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Women Are Key Agents of Supporting and Protecting Each Other

6 May 2010 One Comment

Humaira Awais Shahid

Pakistan

Humaira Shahid

I was able to mobilize rigid feudalistic and dogmatic mindsets and make the Punjab Parliament vote above party lines, for human issues, and make them vote on the basis of conscience. Today the Punjab Parliament is proud of it.

Pakistan’s women parliamentarians have made extraordinary progress. We have been able to repeal some extremely controversial laws like the Hudood Ordinance [which penalized rape victims and protected their assailants], replaced these legislations with the Protection of Women Act (2006), and made amendments in Pakistan’s Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to penalize sexual harassment and to facilitate prosecution.

I moved two resolutions in the parliament: one that demanded acid attacks to be recognized as murder attempts and the other against Vani, which is the bartering of women to evade punishment for crimes committed by the male family members. The resolutions were passed unanimously by the Punjab Parliament, even though it encountered opposition from the conservative, literalist, patriarchal and feudal members. The resolution on Vani and its recommendations were included in the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2005, while the legislation proposed for acid attacks was referred to the federal law department and has been awaiting action for more than five years.

The most difficult legislation was the law to prohibit private usury. Private usury is controlled by criminal mafia, who through the money-lending business control the lives of the impoverished people. When they were unable to pay back high interest rates of over 140% on the debts, their daughters were forced into prostitution, sold into marriages, their pensions usurped, and farmer’s harvests went under debt. My own colleagues in the parliament were taking loans from agricultural banks at 2% and were giving them to farmers at 14% interest rate. Such a reform was not welcomed but was strongly opposed by the political leaderships, cabinet members, and administrative department.

To mobilize such a parliament to vote on its conscience took four years of strenuous effort against severe resistance and intimidation. The bill survived 11 extensions and 24 committee meetings and was finally passed to create history as the first piece of legislation by a private member in the Punjab Parliament, and within 15 days it was replicated and adopted by the Parliament of the NWFP [the NorthWest Frontier Province, recently renamed]. I was able to mobilize rigid feudalistic and dogmatic mindsets and make the Punjab Parliament vote above party lines, for human issues, and make them vote on the basis of conscience. Today the Punjab Parliament is proud of it.

My legislations clearly point out three main areas that affect the issues of violence against women. The law-making (legislature), law-providing (courts) and law-enforcing agencies (police) are where the changes need to be vested. A proper legal framework with implementing mechanisms and the enforcement of laws through courts and police, all these areas need proper sensitization on gender based violence. The abused victims also require legal and judicial protection, which is the responsibility of the legislature and judiciary.

This needs a comprising strategy that produces a comprehensive and holistic plan of action, which engages media, public forums and local communities to create awareness and an open debate. Traditional practices most of the time are garb to dissemble crime and violence for sheer greed and control. Nevertheless, the fight against ignorance and bigotry needs an effective strategy which can be followed.

There is a dire need to support and protect the survivors of violence against women. Reform on violence against women is about preventative measures. It’s about giving them economic stability, so they are empowered and become effective decision makers in their families. It is allocating resources to those local level community organizations that are already supporting and protecting each other. . . .Women are key agents of change in shifting mindsets and equipping coming generations with different mindsets. Women are key agents of supporting and protecting each other. Examples of Liberia and Rwanda show us how women stood up to take charge of things in severe conflict-torn areas, in the midst of genocides and wars.

To eliminate violence is one of the crucial needs of today. Violence against women is not a phenomenon of any one particular region, any one particular society, or any one mindset. It is prevalent in our social and religious ideologies and cultural traditions which tint our daily lives. To redress it in a pragmatic way is an endeavor to reroute an entire world towards stability and security.

Humaira Shahid was a newspaper editor in Pakistan and served in the Provincial Assembly for Punjab from 2002 to 2007. She is currently a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This is the second half of a statement Humaira presented before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, US House of Representatives, on April 15, 2010.

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One Comments to “Women Are Key Agents of Supporting and Protecting Each Other”
  1. Mary Ellen Latela says:

    Humaira,

    I believe you have demonstrated courage and fortitude in the struggle to end violence against women. I am a US citizen and the problem is widespread here. As an advocate for several decades, am encouraged by your progress and I continue to hope that with active commitment, violence against women will be considered a crime against humanity everywhere.

    Peace!
    Mary Ellen Latela

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