Article 25 of the constitution of Pakistan says all citizens are equal before law, are entitled to equal protection of law and that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.
Though women from upper social classes enjoy relative freedom and can pursue professional careers, it’s the female in the lower and middle classes that is still shackled to more traditional roles. They are still dependant on their fathers, brothers, and husbands even to open a bank account or apply for a visa.
The Pakistan Citizenship Act (1951) guarantees citizenship by descent only through the father. There is discrepancy in the law: minimum age of marriage for girls is 16 and 18 for boys. Furthermore, women do not have an equal right to divorce. Right of divorce given to women through delegation (Tafweez) is permissible in Islam, yet the attitude of the majority has led to its misuse. And then the procedures of women seeking divorce are very complex.
There are laws that hinder women’s development in the society. Legislations regarding sexual crimes against women favour men. The Zina ordinance confuses rape with adultery and, Society for Advancement of Community Health, Education, and Training says, places female victims rape as well as that accused adultery at particular risk.
The Muslim family Law Ordinance (1961) made marriage registration mandatory and introduced a uniform marriage contract form. The ordinance laid down a procedure for divorce. However, it lacked a fair post-divorce settlement.
Some relatively recent legislation for women empowerment includes the 2006 revision of the Hudood laws, resulting in the Protection of Women Act.
The incumbent parliament has enacted a number of legislations for the women empowerment. They include The Protection Against Harassment Of Women At The Workplace Act 2010, The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011, and Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010.
Over 22 per cent seats in the 342-member national assembly are held by women parliamentarians.
And women MPs are actively engaged in the legislation process. A report on parliament’s performance by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) says during 2008-09, female parliamentarians introduced and co-introduced the highest number of private members’ bill.
“In 2009-10, the maximum numbers of questions — 607 — were asked by female parliamentarians and the maximum numbers of calling attention notices — 60 — were also submitted by three outstanding female parliamentarians.” reports Dawn.
What needs to be done is to implement the women empowerment legislation done by the parliament.
There is an increasing awareness that women’s empowerment is a must for the country’s development. Literacy rate is improving; more and more youths are entering universities. The judiciary is more independent than ever before.
A vibrant media is leaving no stones unturned and parliament is more powerful in this nascent democracy. All these factors contribute to women’s empowerment. There certainly is a lot more to do, but the situation is gradually improving.