Article published in The Express Tribune on 26 April 2017
Women face numerous challenges to get access to justice in our country. Although the Constitution recognises the rights of all citizens without any distinction, women are usually discriminated against men with regard to education, health, access to justice, employment opportunities, etcetera. In a bid to end such discrimination, the National Commission on the Status of Women was established in 2000. One of its main goals was to devise laws affecting women and to look into the institutional policies for resolving the issues related to violations of women rights.
Following the 18th amendment to the Constitution in 2010, women development became a provincial subject. Accordingly, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women was constituted in 2014 followed by the K-P Commission on the Status of Women in 2016. In May 2015, the provincial governor approved the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Act of 2015 for immediate enforcement. The Act outlined the establishment of the commission to promote women’s rights. However, this 21-member body has not yet been constituted despite the stipulation that members must be appointed within 90 days of the passage of the Act. The delay clearly shows how muddled the government’s priorities are.
Such a dysfunctional forum discourages women from contacting the department(s) concerned. This lack of access to the real stakeholders cannot produce useful data to analyse the current situation of women in the province, which is imperative for policy planning and formulation. A majority of women who need help and support are based in the rural areas. Hence, restricting the commission to a federal extent is most likely to hinder the formulation and implementation of laws against discrimination of women. In the absence of a provincial commission, the access of the officials concerned is next to impossible at the local level. Women-centric issues cannot be dealt with a commission where the access of its staff is limited. Localising the commission will not only help in reaching out to all women but will also bring them into the mainstream for resolving their problems. A provincial commission, however, will serve as a springboard for active involvement of women in all spheres.
A more holistic way to address women issues is to have a widespread setup at district level. The Women Development Department or the Social Welfare Department in Sindh can play a lead role in housing the commission’s offices in every district or even tehsil in their existing office spaces. It is important that the district and tehsil level offices of the commission should not only be fully functional but also involved in educating women about their rights and what role the commission can play to alleviate their grievances. The commission office will surely act as a meeting or social gathering place for local women to discuss the day-to-day problems and help them make informed decisions. Its offices can host workshops in different towns to educate and enlighten women about its functions and the role it can play in women’s rights. Sindh has not appointed a minister as yet for this very important office. This shows the existing apathy towards the women of Sindh by a political party that is currently at the helm of affairs in the province.
Both the Child Marriage Restraint Act and the Hindu Marriage Act are welcome moves but the establishment of Sindh’s very own commission on the status of women will provide greater impetus to legislation affecting a larger segment of women. As a first step, Sindh authorities must show their resolve in putting a dedicated minister in place followed by the formation of a provincial commission to protect the rights of women. The formation of the commission must not be delayed any further.