7 March 2002
Dr. Attiya Inayatullah. Minister for Women Development, Barrister Shahida Jamil, Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights, Mr.Ondur Yucer. Resident Representative of UNDP, Excellencies, distinguished guests. Ladies and gentlemen:
Before I speak, I thought. I must comment on the presentations on the speeches that we have seen just now. I am very impressed with whatever I have seen till now. First of all I am very grateful for whatever has been said about me and my government in the speeches that have been made. I feel even more burdened now since I will have to do much more than has already been done. All the women representatives came to me amongst whom first of all were the Family Health Workers who are present over here. They talked about their salaries. I have noted this point and I have told the Minister as well. I will examine the implications of it and only then will I decide about it. Thank you.
After that I heard and noted the views of the elected women councilors. Then I met a delegation of disabled women led by’ Saima whom I know as ‘Chotto’. The points given by ‘Chotto’ have also been noted by me. I also listened to the women in distresses. I have noted all the points. I am very impressed with the whole show and by the theatrical presentation that we have just seen. It was extremely touching. I think it would have moved any man, any male chauvinist. It certainly has moved me and I am not a male chauvinist. So, I would like to commend all these ladies, all these girls, all these women who have presented all that we have seen today. for the excellent effort, for the very touching display which motivates me and I am sure my government to do more for women of Pakistan. Having said this I would like to give you a feel of whatever is happening for the women in Pakistan.
As you all know ladies and gentlemen, the economic revival, poverty alleviation, good governance and political restructuring form the core of my reform agenda. I also believe very strongly and with full conviction that women have a key function to perform in each one of these areas. The government is therefore, taking concrete action for the participation of women in all spheres of economic social and political life of Pakistan starting from the grass roots level and going up to the top.
The United Nations theme for International Women’s Day 2002, the theme being Afghan women today realities and opportunities is well chosen and I thank the UNDP Resident Representative for sharing the Secretary-General’s message on this occasion with us. We sympathize with the people of Afghanistan who for the last few decades have been victims of continuing turmoil and chaos. This has brought in its wake great poverty, a pervasive gun culture and oppression. We support the Bonn process and its related clauses on formation of the Loya Jirga. We appreciate the participation of women in the same. This, we hope will lead to peace. Normalcy, national reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan without any gender or ethnic discrimination.
As an expression of our solidarity a two women delegation led by the Minister for Women Development, Dr. Attiya will participate in the International Women’s convention being organized by the government of Afghanistan in Kabul tomorrow. The delegation is also charged to hold bilateral consultations for identifying areas of need in which Pakistan can assist and support women and children in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
On this occasion of International Women’s Day 2002, I address the women of the nation who represent half of the population and mother the other half. To your empowerment, protection and security I stand firmly committed.. I salute your struggle to eliminate discrimination, intimidation and your resolve to play a full part in social, economic and political life of Pakistan. I am aware that one of the difficulties involved in improving the condition of women is the fact that the top positions at the decision making level are normally held by men. it was therefore, through a conscious decision that we involved competent and experienced women in key Ministries in the federal and the provincial governments levels. In the same context I applaud the election of some women s Nazims and Naib Nazims at the district, Tehsil and union council levels.
I am particularly proud of the two women Nazims in the Sindh province. I believe they were unable to come here because I am going to Karachi today and may be they were committed there with the preparations for whatever I am supposed to be doing in Sindh. The recent appointment of a Pakistani woman as the Chairperson of a multinational organization in the country is also a very great significance. These are all encouraging signs and I will ensure that this trend takes root and is strengthened in Pakistan. Excellencies and the young ladies who I see sitting in the balcony — the future of Pakistan, women for too long have been considered an encumbrance. I would urge all to look at them as the solution.
When I look at my own family, my mother sitting right there, my wife sitting next to her, my daughter she is not here or my daughter-in-law who is also not here — they all contribute usefully to the value of the family and the society in general. I strongly believe that all women have and surely can play an effective role in society. This I know can happen only when they are suitably empowered. My endeavor is precisely a major step in the empowerment of women.
About my mother, I forgot to tell that she is a lady who did her graduation before 1940, so that is the determination. So, she is a graduate. She is eligible for elections. I would like to give just three examples as evidence of my commitment to the empowerment of women of Pakistan.
The first is education. The education reform strategy which has been painstakingly developed under the leadership of Zubaida Jalal, the Education Minister, gives priority to the education of women and girls. Let me tell you a new experiment that we are carrying out very successfully in Pakistan started from Punjab and was the privatization of thousands of government schools all over the country specially in the rural areas – their privatization for the evening classes because they lie empty in the evening. What we have done. is to offer these premises for anyone who would like to open schools but we have ensured that the half of these schools would be for girls and I am very glad to say that today I know the figures in Punjab over about 5000 schools have been opened in the evening classes and over 2500 schools are for girls at the moment. These are the new schools which have been opened.
