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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines report of Pakistan

12 February 2013

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fourth periodic report of Pakistan on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report of Pakistan, Khawar Mumtaz, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women, said that a number of laws had been introduced and enacted to address specific aspects of discrimination against women, including the 2011 Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act which aimed to banish harmful, old-age customary practices. The most important initiative for the development of women was the Benazir Income Support Programme, which reached out to poor women as recipients of monthly stipends and so raised the importance of the women in households. The demand for girls’ education was growing and was almost universal, however, the resource constraints made it difficult to keep pace with the demand. Provincial Governments had introduced incentives to get girls enrolled in secondary schools, such as monthly stipends, free textbooks, uniforms and nutritional support.

During the discussion Committee Experts asked about incorporation of the Convention in domestic law, the definition of discrimination against women in the Constitution and about the federal body in charge of coordination of the implementation of the Convention and the provision of social services to women at the provincial level. Issues were raised in relation to the participation of women in political and public life, the extremely high maternal mortality rates, disparity in the education of girls and boys, the protection of women from violence in refugee and internally displaced persons camps, and the lack of comprehensive legislation to deal with all forms of trafficking in persons.

In concluding remarks, Ms. Mumtaz thanked the Experts for their pertinent questions which would guide Pakistan in moving forward towards full compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Also in concluding remarks, Nicole Ameline, Committee Chairperson, encouraged Pakistan to strengthen its legal framework in relation to the prevention of violence and in ensuring access to security, justice and education for women and girls.

The delegation of Pakistan consisted of representatives of the National Commission on the Status of Women, Ministry of Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Wednesday, 13 February at 10 a.m. when it will start its consideration of the combined seventh and eighth periodic report of Austria (CEDAW/C/AUT/7-8)

Report

The fourth periodic report of Pakistan can be read here: (CEDAW/C/PAK/4).

Presentation of the Report

KHAWAR MUMTAZ, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women of Pakistan, said that a number of laws had been introduced and enacted to address specific aspects of discrimination against women. The Protection Against Harassment at the Workplace Act had been enacted in March 2010 and had introduced imprisonment of up to three years or a substantial fine for sexual harassment. In 2011, the Prevention of Anti Women Practices Act was the most significant of all recent legislation and it aimed to banish harmful, old-age customary practices like giving a female in marriage, depriving women from inheriting property, forced marriages, and others. The National Commission on the Status of Women Act of 2012 had given greater financial and administrative autonomy to the Commission, which could now also review existing laws and policies and make recommendations to eliminate discrimination. The National Commission on Human rights Act 2012 had been enacted and was being established in line with the Paris Principles. Like many other countries, Pakistan was grappling with the collection of gender-disaggregated data. The Government had established the Gender Crime Cell within the National Police Bureau in 2006 which was collating and analyzing data of cases of violence against women particularly gang rape, rape, abduction, kidnapping and karo-kari or honour killing.

There had been many steps taken to facilitate development in the country, including a number of micro-credit schemes instituted by the Government for poor rural and urban women. Perhaps the most important initiative for women had been the Benazir Income Support Programme, a double pronged scheme that envisaged poverty reduction and facilitated women’s empowerment. By by-passing gatekeepers and reaching out to women in poor households as recipients of monthly stipends, the intervention raised the importance of the women in households; almost 85 per cent of women now had identification cards which opened the way to other development opportunities, voting rights, etc. Political empowerment of women had been among the top priorities of the Government and the number of women in elected positions had shown a steady increase. Apart from 60 reserved seats, there were 16 directly elected women in the National Assembly, while women parliamentarians had formed a Women Parliament Caucus in 2009 which had been very effective in creating consensus on women’s issues. Provincial Governments had taken a number of steps to curb harmful traditional practices and pervasive patriarchal attitudes, such as safeguarding property and inheritance rights of women. Education was free and mandatory up to the secondary level. The demand for girls’ education was growing and was almost universal, however, the resource constraints made it difficult to keep pace with the demand. Provincial Governments had introduced incentives to get girls enrolled in secondary schools, such as monthly stipends, free textbooks, uniforms and nutritional support. The health sector had been devolved to provinces. A Maternal and Child Health Programme had been launched by the Government to improve access to high quality mother and child and family planning services, train 10,000 community midwives, and provide comprehensive emergency obstetric and neonatal care in 275 hospitals and family planning services in all health outlets. Despite all the challenges, the Government had made efforts to address women’s issues and discrimination; it had successfully established a legal and policy framework and now had to focus on mechanisms for its effective implementation.

