Women empowerment and gender mainstreaming is imperative for the political, economic, social and cultural growth of any country. Though this principle is recognized and acknowledged globally, women continue to be the victims of discriminatory practices, marginalization and exclusion. The women in Pakistan are also subjected to oppression and brutality in a male dominated society.
Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) against Women calls for zero tolerance against exclusion, marginalization and oppression of women in societies across continents. Pakistan acceded to the CEDAW in 1996 (with reservations on some of its clauses) but the treaty is not implemented in its true spirit as evident from continuation of oppressive policies against women in the society. It is imperative to highlight that Pakistan is not part of the succession of the treaty.
Successive governments in Pakistan have paid only lip service to the cause of women and gender mainstreaming. No government , including present one, have shown the courage to grapple with the primitive gender discriminatory practices inherent in our political, social, legal and cultural systems. Being a signatory of CEDAW, Pakistan is legally bound to implement the treaty in letter and spirit.
It would be essential to highlight some of the salient features of Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and then to expose the gaps which affect its implementation in Pakistan.
The Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979. It entered into force as an international treaty in 1981. Currently 185 countries (over ninety percent of the members of the United Nations) are party to the Convention.
The Convention not only establishes an international bill of rights for women but also set an agenda of action for countries to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights. It acknowledges “extensive discrimination against women continues to exist” .
The preamble of CEDAW upholds the principle of equal rights of men and women, expresses disdain for discrimination against women which “is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life”. The preamble recognizes the vulnerability and exclusion of women in impoverish communities with “least access to food, health , education, training and opportunities for employment and other needs” It also take stock of women’s major contribution to the welfare of the family including social significance of maternity, child rearing, procreation , importance of child spacing etc.
The Convention defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex” The Convention highlights measures to ensure equality of men and women including appropriate statutes, legal safeguards, establishment of tribunals, special measure as needed to “ accelerating de facto equality between men and women” The Conventions emphasizes on the need for active women participation in political field acknowledge women’s right to vote, participate in election, hold public offices, represent government at international level and retain their nationality
The Convention acknowledges women ‘s right to education and employment. The treaty stipulates that women will have same education opportunities including right to scholarship, choice in pursing career, informal education, reduction of female student drop out rates etc. Their right to employment is also well defined including freedom to choose profession, right to social security, equal remuneration, protection of health i.e. Maternity leave.
The treaty also underscores the importance of women health issues. It calls for elimination of discrimination against women with regard to access to health care services
The Convention fully recognizes the contribution of rural women in economic, social and political growth of the society. It establishes rural women rights to “participate in and benefit from rural development. Its affirms their right to participate in rural development planning, implementation, access to adequate health care facilities, taking benefits from social security programmes, access to formal and informal education. It affirms the rural women rights to form self help groups, full access to agricultural credit, access to housing, sanitation, water supply , transport and communication.
Another salient feature of the Convention include legal empowerment of women. It accords “women equality with men before the law”. The equality before law include freedom to conclude contract, nullifying all legal instruments restricting women capacity, right to choose their residence and domicile etc.
To what extend these global benchmarks for empowering women are implemented in our country? How excluded and marginalized are the Pakistani women in the society? To what extend women’s political, economic and social rights safeguarded?
The women are treated as second-class citizens . They are highly marginalized, oppressed and violated. Their political, economic and social rights are infringed on daily basis. The cases of domestic violence and discriminatory social practices are on the increase. The existence and application of discriminatory legal instrument makes a mockery of women’s right to legal emancipation.
The Convention calls for zero tolerance against discrimination of women in every sphere of life. However the scene is different in Pakistan. The literacy rate is less than 28 percent as against 53 per cent for men. There are also gender gaps in primary school enrollment. In some rural and remote parts of the country the girls’ education is prohibited on distorted interpretation of religion.
With regard to access to health facilities, the country has alarming rate of maternal mortality in the Asia Pacific region. The maternal mortality rate stands at 500 per 100,000 live births and the births attended by skilled health personnel is only 31%. Their reproductive rights are rarely respected. With no choice in child spacing, malnourished and limited access to contraceptive, women’s health is compromised. As majority of the population live in rural areas, the rural women are often at disadvantage in having access to health facilities.
In the economic sphere, the gender inequalities continue to prevail. Constituting more than 50% of the population, women participation is low with only 28% of them part of the labour force. Their share in paid non agricultural employment is only 10 per cent. Their economic rights, including right to remuneration, equality at work places, access to opportunities, are often infringed. Often impoverished, illiterate and economically excluded, the women are forced to lead highly marginalized lives.
With regard to legal empowerment and equality of men and women before law, the women in the country continue to be subjected to discriminatory and abhorrent laws and ordinance. For example under Hudood Ordinance of 1979, the women are prosecuted on false charges of fornication, causing incessant mental, social and physical sufferings. Indicted for adultery, the innocent rape victims are expected to produce two male witnesses in order to proof the alleged rape crime. The law, instead of providing support to the humiliated women, further perpetuates injustice through discriminatory clauses under Hudood ordinance. Through Protection of Women Bill, in 2006, some of its clauses have been made less virulent but still the Ordinance must be completely revamped to take stock of the sufferings caused to the vulnerable victim of rape and violence.
In the enforcement of Muslim Family Law, the women are again subjected to discrimination and exclusion. From early teenage marriage, half share in inheritance, limitations in seeking unilateral divorce, discrepancies in child custody, practice of polygamy and denial of alimony continue to jeopardize the interests and welfare of women in the society.
On the social front, women are again brutalized. They have to fit in the stereotyped role. Their births is greeted with concerns and worries. They are denied equal access to education opportunities in comparison with their male siblings. As wives, they are expected to engage fully in child bearing and rearing. The cases of domestic violence including rape, physical assault, and battery go unnoticed. The despicable practices of honour killing and trade off to settle blood feuds and their marriage to Quran to deny them their legitimate share in inheritance are some of the flagrant infringements of the Convention of All Forms of Elimination against Women.
It is about time for the government, civil society and pressure groups to strive to eliminate all forms of discriminatory practices against women. By ratifying the Convention, Pakistan is legally bound to ensure implementation of CEDAW and also to address the problems of social, political and economic gender disparities inherent in the system. Only through elimination of discriminatory practices and promotion of gender equality that conducive environment for women emancipation and human development can be created.