Mar 8, 2009

A day for women

Around the world, nearly a century after the German Marxist activist Clara Zetkin proposed such a day in 1910, the 8th of March continues to be celebrated as International Women’s Day. Here too we shall see the usual seminars and perhaps a rally or two. For many, the plight of Pakistani women is of course illustrated by horrendous accounts of brutal murder, medieval rituals that involve live burials or terrible stories of acid attacks on young women. Such accounts routinely make headlines. The ban on girl’s education in Swat, imposed by militants, is a reminder of the threat they face. Though the ban has been lifted, tens of thousands of girls have dropped out of school due to the fear of the extremists.But there has, over the years, also been good news. A report by Aurat Foundation describes the performance over the past five years of women parliamentarians and details their interventions, often on key issues. Legislation introduced under President Pervez Musharraf has brought more women into assemblies and local government than ever before; many of the worst provisions of the hudood ordinances have been repealed and harsher penalties put in place for ‘honour’ crimes. The practices of ‘swara’ and ‘vani’ have been banned by courts. A bill on tackling domestic violence is likely to be tabled soon. All this has generated an increased awareness of issues linked to women’s rights, and as a consequence, wider reporting of abuses when they occur. These are big strides forward. But they are dragged back by the numerous cases of violations of law that take place everywhere, resulting in murder or other crime. On the occasion of 8th March, legal experts and governance specialists must consider why changes in law do not always make a difference on the ground. We need to find ways to alter the lives of ordinary women. This must be a challenge taken up by legislators and activists alike so that greater awareness and the expanded political role for women can bring about difference in the quality of their lives everywhere in the country.

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