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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: Legislations Passed – The Silver Lining

Read My Article: http://tribune.com.pk/story/680052/international-womens-day-legislations-passed-the-silver-lining/

Today is a day to highlight the most pertinent issues confronting women, to celebrate our achievements, to identify the  gaps and, most of all, stand in solidarity for change. Today is not a Hallmark day to merely say, “Happy Women’s Day!”
The most prominent achievement for women in the past few years has been the passage of new progressive legislation for women. Perhaps this is the time to reflect on well we have utilized those advances. How many steps forward have we taken and how far back have we slipped. On the whole, we can say that regardless of the passage of good legislation, we cannot move forward unless we all are willing to make it work.
Taking a quick look at the progress made on the implementation of the seven laws passed over the last four years, it seems that the highest marks can be given to the Benazir Income Support Program, the anti-sexual harassment legislation and empowering the NCSW. Although quite different in nature these are the only ones that have an organised mechanism for implementation.
The Benazir Income Support Program Act culminated in a project that made its mark by directly assisting thousands of women to develop themselves. Although there were concerns that the new Government might allow it to lapse, a wise decision last year will allow the program to continue and build upon its achievements.
On the sexual harassment front, within the first year after passage, over 1000 cases were filed and the figure has steadily risen.  However, many complainants are facing increased pressure to drop their cases and several accused have been able to save themselves through high level connections. Nevertheless, the banking sector, including the State Bank, several federal government agencies, such as NADRA, as well as HEC and many universities have shown outstanding results, setting a precedent for the future. At a ceremony in December last year, awards were given to eight organisations and individuals that had built exceptionally supportive work environments. While these achievements might appear limited, the change in people’s attitudes has been revolutionary. Although the private and government sectors are steadily improving, the offices of the Anti-Sexual Harassment Ombudsmen in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, established to support the victims of this crime, have been working below expectation. Collectively, they have employed an insensitive working model that has failed to support victims by making unnecessary delays and failing to understand either the legislation or the issue.
The National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) was re-established early last year under a revised Act. The revised legislation provided a stronger legal basis for the Commission, which is the national watch dog body on women’s issues. However, while the legislation provided autonomy for the Commission, the bureaucracy got its revenge by making the the passage of the implementing rules an unnecessarily long and drawn out affair. As a result, the impact this institutional reform is yet to be seen.
As the devolution aspects of the18th Amendment gather momentum, the provinces have been gearing up their new legislative agenda. Although women’s issues have not been seen as a major priority, there have been some commendable efforts. Sindh started off by passing its domestic violence bill.  Passage of this bill by a province was a bittersweet victory as civil society had failed for nine year to get it passed by the federal parliament. Balochistan followed suit, but with a weaker version. Nevertheless, we give them high marks for their intention and action as an amendment has been promised to fix some critical gaps in the text.
Despite world-wide attention on Pakistan, the amendment to the PPC that criminalized acid burning has not made much difference on the number of cases registered or convictions obtained during the last year. The reason is that this was supposed to be a set of two pieces of legislation, an amendment in the PPC, plus a comprehensive law that fully tackles the full challenge faced when filing a complaint, collecting evidence, and conducting a judicial inquiry. That comprehensive bill was never passed and now must approved by each province individually. Although one feels that In the face of the gravity of this crime, you might wonder who would oppose such a badly needed law, nevertheless the provincial governments have not yet considered it important enough to be taken up for a vote.
The implementation on the PPC amendment on anti-women practices, covering such crimes as forced marriage, exchanging women to resolve local conflicts and preventing women from inheriting their rightful share, has only seen limited results since being signed in December 2011.  Such issues, deeply rooted in the patriarchal nature of our society, have strong backing from the local social elite. Faced with such powerful resistance, the resolve of our state machinery quickly withers.  As with acid burning, domestic violence and rape, these are crimes are committed as an expression of power over women. These will not disappear merely because they are now illegal.  Their impact will be diminished only when our society condemns their perpetrators.
While reviewing the progress in recent years, one point stands out clearly: Implementation of pro-women laws, where it is done at all, results from the efforts of committed groups or individuals that push the process.  In many cases, these committed individuals are themselves complainants who have felt empowered by the new statutes, no matter how painful their journey might be.  These activists know they are cutting against the grain of our society, but they continue to struggle in order to reduce the pain our society inflicts on its own women. These activists are resolute in their efforts because the people in power, who should take it upon themselves to implement these laws, fail to do so because they are too busy resisting or covering their own tracks.
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CHANGE THE NARRATIVE: TEN STRATEGIES TO COUNTER MILITANCY

