Womens Rights In Pakistan

(IHSAN UL HAQ, Rawalpindi)

Women In Pakistan Have Always Been Subject To Stringent Behavioral Controls Due To Religio-Cultural Reasons. Especially Since Islamization Campaign By Zia Regime (1977-88) ‘Women Regulation’ Has Been A Central Conflict Point Between Conservatives And Liberals. Usually Governments In Pakistan Have Been Reluctant To Take Any Clear Ideological Position On Women Right Issues. Policy Makers Would At Best Try Not To Take Any Decision By What Bacharach And Baratz (1963) Call “The Mobilization Of Bias”. The Most Important Reason For This Non-Decision Has Been The Perceived Influence Of Religion And Religious Parties Over Masses. However Present Government Of Pakistan Has Adopted A Very Progressive Stance On Women Right Issues. A Comprehensive National Policy For Development And Empowerment Of Women Is Announced By The President Of Pakistan In September, 2002. A National Action Plan For Achieving The Proclaimed Objectives Of The Policy Is Also Adopted. Some Important Decisions Taken In This Particular Policy Area As Reservation Of 17 Percent Of Seats In Parliament And 33 Percent Of Seats In Local Bodies For Women, Reservation Of 05 Percent Quota In All Government Jobs And 10 Percent Quota In Central Superior Services, Ratification Of Convention On Elimination Of Discrimination Against Women, Passing Law Against Honor Killing In 2005, Establishment Of District Resource Centers For Women Etc Are Of Far Reaching Consequence. Present Essay Will Look Into Reasons For These Radical Changes. The Following Section Will Recognize Contributions By Different Policy Actors In Evolution Of Women Rights In Pakistan. The Next Section Will Look Into Rationale For Changing Behavior Of Important Policy Actors. In The End I Will Try To Relate This Policy Adoption Process To Some Of The Prevalent Theories. The Essay Contends That The Convergence Of Political And Ideological Needs Of The Rulers Have Made This Policy Choice The Ultimate Choice.

Contributions By Different Political Actors
Specific Reform Initiatives Do Not Emerge In A Void, Nor Are They Decided Upon In Isolation From The Pre-Existing Perceptions, Experiences And Values Of Policy Elites. Infact, The Broader Context Within Which Particular Reforms Are Considered Provides Insight Into The Choices That Are Made And Processes Through Which Change Is Pursued (Grindle Et Al 1991). Similarly The Present Policy Reforms Have Emerged Through A Long Process And By Complex Interaction Between Different Political Actors. To Better Understand This Process And Parts Played By Different Actors And Factors It Is Pertinent To Understand The Institutional Structure And Relative Importance Of Organizations In Policy Community.


The Constitution Of Pakistan Describes Pakistan As A ‘Democratic Republic ’ In Which Authority Of State Rests On Three Pillars; The Executive, The Legislature And The Judiciary. Policy Formulation Traditionally Is Prerogative Of Executive. Other Two Pillars Only Have An Indirect Role In Policy Formulation. Pakistan’s Special Political System As It Stands Today Gives Added Influence To Executive In Decision Making. Pakistan At Present Has Its Own Kind Of ‘Dual System ’ In Which Both The President And The Prime Minister Are Elected By Elected Assemblies And Assemblies Also Have Power To Impeach Them. But The President-Cum-Army Chief Also Has The Power To Dissolve The Cabinet And The Parliament.

Contribution By Executive :
Policy Formulation In Pakistan Is Dominated By Executive Institutions. Most Of The Time Policy Proposals Are Initiated By Government Departments. In Order To Co-Opt Other Stake- Holder It Is Common To Formulate Committees Consisting Of All Stakeholders. Inputs By These Committees Are Fine Tuned In Departments And Ministries And Then Presented To The Cabinet. Military Bureaucracy Represents The Liberal British Traditions. Military Governments With Only Exception Of Zia Regime (1977-88) Have Always Co-Opted Secular And Liberal Elements In The Society. First Military Ruler General Ayub (1958-1969) Introduced Family Laws In 1961 Which “Enhanced Space- If Not Actual Rights-With In The Family” (Shaheed 1998). This Law Enabled Women To Inherit Agricultural Property. Second Marriage Was Made Contingent Upon Agreement By First Wife, Divorce Was Made Difficult And Compulsory Registration Of Marriages Was Introduced. Second Military Ruler Yahiya Khan’s (1969-71) Short Period Of Rule Was Marred By Political Struggles Of Worst Kind. However His Electoral Reforms Gave Equal Rights To Women. General Musharaf (Present Ruler) Also Has Co-Opted The Liberal Forces. He Is A Proclaimed Liberal And Great Proponent Of Women Rights.

Fourth Military Ruler Zia –Ul- Haq (1977-88) Is Known For His Conservative Leanings. His Era Is Regarded As Retrogressive For Women Rights. Hudood Laws Passed During His Period Still Are Cause Of Concern For Women Right Activists In Pakistan. However This Era Also Saw Some Significant Steps Towards Realization Of Women Rights. A New Women’s Division Was Established In 1979 At The Cabinet Secretariat Level. Most Importantly His Rule Saw An Unprecedented Inclusion Of Females In Work Force. This Is Particularly Important For Its After Affects On Changing The Status Of Women In The Family And Society.

Cabinet And Civil Bureaucracy Also Have Important Role In Decision Making. They Do Play A Role In Initiation And Evolution Of Policy Proposals. Political And Bureaucratic Elites Of Pakistan Also Like Military Elite Are Secular And Liberal. Especially In Context Of Our Particular Policy Area Role Of Civil Bureaucracy Is Important. As Pointed Out By Rouse (1986) The Early Rise Of Feminist Movements Was Made Possible By The Fact That Wives Of Many Of Prominent Civil Servants Actively Joined These Movements.

