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LAHORE: A people’s commission for the protection of minorities’ rights was formed on Thursday with veteran human rights activist I.A. Rehman as its patron-in-chief and Peter Jacob as its chairperson.

The body comprises the people from different religious communities and professionals in human rights, law and academics sectors. Its aim is to facilitate the federal and provincial governments to make progress on constitutional guarantees, in particular the articles related to religious freedom, rights and interests of minorities, removing backwardness, while also monitoring the implementation of the 2014 directives of the Supreme Court as well as international obligations.

“This voluntary commission will be committed to upholding rights of those people treated or declared as the minorities; however, it will be all-inclusive in pursuing equality and in fighting out religious discrimination,” said Mr Rehman.

Activist from Sikh community, Kalyan Singh, said: “We urge the government to correct the misguided policies, supporting inequality of rights and foster a culture of social and religious harmony”.

Peter Jacob said that with rising intolerance in society, there was an urgent need of such a commission to protect minorities’ rights. He said though the Supreme Court had given orders in June 2014 for the establishment of a National Council for Minorities, the successive governments had ignored this.

The members of the commission include retired Justice Kailash Nath Kohli, retired Justice Nasira Iqbal, Wajahat Masood, Dr. A.H. Nayyar, Dr. Khalid Masud, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, Dr Fr Bonnie Mendes, Dr Rubina Feroze Bhatti, M.

Parkash (advocate), Saroop Ijaz (advocate), Saqib Jillani (advocate), Asiya Nasir (former parliamentarian), Karamat Ali, Rubina Messy and Cecil Shane Chaudhry.

PCSW MOOT: One of the most important sessions in the two-day conference held by Punjab Commission on Status of Women (PCSW) was on the gender justice system.

The panelists gave their presentations on various topics pertaining to the justice system that dealt with gender issues.

Zubair Abbasi, assistant professor at LUMS School of Law, said women’s right to matrimonial property - the property they acquired during marriage, should be recognised more.

His research showed that from 2012 to 2015, the divorce cases in Lahore had been on the rise in general but men have filed for divorce more than women. Above 5,000 cases were filed by men in 2015 while women filed around half of this number the same year.

Irum Rabab, lecturer at Department of Gender Studies, UMT, spoke about empowering women through inheritance and the related governmental initiatives and impediments.

Mumtaz Mughal, Punjab director of Aurat Foundation, explained why the gender justice system was failing women. She said women did not trust the system because it had repeatedly disappointed them. She said Pakistan ranked 123 out of 124 countries regarding the Global Gender Parity Index, which was a grim situation.

Sohail Warraich analysed the Violence against Women Centre in Multan and revealed that the department had not performed as well as it could have. It was presented as a shelter home but it did not have any shelter area, in fact was using Darul Aman as home.

After this session, the PCSW concluded its two-day international conference while presenting recommendations that were the result of all its sessions.

The closing ceremony included chairperson of the National Commission for the Status of Women (NCSW) Khawar Mumtaz, Punjab Commission for the Status of Women (PCSW) chairperson Fauzia Viqar, Sindh Commission of the Status for Women (SCSW) Chairperson Nuzhat Shireen, UNFPA Programme Specialist Shoaib Ahmed Shahzad, and Sarah Hendricks from the Bill Gates Foundation.

The recommendations included strengthening of existing institutions and working more on gender statistics and data collection while agencies should be strengthened technical expertise be promoted. It also called for women’s participation in economic sector, protection of rights of women farmers, affordable transport and control of domestic violence.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018

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