The discussion on countering militants was earlier framed as either ‘peace talks’ or ‘military operation’. Now that the talks have failed or have gone no where, the discussion has been framed around military operations and their consequences. I think there is a dire need to look at this scenario in a broader, and more realistic, framework. Only attacking the militant bases without a solid policy shift will not bring any change. Baitullah Mahsud was replaced by Hakeemullah Mehsud, who was replaced by Fazlullah. Continued focus on eliminating militant leaders without any thoughtful and sincere policy shift will not get us anywhere. What will bring peace back to our country? An impression has been created by the taliban apologists that the answer is with the taliban and that the talks would reveal the magic steps. The nation looked to them for an answer, but only found continued trickery and violence. The real question is what are WE willing to do to bring back peace. The onus is on us. To start off the discussion I am giving ten strategic points for consideration: 

1) Target Military Operations in places where militants are concentrated.

2) Issue official orders (for real) to break the friendly ties between law enforcing agencies (including intelligence agencies) and the militants and authorize them to apprehend the militants in the other parts of the country also, through investigation and inditement.

3) Expedite the inditement and conviction of the militants already captured. 

4) A clear policy by our leaders (political, military, religious or bureaucrats) to prevent any one from supporting, quietly protecting, or making backdoor deals with any banned groups of terrorists

5)  Change the narrative: separate Islam from militancy. Stop overplaying the sharia smoke screen, stop helping taliban reinforce their fake religious front. (This one especially is for the media) 

6) Change the narrative from taliban, jihadis to MILITANTS, so that the attention is not only focused on TTP, but on all the militants in the country.  

7) Put those using a religious front or pushing an ideology of hate under the garb of religion on the defensive. Strict action should be taken against all illegitimate militant hideouts in the form of “madrases” and “humanitarian organizations” and anyone who uses fatwa or incites people using Islam. 

8) This is OUR WAR and our mess and we have to clean up our house. We can sit together and blame USA or others later, but lets focus on protecting and cleaning our own house right now.  

9) Citizens must stick together through this roller coaster regardless of whichever party they support. This is not a time to divide ourselves and play politics. This is a time to focus on reclaiming our country. 

10) The national political leadership, and not the ISPR, should give briefings to media and to the nation. 

 


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ANTI-SEXUAL HARASSMENT LAWS ARE APPLICABLE TO UNIVERSITIES IN PAKISTAN

Although everyone would be more concerned about the attacks in Waziristan, I do want to share this article which  clarifies some of the misconception created by the print media. It is disheartening that one has to work so hard to get a positive impact from a law, but everyone picks up something negative so fast. I don’t know if the amendment will pass or not but the way he has talked to the press has thrown our work back about two years. We have been trying to control the damage for the last five days  Anyway here is my clarification. If you know people in the universities kindly help me circulate this article widely. Now that we had the universities adopting this law we don’t want to have any sliding back.

The anti-sexual harassment law is applicable to all institutions, government, private, civil society and as the text of the law regarding this clearly states, “to the educational institutions” as well (Section 2 Paragraph 1). A recently proposed amendment in the Senate created an impression that the law is not currently applicable in the educational institutions. This is totally incorrect. I will explain the challenges this law is facing because of some elitist elements, which are persistent in harassing others and pull all strings to get away with it.

The amendment moved recently in the Senate has a positive intention. We have given our inputs. If approved, it should expand the definition of sexual harassment which will help cover, in a better way, all complainants who are not employees of an institution but are harassed by an employee. These include students as well. We hope the government will look at such changes in a positive manner.

The law, Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act of 2010, was signed on March 9, 2010. In January 2011, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) dispatched a detailed guideline for all universities to comply with the new law.

The law has a provision for an appeal process. If you approach the Inquiry Committee of the institution, either party can go in appeal to the ombudsman. You can also go to the ombudsman, under section eight which states that, “Any employee shall have the option to prefer a complaint either to the ombudsman or the inquiry committee.” In such a case, either party can take the decision for a representation to the president. But no one gets to appeal twice. Perhaps a future amendment can also make this more explicit.