Questions by Experts

PRAMILA PATTEN, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Pakistan, commended Pakistan for the progress made and noted the significant challenges facing the country, particularly terrorism and violence by non-State actors which were seriously undermining the rights of women in the country. Were there concrete examples of the realization of the Government’s duty to protect citizens from violence by non-State actors? What concrete measures had been taken by the federal Government to provide leadership to provincial Governments in the consistent implementation of the Convention throughout the whole territory?

Another Expert commended the cooperation with the non-governmental organizations and the involvement of the Parliament in the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations from the examination of Pakistan in 2007. What was the position of the Ministry concerning the withdrawal of the declaration on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and what were the reasons behind this declaration in the first place? Pakistan had a dualist legal system which did not however have a definition of discrimination against women in line with the Convention.

The devolution of powers from the central Government to provincial authorities had raised a number of challenges, particularly concerning the institutional framework for women and the Committee wondered which federal institution was in charge of coordination of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on provincial levels and how the provincial structures were funded and resourced? Could the delegation provide information on the establishment of the Provincial Commission for Women? The federal ministry for women had been dissolved in the latest devolution of power to provincial authorities, and Experts asked who was in charge of monitoring the provisions of social services to women.

Response by Delegation

In response to these questions and comment and others, the delegation said Pakistan was considering the signing of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Holding the perpetrators of violence accountable was slow mainly because of the limited capacity of the police force, but the Government was trying to provide protection through increased security. It was difficult to track terrorists and especially suicide bombers; more needed to be done but resources were limited. The process of devolution and transfer of powers to the provinces was still in transition. The whole process of reporting on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was institutionalized through the Ministry of Human Rights. The monitoring mechanisms and coordinating mechanisms would be handled by various Commissions and the present mechanism was the Interprovincial Council which was upgraded to the level of a ministry. Donors’ assistance was negotiated by the Ministry of Human Rights and by different departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Economy; the eighteenth constitutional amendment and devolution of powers to the provinces gave them the authority to negotiate with donors directly.

The Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women were in the process of being put in place in several provinces and the National Commission on the Status of Women Act of 2012 was being used as a template. There were focal persons for the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in each ministry and in each province. There were still laws in Pakistan which were not in line with the Convention and with the equality provisions of the country. Given the challenges and the configuration of forces in Pakistan, building the consensus on reversing some of the outdated laws took time. The Pakistan Constitution did not have a definition of discrimination per se, but defined protection from discrimination on different grounds. Each province decided on its budgets and many had raised allocations to women’s issues. The budget of the National Commission had been increased for the upcoming phase to allow for expansion and new structure that needed to be put in place to respond to the new mandate, such as reviewing of federal laws and regulations, research into gaps on information for planning purpose, and overseeing the implementation of Pakistan’s international commitment, etc. It was true that Pakistan had seen a decline in social indicators and in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals which was mainly due to the challenges that the country was experiencing, the lack of resources and the diversion of available resources to other more pressing issues.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

In a series of follow-up questions, Committee Experts asked whether the Commission on the Status of Women had to raise all its funds itself, or if it also received allocations from the Government and how much was its budget. What were the plans to address the very serious backlog in the judiciary? Did the Commission intend to propose legislation to control small arms, both domestically and cross-border?

