13 February 2023

Staff Report


LAHORE

Women’s Action Forum (WAF) has called on the government to take urgent measures to resolve key issues confronting women and other marginalised segments of society, condemning the indifference and incompetence of the power elite for failing people in the country.
The WAF said with women and other marginalized people bearing the brunt of the fallout from economic and political crises in the country. The WAF members held a press conference on Sunday at Shirkatgah in Garden Town. The WAF members highlighted the issues discussed in their National Convention, held from Feb 10 to 12.
The conference was addressed by WAF members, including Khawar Mumtaz and Farida Shaheed from Lahore, Amar Sindhu from Sindh, Dr Riffat Aziz from Peshawar, Kausar S Khan from Karachi, Batool Seema from Quetta, Jamima Afridi from Peshawar and Dr Mussarat Hassan from Hyderabad.
The national convention was held to mark more than 40 years of the WAF’s struggle for a just equitable society. The WAF members said citizens, regardless of sex, gender, class, ethnicity, religion and other identities, should be treated with dignity, have equal opportunities, and enjoyed all rights.
Incompetent elite causing crises  
In this light: WAF condemns the indifference and incompetence of the power elite including the political elite, armed forces, and bureaucracy, who have failed the people of Pakistan. This has led to the dire economic, social and political crises citizens are facing today, with women and other marginalized people bearing the brunt of the fall-out. Combined with growing extremism, this is also leading to forced interprovincial migration that puts additional pressures on certain areas.
Demand rehabilitation of flood victims
The 2022 floods demonstrate the urgent need to be prepared for climate change impacts and to reorient our inappropriate development planning that is extractive consumer-oriented and anti-poor. Climate change is a global existential phenomenon and while Pakistan is not a major contributor it has already over-used its natural resources. WAF is greatly concerned about the plight of the flood-affectees, especially people and places left behind such as women and children. WAF demands the provision of immediate rehabilitation and support in consultation with affected people in a fair and transparent process.
IMF loan will lead to more poverty  

Pakistan has dodged default by taking huge IMF loans that entail conditionalities that will further exacerbate the burden of poverty. WAF demands urgent reforms of systems and structures to avoid more detrimental borrowing. WAF demands urgent measures be taken to create fiscal space such as reducing the size of the bureaucracy keeping in mind that 18th Amendment suggested a limit of 10 ministries, minimising federal and provincial cabinets, discontinuing the non-combatant budget of the armed forces, such as excessive entitlements, and granting of lands.

Empower local govts
WAF acknowledges that the 18th Amendment helped decentralization but stresses that much more is required to overcome the alienation of the federating units. For example, the 2010 NFC award has been implemented unevenly and the people of the provinces are denied control over and sometimes even access to their own resources, in particular water. Effective decentralization is not possible without an empowered local government with adequate fiscal authority. WAF demands an immediate end to the constituency development funds given to parliamentarians introduced by the dictator Zia.
Alarmed at shrinking space for civil society
WAF is alarmed at growing lawlessness and insecurity of citizens, the systematic muzzling of human rights voices and shrinking space for civil society that is undermining discussion, debate and critical thinking from all public arenas including online spaces, while bigoted voices are allowed to incite violence and use threats with impunity; and the expanding and widespread instrumental use of religion to control and silence people.
WAF reiterates the urgency of separating religion (which is a personal matter) from state affairs. Women’s Action Forum stresses the State’s irrevocable responsibility for upholding its citizens’ fundamental rights to life, liberty, security, and dignity.
State must not forego basic services
WAF is profoundly troubled by the feminization of poverty, the laying off of women workers, and informalisation of the market economy driven by the neo-liberal economic order. This undermines the ability of labour laws to protect any workers. The State cannot and must not be allowed to abdicate its responsibilities of providing essential services, such as food, health, education and security of person to all without discrimination.
Grant women land ownership to ensure food security
WAF calls on the State to protect agricultural land as this is the only safety against food insecurity. Agricultural land must not be allowed to be taken over by housing societies or other private sector interests to the detriment of people. WAF demands that every woman be granted land ownership to ensure food security and livelihoods.
Implement laws against GBV 
WAF is concerned that laws relating to gender-based violence in particular are passed in haste for political point scoring without examining the implication the new law will have on existing laws and vice versa; without passing enabling legislation including rule of business, and without putting into place the required mechanisms and necessary budgets for effective implementation. The lack of political will is reflected in the failure to ensure women and other citizens as well as implementers (judicial officers, police, health services) know about laws and policies.
WAF demands that information on laws and policies be widely disseminated including to lower courts and all responders. The attitude of service providers to women remains appalling and WAF stresses the urgent need to have gender sensitization of all responders to gender-based violence as well as other service providers.
Repeal cybercrime law
WAF is distressed that laws supposedly protective of women, like the PECA 2016, are used to silence and attack women, journalists and human rights activists. Online violence especially against women is exploding and regularly leads to physical intimidation and violence, while the state attempts to regulate on-line spaces in the name of national security etc. WAF demands the repeal of PECA and a consultative process initiated by parliament to enact a comprehensive legal framework centering the experiences of survivors of tech-facilitated violence grounded in international human rights standards.
No talks with Taliban
To counter exponentially rising religious extremism WAF demands an end to appeasement, reconciliation, and re-settlement with the Taliban. WAF also demands that the Single National Curriculum 2020 be repealed in order to promote pluralism, peace and gender justice. The current system of decision-making, resource allocation and priorities is untenable.
New social contract
WAF calls for a renewed social contract that supports a truly democratic system in which the parliament can reclaim its role of legislation and oversight to protect the interest of the citizens instead of engaging in a battle over power at the cost of the interest of the people. As a basic step WAF demands that the State ensure that all citizens are registered at birth and issued child cards which automatically are converted to CNICs to enable access to all entitlements including political participation.

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