LAHORE: Envisioning a “gender-sensitive” Punjab, the provincial government has finally come up with the Punjab Women Development Policy to systematically eradicate all manifestations of explicit and implicit gender discrimination across all spheres of society including governance, development and livelihood.

The Punjab Women Development Department has plans to launch the new policy on the International Women’s Day falling on March 8 (tomorrow). This year, the world is celebrating the day based on a theme: #PressforProgress.

While the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report tells that the gender parity is more than 200 years away, the world thinks that it is critically crucial time to keep motivated and achieve progress.

Since the introduction of the 18th amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan that devolved various functions to the provinces, the Punjab government has introduced several laws to support the cause of gender mainstreaming and women development. However, the absence of a coherent and comprehensive policy was always identified as a crucial missing link in research and diagnostic studies undertaken by national and international entities.

Besides introducing different bills as well as amendments to the existing laws in the Punjab Assembly, the government had last year approved the Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2017 that required the women development department to put in place a policy to address the whole range of women development concerns and challenges including gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in line with the spirit of the Constitution, Pakistan’s international commitments and priorities of the provincial government.

The policy envisions a gender-sensitive Punjab, where women and men enjoy equity and equality in all walks of life; women and girls are able to fulfill their roles towards achieving and enjoying individual and collective well-being, development and prosperity without any explicit or implicit discrimination.

In the new policy, the Punjab government has committed to provide an enabling women development framework that supports inclusive governance and development in the province. The government will ensure equal rights and opportunities for women, alongside men, at the level of family, community, workplace and across all state apparatus.

In order to achieve policy’s vision, mission and goal in line with the government’s social development agenda and road map, the Punjab government has identified nine core objectives. It commits honouring women-related constitutional, family and legal rights; ensure women’s greater and effective political empowerment and decision-making rights at all levels of governance and society including provincial assemblies and elected local governments.

The policy will be used as an instrument to empower women economically by increasing and incentivizing workforce participation of women alongside men in the economic spheres, development programmes and processes in the province to explicitly respond to the challenges faced by women in accessing economic opportunities.

In order to promote and facilitate equal and prompt access to education for girls alongside boys including retention at all levels of universal and quality education, the government will be required to offer improved and wider opportunities for women’s education and training.

The women development policy will be required to offer quality and affordable health service delivery and care for women alongside men with a particular focus on maternal health, women’s reproductive rights and immunisation outcomes.

Another object of the policy will be to ameliorate women’s vulnerability in society through elimination of discriminatory behaviours and transform negative and discriminatory attitudes at the social and institutional levels besides adopting zero tolerance for gender-based violence.

In order to support women, men and families especially those living in fragile ecosystems, against the adverse impacts of climate change, the policy aims at enhancing gender responsiveness of natural resource management planning and climate resilient mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies.

The women development department will be responsible for strengthening existing and introducing additional collection and reporting on gender-disaggregated data. The data will support efforts for promoting advocacy, watchdog, research and knowledge development functions on themes of gender mainstreaming and women empowerment.

Officials concerned say the policy has been predicated upon a number of overarching principles that have been drawn from national and international best practices. They say the policy priorities will be pursued through a range of sectoral strategies corresponding to each of the policy priority areas within the provincial institutional architecture comprising all provincial government departments including finance as well as Planning and Development departments, Punjab Commission on Status of Women (PCSW), local governments, politicians, civil society, NGOs, media and international development partners.

As wide-ranging sectors are involved in the implementation of the policy, officials concerned say the department will need to adopt a holistic and interlinked approach during implementation to embrace success. The department in consultation with all stakeholders will also be required to develop short-term (1-2 years), medium (3-4 years) and long-term (5-10 years) action plans with clearly defined outputs, outcomes and monitoring indicators for implementation of the policy.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2018

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