Pakistan, Afghanistan celebrate International Women’s Day

Pakistan holds week-long festival to mark women’s empowerment

By Raheel Khan

2012-03-09

ISLAMABAD – Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani pledged continued efforts for the implementation of reforms to empower women during a televised address from Islamabad’s Convention Centre March 8 -- International Women’s Day.

Efforts to empower women in Pakistan started with the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, when she became the first female prime minister in the Muslim world, Gilani said.

He said his government has followed suit over the past four years, making significant political, administrative and economic decisions to empower women.

Reforms and women’s protection laws

Some of the recently passed legislation includes: a 2010 workplace harassment bill, a 2011 law criminalising acid attacks, and the 2011 creation of a fund to provide legal and financial help for women in prison.

“The laws made for women’s rights protection are a big achievement, and we will do more to protect and promote womenfolk,” Dr. Firdous Ashiq Awan, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, said as the National Women at Work Festival kicked off in Islamabad. The week-long festival is being held at the headquarters of Lok Versa – a government body that promotes art and culture.

“Today’s day, the 8th of March, is in the name of those women who are working as house maids, factory laborers, farmers and professional women,” Awan said. “Islam is the champion religion of women’s rights. If our Prophet has given respect to women, then every male must give respect to women.”

Art for awareness of violence against women

The festival includes an art competition, where art students’ work will be categorised by three themes focusing on the plight of women: violence against women, abuse of women in custody, and working women.

“The exercise is meant to create awareness about the plight of women in the society,” Riffat Ara Baig, organiser of the competition, told Central Asia Online.

“We expect great work from the students with a thought-provoking message,” she said.

“We will award the winners and exhibit the whole of art work produced in order to create awareness about the different aspects of women’s (lives),” Riffat said.

More to be done

Although strides have been made, more progress is needed, advocates said.

“We can see the change in cities, where more women are participating in routine life activities, getting an education, doing jobs, etc., but when you go to countryside, womenfolk are still living in bad conditions,” Prof. Rehana Shafiq, a professor of Pakistan Studies in Islamabad, told Central Asia Online.

Rural women in Pakistan face restrictions on movement and speech, they lack the freedom to choose a life partner, and most are deprived of their share of property, she said.

“I am hopeful, and I see a bright future, but it will take some time,” she said.

While passing women’s rights laws is a good start, enforcing them is important, Arif Khan, a Peshawar-based analyst and political commentator, said.

“Pro-women laws are there, but the issue is implementation and making these laws effective,” he said.

Other Islamic countries also observed Women’s Day, including Afghanistan, where events also focused on improving women’s position in society.

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