Thursday, April 2, 2015
By Shad Begum
It is indeed a moment of great pride to see aspiring women from Malakand Division willing to take leading roles in the political processes. Women have faced difficulties in the past in Malakand Division to cast their votes in elections, let alone to contest elections as independent candidates. The “Jamhori Maidan Programme (JMP)” of the Association for Behaviour & Knowledge Transformation (ABKT) is aimed at empowering women and youth in the political processes at the local level. During the last 18 months, 120 women have been trained as potential candidates in the upcoming elections in three districts of Malakand Division. Women and youth have been trained in leadership skills, local government systems, and constituency building and election campaign methods.
Women have raised issues of public concern along with their male colleagues and more importantly some of these women have now been nominated as members of the District Committees on the Status of Women (DCSW) in the three districts i.e. Lower Dir, Upper Dir and Malakand of Malakand division. These women committees are statutory bodies established under the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) Act, 2009 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and have important functions in promoting gender agenda, preventing gender-based violence, and recommending policy reforms to the provincial government. Trained women leaders have created a space within the political parties in leadership positions and have proven their political skills in promoting the rights of their women folks in their constituencies.
The JMP was also successful to organize the trained women into a sustainable forum known as Gender Responsive Actions Forum (GRAF). A panel discussion was organized to launch the GRAF in which representatives of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW), the Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women (PCSW) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa & Punjab provinces expressed their views on the challenges and successes of the NSCW and PCSWs in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab provinces.
Women activists from Upper & Lower Dir and district Malakand attended the panel discussion organized by ABKT at Islamabad. The purpose of the panel discussion was to highlight the achievements of the trained women activists from Swat-Malakand region under the JMP to enable them to share their experiences with leading women rights activists from Pakistan, and interact with members of the two provincial commission and the national commission on the status of women. Young women leaders from Swat-Malakand region shared their views with the participants on working for women’s political empowerment in a challenging environment and requested support from provincial and national bodies working on women rights.
Ms. Meraj Humayun Khan, MPA and member of the PCSW Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was the first province to establish the PCSW under an act of the assembly; however, the performance of the PCSW KP is hindered by a number of factors, including the non-existence of a women development ministry at the provincial level. “Women empowerment” is the last part of the Social Welfare, Ushar & Zakat, Special Education and Women Empowerment Department of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Ms. Meraj also said that the voices of millions of women from FATA remain excluded in the PCSW due to absence of representation from FATA.
Another member of PCSW KP, Dr. Saba Gul Khattak said that women empowerment agenda has been dove-tailed to the social welfare department as if women’s rights is a charity work. Dr. Saba said that a disempowered government department cannot produce required results in the area of women empowerment.
Ms. Romana Bashir, member of PCSW Punjab, said that Punjab PCSW is established in 2014 and all the members have been appointed representing each Division in Punjab. She said that the PCSW is gaining momentum under the dynamic leadership of its chairperson – the laws and policies are being reviewed by the Commission to bring it in conformity with Pakistan’s national and international commitments on promoting women rights agenda.
Ms. Farah Bajwah, research consultant of the NCSW said that the National Commission was established in 2000 as a result of Pakistan’s national and international commitments such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995; and National Plan of Action (NPA) for Women, 1998. She said that the latest legislation on NCSW provides greater autonomy to the Commission in its functioning.
Mr. Muhammad Raza, a legal & development professional and human rights activist highlighted the unique constitutional status of provincially administered tribal areas (PATA) and Article 247(3) of the Constitution of Pakistan, which bars direct legislation for PATA and FATA unless approved by the President or Governor through an official notification. He said that ironically elected representatives from PATA cannot legislate for their own constituents but can do so for the rest of Pakistan. Mr. Raza said that unless a demand is created by a provincial or federal department to extend a particular law to PATA or FATA, the legislation remains non-operational in the tribal areas. He cited the example of section 310-A of the PPC (punishment for giving a female in marriage or otherwise in badal-i-sulh), which has not been extended to PATA so far due to lack of demand by concerned departments/ministry. Pro-women laws are delayed, sometimes for years, to be extended to PATA due to constitutional and bureaucratic procedures.
Ms. Maliha Hussain, a nationally known women rights activist advised the young women leaders to know their rights and stay put to achieve them. “Only a determined effort and clarity of mind can pave the way for reaching your goals”, she told the aspiring young women leaders from Swat-Malakand region.
Ms. Fatima Atif, another women rights activist, highlighted the technology driven violence against women and advised women to be aware of digital security and the penal laws for cyber and digital crimes. She said that the intelligent use of technology and effective digital laws can prevent crimes and violence against women.
We hope that GRAF will go a long way in promoting gender agenda in Malakand Division initially, which will be expanded to the entire Khyber Pakhtunkhwa subsequently. The future plan of action of GRAF includes election observation and establishment of Gender Watch Committees in each district of Malakand Division.
 Shad Begum is a human rights activist from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan and a recipient of international women of courage awards,