The university controller of examinations of the Quaid-e-Azam University (QAU) was forcefully retired by the university for physically harassing a young female student. The story was corroborated by many witnesses. A frenzy was created within the syndicate. Most respected Supreme Court Justice Nasirul Mulk, who happens to be on the syndicate of the QAU, ruled that the law is applicable to universities. The controller took the case in appeal to the ombudsman where the university’s decision was upheld. He tried his luck in the high court but did not get anywhere. He then took the case to another appeal — to the president. The second appeal is not allowed under the law. The president sent the case to the law ministry where, we are told the ministry said the law doesn’t cover student grievances. We disagree with this opinion as the definition clearly states: “Harassment means any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favours or other verbal or written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature or sexually demeaning attitudes … or the attempt to punish the complainant for refusal to comply to such a request …”. This was a classic case where a senior controller examination abused his position to create fear of reprimand and physically harassed a young female student in his office and was fully covered under the law and fully within the HEC policy which the university officially adopted.

More than 40 complaints of sexual harassment, mostly by students against professors, have been resolved so far. Five major cases have been tackled in QAU itself. Thus, I would like to make it clear to the senators to kindly not frame their discussion in terms of whether this law should include universities or not. This is damaging for our implementation process. The universities are already included. They will be going against the law if they do not establish the complaint mechanisms. Any help in further strengthening the act by them will be welcomed.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 20th, 2014.

 


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Don’t Negotiate Women

http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-231831-Don’t-negotiate-women

While we women welcome the initiative of talks taken by the Government and stand in full solidarity with them, we would like to clearly state that women will not be a negotiating chip this time. We have over a decade of experience in dealing with the Taliban and centuries of experience in dealing with the traditional feudal mindset and patriarchal system. Whether it is in the name of Islam or in the name of tradition, it all falls on our heads. Either in the pretext of sharia or under the garb of making peace, we will not let the women of Pakistan be used as badl-e sulah. 

It should be clear to the leaders of our country and the negotiating team that this time if they try to make a deal like Nizam-e-Adal in Swat or Shariah, as demanded by Maulana Abdul Aziz in Islamabad, women will not agree to be the sacrificial goats.

TTP and other militant groups have a history of being obsessed by women. TTP after its takeover of Swat ruled that all families should marry off their daughters as soon as they reach 16 or else the taliban will take care of it for them. When the proposals of taliban were rejected of young girls, they turned it into a morality issue. The case of Chand bibi, who was flogged in public, is said to be a similar scenario. They burned over 600 girls schools and announced severe punishments for women who would appear in public. Kishwar Naheed’s poem comes to mind, woh jo bachion se bhi dar gaey…   Is it obsession or fear? Whatever it is, the horror stories go on.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1996 they stripped women from all their rights. They banned them from working or getting education. Women could not leave home without being accompanied by a male relative. They were beaten and punished severely on any minor violation of these rules. Pakistani Taliban have been quite inspired by these standards. They were able to introduce a code of morality under the garb of Nizam-e-Adal where the so called Qazi decided whatever he felt was in the ambit of Islam. Immediately after our Parliament gave them a green light, they started shaving young men’s heads and flogging women on the streets without even a facade of a legal system. Only the MQM abstained from the vote, with all the other parties approving the imposition of sharia under the name of Nizam e Adal in Swat. Those wounds are still raw for us.

There are many militant groups other than TTP all over Pakistan.  Each has a varying degree of control in the areas they operate in. They clearly have used their influence to curb women’s mobility and visibility without any checks from the administration. They are equally violent and dangerous. Will there be a strategy to root them out also?

The last time Pakistani Taliban came for peace talks (2009), their delegation came to Peshawar to discuss the pact with the cabinet members of KP. The first thing they objected to was the presence of a woman. Sitara Ayaz who was a well-respected Minister was asked to leave.  This time at least we won’t have that problem as there is no woman in the delegation. The only assurance we want from our Government is that they will not let women of Pakistan down and they will not compromise the rights of Pakistani citizens in the name of peace negotiations. We want to feel confident that they won’t. We are in solidarity with our Government, we would want our Government to be in solidarity with us!

The writer is a women’s rights activist who has worked on women’s issues for over 25 years.