This is a revolutionary undertaking which will certainly go a long way in educating girls. The inequalities in education will hopefully be removed by 2010 when the gender gap in Primary education is planned to be closed. This is the plan. We need to work hard to achieve it. We have decided to give preference to women as school teachers, thus generating gainful employment for many thousands of them. Besides, being mindful of the under nourished condition of the girls, I have recently approved a very large nutrition and education school feeding programme for half a million girls in 5000 Primary Schools in 20 poverty districts all over Pakistan. This programme is being launched very shortly. The financial support has been given.
This is a unique programme which is being launched under the leadership of Dr. Attiya all over Pakistan. We will support it financially. This is the programme where girls students will he fed by their own mothers, food cooked for them in the schools through resources provided by the government. This need to be made a success. It is a great challenge. I keep telling Dr. Attiya, its implementation is a challenge. I will get involved in seeing how it is being done myself. But if this challenge is undertaken with courage and boldness and successfully delivered, there is no reason why we should not expand this to all over Pakistan for the benefit of the under nourished girls of Pakistan. This much for education. Let me highlight the second example and i.e., the economic uplift programme that we have visualized for women.
I personally acknowledge that poverty has a female face. I also have a faith in emancipation of women as the key to enhancing national development. We have, therefore, signed ILO- 1 00 on equal remuneration and are engaged in translating the principle of equal pay, for equal work into reality. For the economic uplift of Pakistani women I have ensured that women are given preference in the grant of micro-credit through Khushhali Bank and also in the Zakat Rehabilitation Scheme that is under implementation. I have gone personally around Pakistan in all provinces and have been distributing the Zakat stipends to the deserving.
At one station a very remote area of Pakistan and a very poverty stricken area of Pakistan where I gave a cheque of 25000/- rupees to women, I asked her what she is going to do. She said I am going to buy five sewing machines and she said, I know sewing, so I am going to teach sewing to other girls and earn money and also I am going to stitch clothes and earn money. I asked her how many children she had. She had three children and no husband. I did not ask where the husband was. So, with 25000/- rupees, we have uplifted or provided financial support, financial sustenance to four people. This is the program which is going on in Pakistan. By December last year, we have already distributed 2 billion rupees at an average of 20,000/- rupees, we have distributed this money to hundred thousand poorest of the poor which included a lot of women. And since program is continuing we are going to distribute 5 billion rupees this year and we are going to distribute 5 billion rupees per annum for the next three years. This is the amount which will ensure the real emancipation or the looking after of the poorest of the poor women and men also.
I personally also support the proposed Asian Development Bank assisted gender and poverty program which through the First Women Bank will expand micro-credit. We will reinforce micro-credit and substantially open the world of small and medium entrepreneurs to women. By the way, I would like to point out in favor of women, that our experience indicates that generally women borrowers are far more responsible in paying back their loans which they have taken from the micro—credit banks in the past. I commend this virtue of theirs and may also add my personal experience based on truth and fact is that women are more dedicated, more honest, more sincere workers than men. So, one has to commend women for this quality and therefore, there is no reason why we should not encourage equal participation of women in all spheres of life and activity in the country because I think, the quality or the output would improve. So, I certainly will go on the path that we have already adopted.
Ladies and gentlemen, my last reference is to the political empowerment of women. I personally feel this is the route to the emancipation of women. It is through political empowerment that women can really emancipate themselves. We are empowering you, the women of Pakistan to fight for your own rights and getting your rights yourselves. So really the political empowerment gives you the power and the strength to get your rights yourselves. Remember, I or my government or anyone can only assist, can only facilitate but it is you, yourselves, through your own merit, through your own determination, through your own courage that you will get emancipated and you will rise. So, we are empowering you. I will facilitate the process. I expect you yourselves to rise and get your rights.
This government has taken the first big step in empowering the women by ensuring their representation in the Local Governments at least to the extent of 33%. 1 say at least because the women are open to fight for general seats. As I told you there are two Nazirns in Sindh who contested against men and won. As a result of this some 40,000 women councilors have provided adequate political space to the women. I am very pleased to learn that the Ministry of Women Development is arranging necessary orientation for their effective participation in the political process.
We have also allocated 60 reserved seats for women in the National Assembly and similarly suitable number of seats in the four Provincial Assemblies totaling a guaranteed representation of 1 88 seats in the National and Provincial Assemblies. This is a substantial jump from the zero level of the past. Let me also say that I met a number of women representative and I know their feelings that their representation should be 50%. Theoretically and technically this should be the case, that there should equal representation but let me tell this forum of women that 1 did analyze the possibility of doing this but I came to the conclusion that there is no other way than to have a graduated progression towards 50% representation. It is mathematically or technically not possible to do that immediately to jump from zero level to that level. Because at the moment when I analyze the National Assembly seats, 2 17 general seats, this needs to be increased.
