ENDING gender-based violence not only requires commitment from policymakers but also support from civil society and development partners who can design integrated approaches. This was the strategy that prompted Punjab to implement progressive gender equality initiatives under a Strategic Reforms Unit spearheaded by the former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. For its efforts, global recognition came this weekend in the form of the prestigious Mother Teresa Award given to the SRU’s (former) director general, Salman Sufi, for promoting women’s empowerment and social justice. This is an honour especially when there are so few projects focused on women’s security and justice. In a province that has registered a 21.5pc increase in crimes against women, including 1,265 cases of domestic violence in 2017, reforms designed and implemented by SRU have included the Punjab Protection Against Violence Act, 2016; the Punjab Women Protection Authority Act (PWPA); women’s rights in school curricula; and the Women-on-Wheels initiative. Perceived as a blueprint for replication, nonetheless, is a Violence Against Women Centre in Multan offering a one-stop facility run by women where first aid, medical and forensic assistance, police reporting and investigation, legal aid and post-trauma rehabilitation services are available. No wonder that its former director general was added to a list of the top five men from around the world in 2017 who worked to end violence against women.
However, bringing justice to women is too often crushed by political power play. In June, Mr Sufi was removed from his position by the interim government presumably because he worked closely with Shahbaz Sharif since 2014. Removing support from those driving change not only flies in the face of rights pledges made by the state but is reminiscent of the modus operandi of governments adept at undoing projects initiated by their predecessors. Here a word of advice for the government: it would do well to consider nurturing visionaries rather than political opportunists in its quest to bring change to Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, October 10th, 2018