture and we should respect our culture as well. In questions answers session, participants presented queries with regard to steps taken by the government towards education. In the end findings and recommendations of the participants were shared by Arshad Harron.
While giving details of govern commitments and plans for women, Sitara Ayaz said that government has allocated six billions of rupees for social welfare and development. She also mentioned that government is working on different projects in economic, health and education sector to empower women. Sitara Ayaz requested SPO to send her the findings of the seminar so that the findings can be incorporated in the planning of activities of Social welfare department in the future.
Dr. Tufail Mohammad, Chairperson SPO, in his concluding remarks said that it is regrettable that women do not enjoy basic facilities in education and health. He urged the law makers to form and implement policies to end these long standing issues. He thanked panelists and other participants who have taken keen interest in the events and hoped that this event would help in serving the cause in the long way. He appreciated the work of SPO Peshawar for arranging such a vital gathering on these important issues.