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HOW PAKISTANI LEADERSHIP CAN AVOID A POSSIBLE CIVIL WAR

taliban pic Decades of indecisiveness about taking an action against the militants in Pakistan in a comprehensive manner has led people to be mistrustful of the main institutions of the country: the military, the government, the parliament and the judiciary. While all make big statements against the Taliban, all have had instances where they looked the other way or showed a soft corner for them. People are puzzled by a half-baked strategy where partially our institutions supported the enemy, partially looked away and partially acted against them to keep a pretext of fighting the war.  Last week’s strikes on Waziristan by our military were a sudden change from the peace talk mantras going on for a while. People waited in vain for a comprehensive explanation from the government announcing this change of policy, outline of a future strategy and instructions for people to position themselves in the context of what is about to happen.  Meanwhile, many people evacuated from Waziristan to Bannu in anticipation of more attacks.

A vacuum of decision making at the highest level, gaps in communication with the people, no joint stance of political forces and seemingly erratic attempts of retaliation can give wrong signals to the powerful and deeply entrenched militant enemy at this point. Such conditions can lead to a civil war if not handled properly. Recent announcement by the PM to form a four member committee is a good step forward. Here are some critical points to consider if Pakistan wants to avoid going into a civil war.

Bringing political leadership together: 

The current attacks in Waziristan seem to be led by military decision makers, with elected leadership giving it a civilian cover. These might have played the role of a catalyst in pushing the Government in making announcements of their next steps, but it should not be seen as the basis for future long term strategy. The government should actively seek consensus on the strategy of all political parties and bring them on one page. Merely announcing a negotiating committee or the beginning of a process is not enough. The consensus building should take place within the Parliament and not outside so that this institution gets stronger. The stronger the ownership of the political leadership the better they will be prepared when the negative consequences come. Later they will not be blaming each other and playing political games by saying this was not a good decision. The religious political factions who are sympathizers or pro-militants might not come together fully, but at least the main popular parties should join hands and build solidarity.

Get Experts in the team:

Pakistan is not the first country to face such a problem. Insurgency, militancy and such guerrilla warfare is something many countries have dealt with over decades. There is a whole field of study around conflicts.  Security experts around the world are available for their opinions and insights to contribute to the strategy for countering militants & negotiating with them. Many of these are Pakistani also. There are also local experts within Pakistan with good knowledge of the militant groups, their members, even knowing which members can be approached and who are the hard liners in these gangs. Pakistan has its local experts, among civil society, academia and journalists, who should be included in the closer circles and teams. Civilian government should not only count on military intelligence but should have its own civilian base of expertise who know and understand these groups and can guess their reactions. Sharing secret information from other countries involved in this war might be useful for the civilian government rather than restricting themselves to a few traditional sources of information.  In addition, the members of the negotiating team should not be all conservatives or taliban sympathizers. Pakistan has made this mistake many times, for example, Ijazul Haq,  son of dictator Zia ul Haq, was sent by the last Government to negotiate with the management of Lal Masjid and he came back after giving them a personal donation of one lakh rupees for the illegitimate madrassa built upon land that was not even theirs.

 Military Operation and citizens: 

It is important to have a buy-in from the people of Pakistan. The state has created high levels of confusion over the authenticity of the insurgency so have people romanticize Mujahidin and protect Taliban. The Kashmir affairs cell in PTV never stops working and the propaganda of showing Mujahidin martyrs and Taliban as anti USA and therefore ‘heroes’, is never ending on our media. The coverage of Hakimullah Mehsood is the most recent example where he was shown as a hero by the newspapers and many leaders. If there has to be a direct confrontation with Taliban we need to have Pakistani people join hands also. A clear message from the government and the State is necessary to clearly define the enemy and get the backing of the people, as was done in Swat. This will help the masses face the negative consequences if any in the form of internally displaced people, killing of innocent civilians, in case the negotiations fail.

The enemy is difficult to define:

It is easiest to fight an enemy outside. An enemy within the boundary of a country is difficult to fight. But it is most difficult when the enemy is not definable. As in some countries, this is not a fight between different ethnic or religious groups. Some may think that our enemy could be identifiable by big turbans and big beards holding guns and bombs but that is not so. The ‘taliban phenomenon’ is complicated. There are those who undermine the government through violence. There are those that pave the ground through propagation of a pro-taliban ideology and develop a volatile religious wicket to play on and gain power. There are those that have infiltrated into every sector, media, civil service, judiciary, police, political parties, civil society, business community and the military. These people continuously undermine the State and the Government and propagate the narrative of the militants. It is very difficult when the supporters of the enemy are deep into every institution of ours. In addition criminal elements have also joined the militancy in many cases who have different objectives to be in the fight. It could get difficult to separate out the militants and the purely criminal elements who are using the situation to gain their own benefits.

