KARACHI: “Up until now there is just one women caucus looking at the National Assembly and the Senate, but for the first time now we have proposed the setting up of separate women caucus in the Senate to take [up] the women empowerment agenda at every legislative forum,” said Senator Sassui Palijo.

She was speaking at a programme organised by the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) on Wednesday, where the speakers shared some key findings of policy advocacy and research on strengthening pro-women legislation for improved gender-based violence response services in Sindh under an initiative funded by Trocaire and the Australian government.

“After the 18th Amendment, women development is one of the primary subjects of discussion in the provincial assemblies regarding issues in implementation,” she added.

Nuzhat Shirin, chairperson, Sindh Commission on the Status of Women, said that they were currently reviewing three pro-women laws in Sindh and trying to ensure that in future laws were not passed without diligent scrutiny and review. “We have selected specific districts of Sindh to significantly reduce gender-based violence incidents and if [the scheme proves] successful, we will replicate the strategy in other districts,” she said.

Dr Ayub Shaikh, member, Provincial Steering Forum, Sindh, said that to start a ‘rebellion’ against the system and norms of society there was a need for special planning. “The system has been ruined because everyone here has been more focused on their own benefits and then they say that things are like this because of lack of education. But centuries ago when there were no schools, colleges and universities in Sindh the situation was far more peaceful,” he pointed out. “It is because before calling yourself human you need to be humane. That’s how you build a balanced society, through humane humans,” he added.

Uzma Noorani, director of Panah Shelter, said, “We cannot expect true women empowerment, until women at the grass-roots level are aware of the pro-women legislations and rights guaranteed to them in these laws.

“The Dowry Act and the Acid Crime Control Bill have been reviewed and we are working on establishing more shelter homes and safe houses for women while they await court orders on cases of gender-based violence and such crimes. Safe houses are to be run under the supervision of deputy commissioners and security there has to be provided by police,” she said.

Talking about the status of darulamans for gender-based violence response service, Aliya Shahid, secretary, social welfare department, said that there were only five darulamans in Sindh.

“But we need more along with a management committee to monitor their performance,” she said.

Earlier, Shazia Shaheen, SPO’s head of programme, said that lobbying and advocacy to strengthen implementation of pro-women legislation and gender-based violence response services in Sindh helped establish the Domestic Violence Commission under Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Rules 2016, Provincial and District Monitoring Committees under Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Rules 2016 and Sindh Commission on the Status of Women under Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act 2015.

“Women development officers have been assigned the charge of protection officers across Sindh in October last year and summary of Non-Development Expenditures [SNEs] of 29 protection officers for the monetary year of 2018-19 has also been submitted by the women development department, government of Sindh,” she said.

Raheema Panhwar, SPO’s regional coordinator, said that bringing together opposition and treasury benches for strengthening pro-women structures, lack of adequate human, physical and financial resources in women development and social welfare departments had been a major challenge for legislatures, and civil society for policy advocacy and effective implementation of pro-women laws in Sindh.

Mahnaz Rahman, resident director, Aurat Foundation, Haroon Ahmed Khan, secretary of women development department also spoke on the occasion.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2018

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