KARACHI: Sindh Assembly Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani has said that the provincial assembly and its legislators, especially the women legislators, have been working together to make and pass pro-women laws. He was speaking at the launch of ‘Policy Advocacy and Research to Strengthen Implementation of Pro-Women Legislation and Gender-based Violence Response Services in Sindh’, a 17-month intervention by a civil society organisation for women’s protection under some recently promulgated laws, at a hotel on Thursday.
Covering Karachi, Hyderabad, Matiari and Jamshoro, the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) project is aimed at ensuring that women are protected and are able to access services developed under the pro-women laws.
Mr Durrani said: “I am very proud of our women assembly members. They are the pride of the provincial assembly.” It was the late Benazir Bhutto, who encouraged more women to contest the elections and return to the assemblies as they were the ones who knew best about the issues faced by other women, he added.
He said the Sindh Assembly had always taken bold decisions since before Partition. In fact the Pakistan Resolution, which resulted in the creation of this country, was first proposed here and all members with the exception of just three signed it, he pointed out.
Mr Durrani said that it was always important to hear out the opposition. “In my 30 years of parliamentary practice, I would see the government never listening to the opposition. But the PPP government believes in working together so I make it a point to hear out the opposition despite a 40:60 ratio. For the betterment of the province, a speaker has to play his role to balance both sides,” he added.
He said it was always a good idea to debate on the present issues faced by the country. Women’s protection was one of “the very important issues and the provisional assembly played its role [in providing legal shelter to them],” he said.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Dr Seema Zia said she was proud to be working in an assembly where such progressive laws were made and bills were passed. “When an issue comes at a human level, we work here as a team. Then it doesn’t matter which party we belong to,” she said.
Sindh Minister for Social Welfare Shamim Mumtaz said they were working on providing social protection to women, children, disabled persons, senior citizens as well as transgender community.
However, Anis Haroon, head of the National Council for Human Rights, said that human rights violations were the result of non-implementation of laws under human rights framework.
“But,” she said, “it is a great thing and absolutely heartening to see progressive laws being passed in our assembly now. Our legislators have worked very hard on these while joining hands with institutions and human rights groups to create a redress mechanism. Still, we lack in implementation of these laws due to which human rights violations are so rampant,” she said.
“Police are not a service here, but a force,” she regretted. “Despite these laws in place, when women approach police stations to report crimes against them, the police are not interested in hearing them out. So instead of making new laws now ahead of the 2018 elections, we should coordinate, implement and monitor these laws to consolidate and [reduce] human rights violations here,” she said.
Irum Khalid, special assistant to the chief minister on women’s development, said that legislators had done their job and it was the responsibility of the civil servants to implement the laws.
Recalling the injustices against women, Mehtab Akbar Rashdi said that in 1999 when senators wanted to condemn the murder of a woman killed in cold blood at her lawyer’s office by her in-laws, the chairman would not allow it. “That’s when four senators, including the late Iqbal Haider, stood up to say that at least let them speak their mind. So what to talk about human rights and women’s rights with such a mindset?” she asked.
Ms Rashdi also reminded the audience about the cases of Zina under Ziaul Haq’s Hudood Ordinance where a blind girl, who was raped, was asked to identify her rapists or the case would be turned against her.
About the Sindh Assembly being the first to come up with pro-women laws, she said that Sindh had always been progressive. “Traditionally, women are given a lot of respect here, so we can undo the mindset that is going against women’s rights due to the religious extremism seen in Zia’s time,” she said.
Finally, SPO’s board member Sadiqa Salahuddin said all human rights were interlinked just as laws against human rights violations were also interlinked. About the mindset that needed to be changed, she said: “If daughters after their education become assets, they won’t be married early. But if they are a burden, they will be married off at a very young age.”
Sorath Thebo, Naheed Begum, Dr Sikander Shoro, Faqir Dad Khoso, Shazia Shaheen, Saira Shahliani and Raheema Panhwar also spoke.
Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2017