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ISLAMABAD, March 7: Speakers at a seminar on Wednesday lashed out at the country’s religious parties for opposing women’s rights and vowed to resist all efforts aimed at stopping women from playing their role in the national life.

Leaders of the People’s Party Parliamentarians (PPP) and noted human rights activists were speaking at a seminar, organized by the PPP to commemorate International Women’s Day, being observed on Thursday.

PPP MNA Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan said the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), often accused the PPP of striking a deal with the military regime. He said it did not suit the MMA to raise a finger at the PPP while sitting in the Balochistan government with PML-Q, backed by Gen Pervez Musharraf and said it was the MMA which consolidated the military rule by supporting the 17th Amendment.

Mr Ahsan defended the party’s decision to support the Women Protection Bill, saying they had not supported Gen Musharraf and were still opposed to him.

He said PML president Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain had introduced another bill on women’s rights, and the party would look into it and support it, if it was in the interest of women.

Asma Jahangir of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, also criticized the religious forces and held Gen Ziaul Haq’s so- called Islamisation policy responsible for the plight of the country’s women.

PPP Information Secretary Sherry Rehman said very little legislation had been done to empower women in the last five years other than a toothless honour killings bill and an incomplete set of amendments to the Hudood Ordinance.

She said the party’s commitment to gender justice was evident from its support to the ruling regime to move the Hudood Ordinance amendments. “This may have been an unwise move in the political sense, for us, it was more a matter of our commitment to the cause of women empowerment, than anything else,” she added.

PPP President Makhdoom Amin Fahim, who was the chief guest, read out a message of party chairperson Benazir Bhutto.

In her message, Ms Bhutto said the PPP considered promotion of women’s rights a religious, moral and political obligation. She said it was a tragedy that a pristine religion, which gave dignity and respect to women had had its image tarnished by fanatic forces that attempted to degrade women in the name of honour crimes and discrimination.

A voice message of a rape victim, Dr Shazia Khalid, was also played in which she regretted that instead of providing justice, she had been forced to leave the country.

Another rape victim, Mukhtaran Mai, in her written message said that in our society women had to struggle very hard for justice as they were not given equal rights.