For most of these women, legislation and representation are a totally new phase in their lives, unknown ground whereon they have not trodden. So political orientation is called for if they are to make any mark in the assemblies. Though it must be said that at the present moment, with the amazing scenes we are witnessing in parliament, it is doubtful if it will be possible to even make a point, let alone legislate.
However, the women have never been such a force with which to reckon and it is now up to them to make their mark. As pointed out so rightly by the chairperson of the workshop, MNA Sherry Rehman, when it comes to women's rights, it must be remembered that they are not an issue on their own but are very much part of the whole that is known as human rights. Women are not divorced from humanity. And until there is a vast improvement in the state of human rights in this country, it is highly doubtful that the status of women can be raised.
Education is a human right. According to the latest statistics, female literacy in Pakistan stands at a pathetic 28 per cent, way below the Third World average of 66 per cent. Without literacy what hope have our Women of pulling themselves out of the morass dug for them by the illiterate male population in thrall to uneducated bigots, the misinterpretation of religion, and outmoded tribal and feudal customs and traditions?
We will obviously expect our women legislators to lay stress on the women factor when fighting for human rights and we will expect the few who can to enforce legislation for the protection of women, noncompulsory female education, for the repeal of the iniquitous Hadood Ordinances, and particularly for the eradication of one of the greatest crimes committed against the women of this country - the condo nation of the feudal custom of Kari Kari, literally 'blackened man, blackened woman', but in the observance of which custom the man generally goes away scot free while the woman loses her life.
With the population explosion and the concurrent reduction in literacy rates, the instances of karo-kari are reportedly on the rise. It is a practice translated into English, erroneously, as 'honor killings' in which there is no honor involved at all. It is a practice that is also widely abused and has been known to be used to get rid of women unwanted for one reason or another, or merely suspected of having committed adultery, or even of having had an innocent conversation with a member of the opposite sex. Targets of the practice may include a three-year old girl or an eighty-five-year old woman.
In 1998, 286 such killings were reported in Punjab alone. In 1999, in a three-month period in Sindh 132 women were done to death in the name of honor, and in Punjab in eleven months 266 deaths were reported.
According to a February 2003 press release by Madadgaar, an organization funded by UNICEF: ".... during the last year in Sindh 423 cases of karo-kari were reported; in Punjab 319, in Balochistan 36, while in the NWFP 45 such cases was reported in the print media. A comparison of data collected in 2002 and 2001 shows that the trend remains the same and most of the cases were reported from Sindh. In 2001, the print media reported 453 cases in Sindh, 204 in Punjab, 69 in Balochistan and 27 in the NWFP. .... The monitoring of all the reported cases revealed that in 346 cases the perpetrator was the husband; in 183 cases a brother; in 92 cases in-laws; in 46 cases the father; and in 32 cases the perpetrator was a son."
One honor killing that was highlighted internationally was that of Samia Sarwar in 1999 whose murder at the hands of a relative was sanctioned by her mother. It was not until the year 2000 following persistent protests by women activists that karo-kari was finally declared by the government to be murder. However, apparently neither the police nor the judiciary has taken any action against the perpetrators of this particularly barbaric practice.
Advocates Iqbal Haider, the former Senator, who went out on a limb in 1999 to have the matter discussed and debated in the Senate but whose attempts did his fellow Senators and the honorable nullify Chairman of the Senate, Wasim Sajjad, has now come up with a proposed draft resolution, drafted at the behest of his former fellow party man, MPA Nisar Khuhro, for the women parliamentarians to present in their respective assemblies:
"This house expresses its deep concern over the unchecked and unabated spate of violence against women and condemns premeditated murder of women in the name of so-called honor, karo-kari, siyahkari or on any other pretext. This house calls upon the government:
"(a) To ensure immediate registration of FIR in all incidents of such murders and arrest of the culprits, failing which the concerned police officers must be prosecuted for aiding and abetting in such crimes and
must also be dismissed from service;
"(b) To ensure expeditious trial of such murder cases and severe exemplary punishment of the culprits;
"(c) To ensure that murder of women in the name of so-called honor, karo-kari, siyahkari, or any other such pretext is made a non-compoundable offence, so that no pardon or concession is granted to the culprit through any family settlement.
"(d) To ensure that women are not treated or used as compensation or fine for payment in all or any transaction, including honor killing settlement, which amounts to trafficking in human flesh, and an offence under the Pakistan Penal Code. The culprits involved in any such act must be arrested, prosecuted and punished in accordance with the law.
"(e) To ensure that all organs of the criminal justice system - police, prosecutors, district magistrates, judges, medico-legal personnel - be made aware and be expected to have full knowledge of legislation on domestic violence and honor killings.
"(f) To ensure that all senior officials in the civil administration and in the police department at the provincial and district levels take special notice of all reports of honor killings and that all cases are properly and thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators brought to trial. The government should establish an independent body to monitor handling by the police of honor killing cases as well as cases of Violence against women and the treatment of women who have been victims of violence.
"(g) To ensure that the ever increasing incidence of all sorts of violence, including domestic violence, against women are checked and contained in an effective manner and the culprits in all cases are arrested promptly and punished expeditiously in accordance with the laws."
It is now up to the 212 women legislators of the five assemblies and the 17 of the Senate, (a formidable force indeed) to do their utmost to see that human rights in this country, as guaranteed by the Constitution, are respected and upheld, and in particular that the plight of women is relieved, that they are afforded empowerment through education, that laws are made and enforced to eliminate the endemic violence to which they too often are subjected.
One of our legislators, MNA Sherry Rahman, has produced a paper on 'Policy Recommendations for Women's Status in Pakistan - A Parliamentary Charter for 2003' which gives comprehensive coverage to all that needs to and must be done to usher the women of Pakistan into the 21st century, free them from discrimination, and allow them to play their due role in the progress of this country. Presumably, this paper has been circulated to all our women graduate parliamentarians.
As a document found in Iqbal Haider's archives indicate, there are some 70 organizations in the country pushing the rights of women. What do we say to you?
"Women of Pakistan unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains". And do what you have to do while the general is batting. He is on your side.