The present Government has come with a strong mandate. People are looking towards them for the required leadership. With the other political players they do need to take a lead, develop a strategy, not piece meal but a long term strategy with back up actions ready. They should have teams of experts dedicated to different parts of that strategy. The Prime Minister should talk to the people and build the motivation needed to take this enemy on. It is the elected Government that has to move ahead and the people should back them up regardless of which party they belong to.


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OUR LOSS!! Farewell my dear friend MUSADIQ!!

musadaq DSC04011

 

In current times every sane person is very precious as somehow one doesn’t see much multiplication of such people. Loosing Musadiq Sanwal was a BIG LOSS!!!. A person not only sane, intelligent, with depths of an ocean on every issue but also a janooni in a sufi sense, a compassionate being and a lover of people. Where many of us at times would loose our patience at our youth, he fully believed in grooming  them into professions like journalism. I guess that is why one saw him surrounded by young people even at his dhabha DAWN.COM  Always looking at new ideas and new angles to deepen the analysis on our socio political problems. Topped by his love of music, made him a friendly boss who hires young people, grooms them and also sings for them in the evenings.

I first was introduced to him in 1988 as a friend of all my progressive friends and later got to know this sufi of our times . A journalist, a writer, a poet, an artist, a singer, a composer, a film maker, a theatre actor and an activist. The younger people know him more as the editor of DAWN.com. He was passionate about sufi poetry and music. Sometimes I would call him a singing journalist. His compassion was the most precious aspect which will make him live forever in our hearts. Not only within his family but in many large circles of his friends. Always giving! always caring! He was our creative mlangish friend, who never got attracted to the material world and maintained a sophisticated, simple, genuine and sufistic presence in this world throughout his life.

I am very proud of you Musadiq for the way you put the fight against this sartaan /cancer. I remember the day you were going back to Pakistan after a burdensome treatment. I talked to you on the phone and the joy in your voice was incredible. “I will start my work again! my family is now here with me! we will all are going back! what else do I want!” The medical treatments or these cancers cannot come in the way. You will live for ever in the contributions you have made to my beloved community and in all our hearts. We will hear your sirayki kafis you used to sing in the air around us.

You will never die Musadiq!

(an article by Dawn.com http://www.dawn.com/news/1080909/dawncom-editor-musadiq-sanwal-passes-away)

 


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OUR POLITICIANS SHOULD LEARN FROM A 15 YRS OLD BOY IN HUNGU

martyr

Aitizaz Hasan, 15, standing outside his school in Hangu, one of the most underdeveloped area of Pakistan, saw a militant with a bomb and recognised that he meant destruction for his fellow students. He did everything in his power to stop him. Aitizaz was successful in saving lives and stoping the bomber at the price of his own life. How can a 15 year old from Hungu  be smarter than our politicians to recognise what is bad for his people. These politicians  have gotten good education, some even went abroad for it. They have decades of experience of dealing with all kinds of people and have been exposed to all sorts of challenges. Why then they cannot see that militants, bombs, guns… are bad for their people and these militants should be stopped otherwise there will be many dead bodies. Even seeing dead bodies over the last so many years has not made them realise that militants need to be stopped. Can this be any more simpler!!! What we have seen is any attempt of someone else killing militants is strongly objected to by dharnas. We see nothing but protecting and apologising for militants. Finding excuses for them and at times even calling them shaheed. Yes countering militants might not be that easy but there are many countries in the world that have dealt with insurgencies. We are at a stage where even the intention has not been there to stop them. Short term gains are far more important for our leaders than joining hands against this menace. The responsibility has been claimed by Lashker e Jhangvi. What will our leaders do about it?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/09/pakistani-boy-suicide-bomber-hero

http://en.shiapost.com/2014/01/06/shia-student-embraced-martyrdom-foiling-suicidal-attack-on-school-in-hangu/

http://tribune.com.pk/story/657330/aitizaz-hasan-to-be-honoured-with-sitara-e-shujaat/