Honourable Mr Mamnoon Hussain, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Ministers and Parliamentarians
Colleagues and Friends
Today, as we commemorate International Women’s Day, I would like to extend my warmest congratulations and deepest appreciation on behalf of Aurat Foundation and AAWAZ Voice and Accountability Programme to all those who have contributed to promote the human rights of women in their personal or institutional capacities, and to all those courageous women and men who continue to work for the empowerment and well-being of the women of Pakistan.
International Women’s Day has a long and heroic history, both at the international level and at many national levels. While its roots lie in the movement for women’s economic and political rights at the turn of the 20th century, it has since then been observed, both as a celebration of the achievements made in the arena of women’s rights, and as a rallying point for the work remaining in other areas of social concern.
Aurat Foundation has struggled for and remained committed to the realisation of women’s rights since its inception in 1986. We continue to reflect on the deeper impact of the advances made. In the past two decades, women have made a remarkable contribution to economic progress in our country which has actually resulted in narrowing gender gaps in literacy, legal rights, political participation and service sector employment.
Over the years, there has been a sea change in women’s participation in national life, especially in the urban sectors. They have engaged with the State for actualising their rights. They are active participants in all professional fields and in all aspects of political, economic, social and cultural development in Pakistan. Girls are setting new records in education. They are conquering new peaks. And they have excelled in national sports and cultural pursuits.
Women have come out of their historic invisibility and marginalisation. They are contributing their best in all walks of life. They are present everywhere – in politics, the media, the legal profession, commerce and business, banking, information technology, police and the armed forces. I would like to pay a tribute to women legislators because of whose serious and committed efforts, many pro-women laws have been made in the Federal Parliament and the Provincial Assemblies.
However, on this occasion, it is essential to recognise that while laws are necessary for the legal protection of women’s rights, high levels of impunity are continuing to produce a negative effect, both for victims of violence and for society as a whole.
Violence against women and girls continues to be the foremost distressing factor for Aurat Foundation and it is a matter of serious concern for the citizens of our country. Killing in the name of ‘honour’, acid attacks and harmful practices like ‘vani and swara’ are a blot on our collective conscience. Poverty is also a basic form of human rights violation, which affects women disproportionately.
Though women’s suffrage has increased tremendously over the past two elections, women continue to be barred unlawfully from casting their votes at several places in the country. Moreover, millions of women are still not registered as voters while many more do not possess basic proof of citizenship.
We firmly believe that all these issues must be tackled on a war footing if the social exclusion of women is to be eradicated.
We would also like to reaffirm on this occasion that peace, democratic governance and the advancement of women are inextricably linked, and that there can be little progress on women’s rights within retrogressive and repressive ideologies. Women’s rights cannot and should not be made part of any bargain in the pursuit of much desired peace in the country.
We would like to emphasise that while we remember all those who gave their lives in the fight against terrorism and in defending national territory, the death of countless activists, social workers and human rights defenders who died defending ideas are no less worthy of commemoration, and should serve to instil a deeper sense of resistance against radicalised violence.
Lastly, but surely not the least, we reaffirm that Pakistan can only progress if it rises to the challenge of developing and investing in more than half of its population that comprises women and the girl-child.
As the theme for International Women’s Day this year is Inspiring Change, Aurat Foundation and I personally, call upon the people of Pakistan to inspire and work for tolerance and greater appreciation of basic human rights. These actions or gestures, no matter how small, will be our legacy in these distressing times and bear witness to our love for humanity in the generations to come.
I thank you very much.
Dr. Masuma Hasan President, Board of Governors Aurat Foundation
Islamabad, 8 March 2014
On behalf of Aurat Foundation & AAWAZ Voice and Accountability Programme
(South Asia Partnership-Pakistan, Strengthening Participatory organisation Sungi Development Foundation, Sustainable Development Policy Institute and Aurat Foundation)