Among Other Institutions Of Executive The Role Of The Ministry Of Women Development And Its Subsidiary Organizations As Commission On Status Of Women Is Mentionable For Their Policy Inputs. Especially The Commission’s Reports Are Important For Demanding Increased Quota For Women In Government Jobs .
Policy Inputs By National Reconstruction Bureau Are Also Important. Legal Framework Order (2002) And Local Government Ordinance (2001) Which Enhanced Women Representation In Elected Institutions Were Proposed By This Institution.

Contribution By Legislature :
Legislature Is The Supreme Policy Institution In Any Democratic System. Legislature Is Supreme In Pakistan Too. An Important Reason For Subsidiary Role By The Legislature Is Lack Of Experience In Managing Government Affairs And Low Level Of Education As Compared To Civil-Military Bureaucracy.

In Particular Context Of Under Discussion Policy The Legislature Has Obliged The Executive In Providing The Necessary Support For Its Constitutional Proposals. Especially Mentionable Is The Seventeenth Amendment Bill Passed By The Parliament On 31 December, 2003 Which Legitimized All The Steps Taken By The Executive.

Contribution By Judiciary :
Judiciary As The Ultimate Interpreter Of Law Has An Indirect But Important Role In Policy Formulation. Judiciary In Pakistan Has The Powers Of Judicial Review. With Reference To Our Special Policy Area The Higher Courts Of Pakistan Have Always Upheld Liberal Egalitarian Views. For Example The Higher Courts In Pakistan Have Been Instrumental In Establishing The Right Of Adult Muslim Women To Choose A Spouse At Their Free Will. Some Important Cases In This Regard Are Abdul Waheed V Asma Jahangir Mehmood (1997), Humaira Mehmood V State(1999) Etc. On The Recent Issue Of ‘Honor Killing’ Courts Of Pakistan Have Taken A Very Egalitarian View Of Islam. One Important Case In This Regard Is Muhammad Siddique V State (2001) .

Contribution By Interest Groups :
Role Of Interest Groups Is Not As Institutionalized In Developing Countries As In Developed Democracies. But Groups Certainly Exist And Influence Policy Outcomes. In Our Particular Policy Area Role Of Women “Lobby-Cum Pressure Groups ” Is Very Important. Women Played A Very Active Role In Pakistan Movement. After Creation Of Pakistan, However, Women Organization Such As All Pakistan Women Association (APWA) Restricted Themselves To Charitable And Welfare Activities. Women Activism Truly Rose To Prominence During Zia's Period Mainly As Reaction To His Islamization Campaign. Women Action Forum Was Established In September, 1981 To Protest Against Hudood Laws. The Forum Actively Opposed The Law As Discriminatory Against Women. Over The Years These Women Groups Have Assumed The Character Of Women Right ‘Issue Movements’ . Due To Their Consistent Efforts These Women Groups Are Able To Put Women Agenda On Political Spectrum. By Now No Political Party Manifesto Is Complete Without Mention Of Women Rights. Another Important Contribution Of These Groups Is The Issuance Of Public Discourse On The Issues Which Hitherto Were Taboos.

During Musharaf Regime All These Groups Have Become Insiders. Hence Their Role In Present Policy Changes Is Very Important. This Is Unique Opportunity For The Groups To Advance Their Agenda. Prominent Women Activists As Shaheen Sardar Ali, Zubeda Jalal, Attya Anyatullah Etc Joined The Government As Ministers And Advisors. Shaheen Was Also The Founder Chairperson Of National Commission On Status Of Women.

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Reviews & Comments
Women have been considered property for centuries but people are changing now. Their rights are being recognized and cared for. It’s a good start.
By: Ayesha, Karachi on Jan, 14 2018
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Women Rights can only be improved if those who violate them are strictly punished. If all the offenders are not punishment it will have no impact on society.
By: Shazia, isl on Jan, 12 2018
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The best way to improve women rights is to aware women about their rights. For that matter education is the key. If our women are educated it will be a lot more difficult to violate them.
By: sara, lahore on Jan, 09 2018
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According to the ordinance of Pakistan and also the Islam, women's have some special rights, but due to the high illiteracy rates of women in Pakistan most women feel hesitant to raise the voice for their rights, currently the media doing a great role for the rights of women.
By: safeena, khi on Dec, 26 2017
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The full name of Pakistan is Islamic Republic of Pakistan, this is the state which build for the name of Islam where it is necessary to give the rights to man and woman according to the Islamic laws. Islam gives the equal rights to women, it is the duty for the women to raise the voice for her rights.
By: iqbal, khi on Dec, 20 2017
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Pakistan established as an independent nation in the name of Islam and Islam gives the equal rights to the Women, it is the greatest example of Women rights in Pakistan that the minority of women is also arriving in our Senate and Assembly, even the speaker of the National Assembly is also a woman.
By: shaista, khi on Dec, 10 2017
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For the rights of women, the media's role is very important. Media gives the platform to the women to enhance their voice for injustice, they are victimized by marriage by force in under age, rape and murder cases list are also long in Pakistan.
By: saeed, khi on Dec, 04 2017
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Women have been subject to violence and therefore it is important to secure their rights and safeguard their interests. Laws about Women Rights in Pakistan has been prevailing in the country and has been implemented as well.
By: Raheem, Lahore on Sep, 27 2017
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Women Rights in Pakistan are badly misused at times. But they are also significant to be implemented. Women rights ordinance is there but we dont seem like understanding it. I think we need to focus on the issue properly to the core and understand the dynamics of it.
By: Elisa Rehan, Karachi on Sep, 25 2017
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