PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa is mulling over a controversial plan to merge the Social Welfare and Women Development Ministry with the Zakat and Ushr Ministry, with the slot likely to be given to its coalition partner Jamaat-i-Islami, an official source told Dawn.com.
The official announcement is still anticipated in this regard. Given that the party is already facing internal wrangling over the distribution of ministries among its MPAs and a tussle with Jamaat-i-Islami over the issue of Education Ministry, the said move is bound to earn criticism.
However, sources said that PTI is under severe pressure from civil society as well as party leaders to retain the women’s ministry.
Talking to Dawn.com, PTI’s provincial general secretary and MPA Shaukat Yousafzai said: “No there is no plan to merge the two ministries. The ministers and the portfolios are yet to be decided but we don’t have any such plans.”
About the intra-party rifts over distribution of ministries, Shaukat said, all the issues would be resolved by Monday, adding: “We would have a cabinet working soon.”
Civil Society Cries Foul
Meanwhile, the civil society and women rights bodies in KP have termed the re-merger of the Social Welfare and Women Development Ministry with Zakat and Ushr as an injustice to the already deprived womenfolk of the province.
Resident Director of the Aurat Foundation KP, Shabeena Ayaz reacting to reports said: “It will be really bad ... women affairs should not be treated as a miniature subject... we even want it separated from social welfare, as there should be a full-fledged women ministry instead of treating women's welfare as a side affair.”
She remarked that women in KP were already faced with a host of problems and social injustices and that this decision if implemented, would further multiply their miseries.
“I would just suggest, it would be a big injustice with young women voters who had opted to vote for change, there should not only be a separate ministry but it must be headed by a woman minister as well.”
The former ANP-PPP coalition government in KP had bifurcated the Ministry of Social Welfare, Women Development and Special Education from Zakat and Ushr Ministry keeping in view the special circumstances wherein women welfare being given special priority.
Though being a single department, Zakat and Ushr was looked after by Zarshid Khan while the Social Welfare and Women Ministry was headed by Sitara Ayaz.
The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf did emerge as the largest single party in KP. Hoewever since its intra-party elections, from the nomination of women legislators for reserved seats and even for the slot of Chief Minister and Speaker, there has been infighting among party MPAs, which has been viewed as an immature move on the part of legislators.
The dust has not yet settled, and still Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak is shuttling between Peshawar and Lahore to finalise ministers in consultation with PTI Chairman Imran Khan.
‘Separate Ministry Must’
Requesting anonymity, a female MPA of PTI said that women in the party would raise their voice against any such decision which may undermine women's empowerment.
“We can’t compromise on women's rights as we had been taught by party discipline and our chief Imran Khan to strive for the rights of the deprived, women in KP need more support instead of such injustices, we won’t support it,” she remarked.
Pakistan Peoples Party Parliamentarians, MPA Nighat Orakzai says she and her party had been fighting in the KP assembly for women's rights on the floor of the house, any decision which would deprive women of their rights need to be countered.
She remarked that they had voted for the chief minister, despite not being allies but now there would be zero tolerance from her party on any such movie.
“We don’t feel it would be a wise move if the women ministry is again remerged with Zakat and Ushr,we need real empowerment which can be attained once we have a separate women ministry headed by us women,” she said.
An official of the Social Welfare Department told that though there were separate ministries for Women Welfare and Zakat and Ushr in the last government but its one department and headed by one administrative secretary so the only reason, they might be considering it one as that the PTI’s government in KP wanted to cut down the ministries from 25 to 15.
Another official source disclosed that the KP government would have an advisor on women affairs instead of a Women Minister which is also viewed discriminatory by the civil society.
Hijacking Women’s Rights
Another reason for civil society concerns about the merger of Women Ministry with Zakat and Ushar is that the Jamaat-i-Islami would be the in-charge of women affairs. The JI had a number of reservations on recent legislation regarding women affairs in KP.
The KP chief of Shirkat Gah, another civil society organisation, involved in women related legislation and their welfare, Saira Bano says bringing two entirely different nature of ministries together would put women related issues on the back burner.
“Our concern is, it would be a big disaster and the legislation done for women empowerment in the past few years would be doomed, women affairs have to be treated not merely as a charity but it must be a priority issue for us,” she added.
“Women status in KP is a focus area for the world because of the peculiar environment and militancy, and if we are not having a separate ministry for Women Welfare, we would be again heading for trouble as many of those who had opposed women voting during 2013 elections would again be making decisions on their fate,” she remarked.
The former chairperson of the Provincial Commission on Status of Women, Zubaida Khatoon remarks administratively, the decision might benefit the government financially but there should be a separate ministry which is direly needed.
“There had been a lot of good work done for women empowerment but still, a lot has to be done as we have not achieved the goal of real women empowerment,” she said, adding “I would strongly a separate women ministry but only if its headed by a women minister, especially after the 18th amendment, much has to be done in the province to emancipate the women who are suffering.”