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.