I have a Voice
Analysis of Women’s Human Rights in Pakistan
Rana Mudassar Ali
The reality of people’s lives in Pakistan is shrouded in layers of inequalities and inequities, making the enjoyment and exercise of human rights almost impossible. While the people look to the state to protect their rights, in truth the state is a product of the same structural inequalities and cannot objectively play that role in the lives of its citizens. Differences among groups of people based on caste, class, ethnicity, religion, political affiliation, residential status, geographical location, and gender are overwhelming. Internationally accepted indicators of progress, both in terms of human development as well as resource distribution, demonstrate that the state has reflected inequalities more than it has functioned as the facilitator of social progress.
Women are extraordinarily burdened by this situation because patriarchy is fundamental to all the inequalities mentioned above. The achievement of women’s human rights is inextricably linked to the reduction of gender inequalities in other areas of social, economic and political life. Despite growing understanding of this among policy-makers and development planners, extreme gaps among the people do persist and achievements have been inconsistent. In fact, over the last few years the state has become increasingly fragile and less able to deliver on the promises of its Constitution.
The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is the supreme law of the State of Pakistan. The Constitution is supreme document of Pakistan which identifies the state (its physical existence and its borders), people and their fundamental rights, state’s constitutional law and orders, and also the constitutional structure and establishment of the institutions and the country’s armed forces.
The Constitution of Pakistan has basically adopted an equitable approach along with equality concepts for considering women’s rights. There for it is necessary to understand the basic concept of equity and equality first.
Equity: This involves access to equal opportunity and the development of basic capacity. It requires eliminating all barriers to economic and political opportunities and access to education and basic services, such that people (men and women of all ages, conditions and positions) can enjoy these opportunities and benefit from them. Equity implies participation by all people in processes of development and the application of a gender perspective in all our activities.
Equity means justice, giving everyone what belongs to them, and recognizing the specific conditions or characteristics of each person or human group/sex, gender, class, religion, age.) It is the recognition of diversity, without this providing a reason for discrimination.
Equality refers to the similarity of one thing to another in terms of quality and quantity. The achievement of the object of equality is more than the absolute prohibition or elimination of discrimination. To provide equality it is necessary to make a constant and dynamic effort
For example, we have equal opportunities that are situations where men and women have the equal opportunity to develop their intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities to reach their goals that they have set up in their lives.
Equal treatment assumes the right to the same social conditions, salary, and work conditions for both women and men.
Women rights mean privileges and freedoms equal to those of men. Women rights refer to fundamental rights in the political, economic, civil, social and cultural spheres.
Constitution of Pakistan provides equal rights and the chapter on Principles of Policy underlines the principle of equal rights and equal treatment to all citizens/persons, without any distinction including on the basis of sex.
Following Articles of Constitutional of Pakistan broadly cover the women rights:
• Article 3 calls upon the State to eliminate all forms of exploitation.
• Article 4 provides for the right of individual to enjoy the protection of law and to be treated in accordance with the law. This applies to the citizens as well as “to every other person for the time being within Pakistan” without distinction. This article also clearly states that certain rights cannot be suspended.
• Article 25 ensures equality before the law and equal protection of the law and states that there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.
• Articles 25(3) and 26(2) allows the state to make special provisions for the protection of women and children.
• Article 26 & 27 provide for equal access to public places and equality of employment in the public and private sector.
• Articles 11 & 37 (g) prohibit trafficking in human beings as well as prostitution.
• Article 32 makes special provisions for the representation of women in local Government.
• Article 34 directs the state to take appropriate measures to enable women to participate in all spheres of life and social activities.
• Article 35 asks the state to protect the marriage, the family, the mother and the child.
• Article 37 (e) directs the state to make provisions for securing just and humane conditions of work ensuring that children and women are not employed in vocations unsuited to their age or sex, and for ensuring maternity benefits for women in employment
• Articles 51 & 106 provide for the reservation of seats for women in the legislatures.
The Constitution of a country is meant to be the standard-setting document, reflecting the highest principles and aspirations of the nation. It must be a cohesive document, not a patchwork of conflicting ideas in which principles are enunciated on one hand, only to be rendered virtually ineffectual on the other. As a document by which all other laws, rules and decisions are to be measured, it cannot be ambiguous and unclear.
For the purpose of examining the Constitution of Pakistan with reference to women’s human rights, the chapters on Fundamental Rights and Principles and Policies holds great importance. Although the Principles of Policy are not legally enforceable, they provide guidelines that the executive must follow to develop its policies. The chapters contain a number of definitions promulgating basic human rights which have a non-discriminatory nature and attempt to protect gender rights. In short, the Constitution is a wide document, an umbrella under which laws and policies have to develop through case law and interpretation of the courts.
Pakistan’s Constitution currently does not define discrimination against women, even though [some] Articles within the Constitution are of gender-based discrimination. In addition, even though advances in gender equality such as the National Plan of Action (1998), the National Policy for Advancement and Empowerment of Women (2002), and the National Commission on the Status of Women (2000) exist, they have all lacked implementing mechanisms and concrete policy measures, which have obstructed desired objectives in each initiative. Furthermore, Pakistan’s government has failed to institute policy reform in regards to “social practices sanctioning violence against women” (CEDAW Shadow Report – Pakistan, 8). That is, the Criminal Law Amendment (2004) failed to eradicate honor killings, there has yet to be a explicit law on domestic violence, and women trafficking and forced prostitution are of irrelevance.
The Report of the Commission of Inquiry for Women makes note that “The laws of a country establish the basic relationship between the State and citizen and the rights and obligations between citizens themselves. If the laws either directly or by implication maintain half the population – the women’s half – in an unequal or subordinate status, no equal development can take place.” (1997: xii) It recommends changes in the Constitution to bring the entire document in line with the fundamental rights articulated in its own Chapter on Principles and Policies. It also draws attention to existing laws which need to be reformed in line with women’s fundamental rights, including selected Islamic laws, family laws, labour and service laws, criminal laws and laws relating to violence against women.
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