THE role of women varies across classes, regions and the rural/ urban divide due to uneven socio-economic development and opportunities for women to excel in their life across Pakistan. It is, however, worth mentioning that women of today do enjoy a better status than the past. Unlike traditional role today women work under the same macro, regulatory and institutional framework as their male counterparts in public and private offices in Pakistan but their working environment is made up of social, cultural, traditional and religious elements. The Government of Pakistan has adopted four critical areas of social, economic, political and legal development as a strategic and holistic approach in optimising women’s full potential as guaranteed under fundamental human rights and international commitments. Government, on the other hand, has provided constitutional structures, policy documents, legislative arrangements, institutional mechanisms and regulatory environments which are cosmetically better and are in favour of women.
At the same time, vibrant civil society, free media and independent judiciary are important means of protection and promotion of women rights in the country. To empower women of Pakistan, National Policy for development and Empowerment of Women 2002, National Plan of Action 1998, National Action Plan on Human Rights 2016 and other legislative measures including Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010 have been adopted which encourage women to join formal labour sector/ jobs. Moreover, with constant efforts of government, the political representation of women in Pakistan is also higher and more than 100 women parliamentarians are playing significant role in raising issues and concerns relating to women at public forums and to ensure that women gain equitable access to resources, knowledge and institutions. Ministry of Human Rights launched extensive Public Awareness Campaigns, trainings and capacity building programmes for lawyers, police, and prosecutors to sensitise them regarding their attitude and behaviour towards their women colleagues. Federal Ombudsman Secretariats for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace at national and provincial level are delivering their best to provide harassment free and friendly environment to the working women.
In continuation to the efforts of empowering women economically, government has allocated 50 per cent share for women in the Prime Minister Youth Loan Scheme which reflects the government’s dedication and commitment to provide maximum opportunities to the women. The banking system has launched various loan schemes for short & medium terms wherein women were given the opportunity to participate in promotion and development of economic and agricultural sector. Benazir Income Support Programme provides a unique forum for empowerment to the poorest women by redefining their lives and adding dignity, empowerment and meaning to their lives. After 18thConstitutional amendment, Provincial Governments are now taking independent policy, legislative, administrative and institutional steps to safeguard rights of women and creating opportunities for women to work and contribute to the economy of Pakistan as a vibrant worker. Punjab’s Women Empowerment Packages 2012, 2014, 2016 comprises multiple reforms in legal, administrative and institutional spheres while providing new initiatives to safeguard women’s rights and is expected to transform the socio-economic status of women by expanding opportunities available to them. Punjab also increased employment quota to 15% for women, granted 3 years age relaxation, provided an additional chance of transfer to women to the place of residence of spouse in case of marriage and other infrastructure to encourage women to join public and private sector and become a vibrant member of the society. The Government of Sindh established Sales & Display Resource Centres, Day Care Centres, Media Cells, Women Development complexes and hostels to provide opportunity and safe working environment to working women enabling them to actively play their role in uplifting the socio-economic status of society as a whole. Similarly, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Women Empowerment Policy (PWEP) 2015, youth policy 2016, help lines, Working Women Hostels, Vocational Centres are important tools to increase ratio of working women in province. Balochistan is also providing friendly and harass free environment to women to ensure their presence in decision making positions and all other spheres of life.
There are also dynamic platforms such as the Inter Provincial Ministerial Group comprising of Minister of Women Development Departments, National Commission on Human Rights, National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women, Federal and provincial Ombudsperson against Harassment of Women at Workplace, provincial human rights, women and minority rights departments, reformed Police system where in women officers are actively working for protection and promotion of other women all over Pakistan. After tireless efforts of federal and provincial governments, women from all over Pakistan are now entering into non-traditional professions like armed forces, sports, scuba diving and media and contributing towards prosperity.
— The writer is a social activist based in Islamabad.