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LAHORE: The Punjab government on Thursday announced the first Women Development Policy at a ceremony at Aiwan-i-Iqbal in keeping with the significance of the International Women’s Day.

Minister for Women Development Hameeda Waheeduddin, along with provincial ministers Dr Ayesha Ghaus-Pasha and Begum Zakia Shahnawaz, unveiled the policy. The event was largely attended by women ministers, members of national and provincial assemblies, representatives of health and education departments, police, NGOs, girl guides and media.

The ministers said the steps taken by the Punjab government since 2012 for the protection and welfare of the womenfolk had been without comparison. These measures, they said, have enabled women of Punjab to have the necessary confidence and courage to compete with any other woman in the world.

They also reiterated the fact that a lot of rights of women have been met by the government through legislation.

Addressing the function, Dr Ayesha Ghaus-Pasha said the Punjab government has empowered women by ensuring their equitable access to health services. As many as 130,028 deserving women have been given educational stipends worth Rs6.5 billion, she said, adding that 450,000 girl students are being given monthly stipend for education in less developed areas under the Zewar-e-Taleem Program.

Similarly, 90 new girl colleges have been established by the government from 2012 and free transport facility has also been provided to the students in most of the girl colleges. The Punjab government has arranged 326 ambulances for meeting the needs of expecting women across the province, she said.

She said 836,200 women have been given interest-free loans under the Chief Minister’s Self-Employment Scheme.

As for legislation, more than 65 amendments have been introduced in different laws and regulations to provide prompt legal protection to the women. The government is also working to establish separate information desks for women in police stations of the 36 districts and in addition to it, violence against women centres are being established to give a strong legal support to those in need, it was pointed out.

Dr Ayesha urged girls to learn skills to make a contribution to strengthen the national economy. She said women cannot be deprived of their rights including inheritance, economic empowerment and the fundamental rights of health and education.

Begum Zakia Shahnawaz paid tribute to the women who have played their role in different sectors of life. She said Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has played his role well by making amendments to laws pertaining to the rights of the women and added that implementation of these laws has also been ensured by the Punjab government.

She paid rich tributes to the democratic character of Madar-i-Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and said she raised her voice for the protection of democracy in the country.

Minister Hameeda Waheeduddin gave a detail of achievements made by the Women Development Department. She said the women development policy would prove to be a milestone.

Resident UN Coordinator Nail Buhne commended the strong role of Pakistani women and congratulated the Punjab chief minister for introducing the anti-harassment law to protect the women.

A documentary was also shown to highlight the role of women in important spheres of life.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2018