There is a popular demand of increasing general seats because the population has increased since 1973 onwards. The seats are the same, but the population has increased. So, therefore, when you increase the general seats, may be from 21 7 say to 300 and if you were to give half representation to women, so we would have to add 300 women to the 300 general seats to get half representation. That would mean about 600 National Assembly seats which would not be possible. Now this jumping from 217 suddenly to 600 and if you were to include technocrats would not be physically, possible immediately. So the path to it, is to go gradually and that is why I have given this representation of 60 women seats and from now onwards the path ought to be reduction in the men seats and increase in the women seats.
That is the only way of forward. I am saying this to all the women representatives who may be sitting here and who have raised this issue of equal representation of women. Technically, in the immediate context it is not possible but I am doing the maximum and with passage of time, we, Insha’Allah, will keep increasing as you perform better and as all men also realize that to include women is beneficial to the efficient functioning of assemblies also. Now, before, I move on I would like to call upon the leadership of the political parties also through this forum to ensure meaningful women participation in their parties by allowing them party membership.
With all this support, I now hope that the capable women will rise to the occasion and take destiny in your own hands, make women move forward. Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, in response to a demand from women and some enlightened men, the very first step my government took was the establishment of an independent and autonomous National Commission on the Status of Women which has since formulated its annual report for 200 1. Justice (Retd.) Majida Rizvi has recently been approved for appointment as the new chairperson of the Commission. This brings me to another subject of crucial importance. This is population planning. Nobody has addressed this directly. I would like to address it frontally for Pakistan. It is extremely important because it directly affects the health and life of every woman and it is also the key factor in the attainment of the government’s agenda of economic revival and poverty alleviation. Pakistan’s material mortality rate is unacceptably high.
The nation cannot let over 35000 mothers die each year from pregnancy related causes. We also can not let 35% of the nation’s couples have an unmet need for family planning, we cannot let nearly every family have the death of a born child by the time the mother is 30. This is the record of this country which is certainly poor. There is one simple solution which every Pakistani couple must adopt. I refer to the family planning call. No couple to have a child too early, a child too late or a child too many. This voluntary adoption of family planning will contribute substantially to the nation’s economic growth wherein through stabilization of Pakistan’s population, our development efforts will not go down a bottomless pit. The financial benefit to the economy of every birth prevented is calculated at 0.5 million rupees, the accumulated amount is phenomenal. Each Pakistani couple can contribute to building a strong and prosperous Pakistan through adopting family planning as a norm.
The Ministry of Population Welfare has been charged to ensure that family planning services are affordable and accessible to every couple in Pakistan. Coordination and the National Population Welfare Program involves all available infrastructure at the grass roots level through federal and p’ inc i al government departments, public and private sector organizations, players of the civil society and above all the people themselves. I expect to see in place a vibrant population and family planning program which ensures the population growth rate decline from the present level of around 2.1%, hopefully to 1.9 % by 2004 and go down below 1.4% even latest by 2020.
Ladies and gentlemen: another effort of ours is directed at providing speedy, affordable and accessible justice to those in need. Without a doubt women dominate the need list. I am greatly concerned at the grave hardship being faced by women due to delay in disposal of their legal cases. Our efforts to remedy the situation are bearing some fruit. Police reforms are on the anvil and it is with much pleasure that I also inform you that the Chief Justice of Pakistan is also equally concerned in this regard and is considering reforms into the system which could address genuine grievances of women. The judiciary now seeks to lessen the agony and burden of women by making family courts functional, accessible and available in enough numbers, appointment of more women in the judiciary particularly at the district level, exercise of authority for quashing unfounded cases and expeditious issuance of challans.
With these actions the procedural technicalities should now not be a hindrance in the effective administration of justice. Finally, on this occasion of the International Women’s Day 2002, as an expression of solidarity with the cause of women’s rights, a special remission of 3 months in the sentence has been awarded by me to all women prisoners expect a very few special cases. I also with much pleasure, launch the government’s policy on empowerment and development of women as announced by Dr Attiya. It has been briefly described by the Minister for Women Development. The overall goal of the policy is empowerment of Pakistani women irrespective of their cast, creed, religion or any other consideration for the realization of their full potential in all spheres of life specially social, political, economic and personal.
In conclusion ladies and gentlemen, today I see and have heard from those gathered here the vigor and the spirit of the women of Pakistan. We have a long way to go. You have a long way to go. Let us pledge, that together, we shall liberate women from the crippling handicaps of illiteracy, poverty, deprivation and powerlessness. Let us also pledge to create a society which recognizes dignity and honor for every girl and woman of Pakistan, Insha- Allah.
Pakistan Paindabad. Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.