Military Solutions will not tackle the Root Causes of Military Based Extremism in Pakistan

Labour Party

Speaking at a hearing last week organised by London Green MEP Jean Lambert, Shama Mall, the Deputy Director of Church World Service – Pakistan/Afghanistan, stated her firm belief that the current focus on military solutions in Pakistan  is incapable of tackling the root causes of religious-based extremism. Endorsing development aid as a means of addressing poverty and social justice, she also spoke about the desperate need for greater equality for women as a means of improving the lives of the people of that country.  In particular, Shama Mall spoke about the need to repeal of all forms of discriminatory laws and  highlighted the need to reform the school curriculum.

Rubina Bhatti, who is the founding member and General Secretary of rights-based development group Taangh Wasaib Organization, spoke further about the discriminatory laws against women and minorities which exist in Pakistan. Laws that have been particularly harmful include the 1951 Citizenship Act which, among other things, denies women the right to get Pakistani citizenship for their foreign husband but entitles a man to obtain citizenship for his alien wife. According to Rubina, many Pakistani women are trapped in a web of dependency and subordination due to their low economic status, and despite the Government of Pakistan taking some steps to ensure address discrimination against women, Pakistan still only ranks 56 among 58 countries trying to eliminate their existing gender pay gap.

Human rights activist, Beenish Hashwani, closed the hearing by offering a set of recommendations to the European Union. She called on the EU to put pressure on the Pakistani Government to expedite its enactment of its Domestic Violence Bill, which will outlaw domestic violence in a country where over 85% of women face this abuse. She also asked for policy-makers to increase aid for poverty reduction, to ensure that development aid for education stresses curriculum reforms as the long-term objective, and to encourage the government of Pakistan to promote policies that promote tolerance.

Despite this rather bleak picture, Pakistan is making some progress in terms of female political participation: in the February 2008 elections 15 women candidates were directly elected to the National Assembly. Last year a joint-summit between Pakistan and the EU took place in Brussels, and on 4th June this year a second summit is due to take place. This will provide a key opportunity for Pakistani women like Shama, Beenish and Rubina to draw EU leaders’ attention to the continuing difficulties faced by women in the country, and to call them to act upon their recommendations.

The Dark Side of Mother’s Day

Labour Party

Mother’s Day fell this year in Belgium on 9th May.  Dutch MEP Sophia in ‘t Veld, who is the President of the European Parliament working group on reproductive health, HIV/AIDS and development (EPWG), used Mother’s Day as a way of introducing a roundtable discussion entitled ‘The Dark Side of Mothers’ Day: Maternal Mortality’.

Unsafe motherhood, and its disastrous consequences, are wholly preventable. As Nicolas Beger, Director Amnesty EU Office, explained, the situation would be much improved if national governments, development agencies and international actors put safe motherhood and reproductive health initiatives at the top of their agendas. 

Burkina Faso-based representative, Madame Traore, who works for Family Care International, one of several non-governmental organisations seeking to make pregnancy and childbirth safer around the world explained that while improving maternal health is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agreed by the 192 United Nations Member States in 2000, it remains the most off-track of them all. This, in her opinion, says a great deal about the way that the world views women. The issue of maternal mortality is too often deemed as ‘women’s business’, and not something about which everyone, both men and women alike, should be concerned.

The situation as it stands is extremely bleak. In sub-Saharan Africa the chances of dying during pregnancy or childbirth can be as high as one in eight, compared to one in 8000 in Western Europe, and pregnancy and childbirth remain the primary cause of death among women of childbearing age. Women in developing countries make up almost all of the 500,000 mothers who die each year from either being pregnant or giving birth, with many more deaths falling off the medical map given the difficulty of measuring them. Unsafe motherhood is caused by a number of factors, including poor hygiene and care during labour, poor health and nutrition prior to pregnancy, and inaccessible or unaffordable healthcare. Social, economic and cultural issues, including poverty, female genital mutilation and early marriage amplify the risks.