Human Rights Group Fights for Women's Social, Political, Legal, Economic Needs

Article excerpt

Asma Jehangir chairs the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). She responded to questions in writing from reporter Fauzia Ahmed.

Question: What is HRCP working toward?

Answer: In the women sector of HRCP, it is committed to women's rights being human rights; all endeavors are directed toward that. We at the organizational level are trying our best to minimize the gap between international standards and national laws.

Q: What are the political, social, economic and legal barriers that hinder the development of women in Pakistan?

A: The basic political barrier is the difficulty of participation of women to compete with men in election campaigning and winning votes in a society that traditionally looks upon women as lesser beings. The common people's choice between a male and female candidate is bound to be unfavorable to the latter. This also explains why the political parties are so reluctant to put women on the ticket.

Social handicaps spring basically from the same factor: that women have been traditionally relegated to a role within the four walls and to a division of labor in which her part is considered secondary. The practice of segregation is a powerful factor in the denial of basic human rights. This practice still exists at varying degrees and contributes to the lack of equitable advancement in education, employment and other kinds of participation in national activity.

As for economic barriers, women are still mostly considered to be earning members of the family. Their chores within the home remain non-monetized and the contribution they make in this way to the national income is not taken into consideration. In employment opportunties also, men are still given preference over woman candidates for obvious reasons, even though the number of women candidates are only a fraction of the male.

Legal barriers spring from the discrimination that exists between the sexes because of the provisions of Islamic law. The discrimination that is invariably a deterrent to women are in matters of inheritance, child custody and maintaining a child in separation or divorce, and divorce itself. Even the question of a woman having the right to marry by her own will is still intentionally debated in the court. Family laws generally tend to be interpreted adversely for a woman. …