Concerning the gender-audit role and watchdog role of the National Commission, an Expert wondered how those roles would be developed and how the concerns raised by the Commission would be channelled into appropriate ministries. Could the delegation provide a list of laws in line for approval and enactment before the dissolution of the National Assembly in several weeks time?

Response by Delegation

Responding, the delegation said the budget for the National Commission would cover all its institutional expenses and the Commission was not expected to be raising funds for its structural and staffing needs that covered all its mandated functions. There was a backlog of cases and the whole judicial system was clogged; justice in Pakistan was slow and this needed to be addressed by the provinces. The pressure of fundamentalists and extremists on judges and plaintiffs existed and this was unfortunately a reality of Pakistan. The law did not allow for new additions of people who dealt with small arms; there was no ban on trade of small arms and citizens were allowed to carry small arms under certain conditions. The National Commission did not have a seat in the Cabinet, but its Chair had access to the Prime Minister and the Parliament. The Commission was a monitoring and evaluating body which monitored the performance of various ministries and the issues that were not being addressed, and made recommendations to appropriate ministries for action. The National Commission was an independent body and there existed a formal coordination mechanism with the Ministry of Human Rights; those two institutions closely cooperated and collaborated.

An Expert asked whether Pakistan identified a need for international assistance in training of judges and in dealing with the backlogs, and what was the response of the population in the case of the shooting of a young girl Malala. Responding, the delegation said that the population of young girls in Pakistan was rather voiceless and assistance and support to the judicial sector in providing protection and security for women would be valuable. The attack on Malala created instant support and caused reactions throughout the country, but the challenge was in channelling that support and deciding what best course of action was: send even more girls to school or withdraw them from school.

Questions by Experts

Committee Experts noted the improvements in Pakistan with regard to the situation of women and said that more needed to be done on the implementation of measures in their favour. They asked the delegation to provide examples of temporary special measures undertaken by the provinces and to comment on the possibility of the reversal of the rule of 33 per cent reserved seats for women in the provincial assemblies. How had Pakistan opposed the extremist elements and had it improved curricula and trained teachers in order to improve the situation of women? How was the role of women in religious institutions promoted?

The Domestic Violence Prevention Bill of 2009 had been adopted by the National Assembly but not by the Senate; would it be possible to adopt this law before the current Parliament came to term? Pakistan had more that 500 cases of honour killings last year and the law on honour crimes was seen as a step in the right direction, although it did not provide full sanctions for perpetrators.

Trafficking in persons was prohibited in Pakistan, but comprehensive legislation to deal with all forms of trafficking in human beings was lacking, which was issue of concern considering that Pakistan was a country of origin. Could the delegation provide information about the intentions of Pakistan concerning the signing of the Palermo Protocol?

Response by Delegation

The delegation recognized there was a gap in the passage of laws and in putting in place systems and mechanisms for their implementation. Provincial Government were in the process of passing the legislation for local Government systems which were crucial for the improvement of status of women. Quotas for women for civil service were decided by the provinces. Some temporary measures included the recognition of female home based workers as labourers.

There was a draft law on trafficking which would cover domestic and international aspects, and also included trafficking in children. The Ministry for Human Rights had funds in place to compensate victims of human rights violations and provide them with the necessary aid, and this was in addition to other funds made available by the Government.

The Domestic Violence Bill had been cleared in one house but did not go to the second one and was now the matter of provinces. This was one of very contentious bills and it had experienced significant setback and it was hard to say when this Bill would be passed. Since it carried criminal liability and consequential punishment, it was part of the Criminal Code and was not withdrawn from the federal level. The perpetrators of honour killings could pay a fine in lieu of criminal sanction and this was a sore point with all human rights defenders in Pakistan.

The school curriculum was examined by civil society organizations and there were different institutions tasked with the review. Some were revised for the better but the curricula of religious institutions were managed by the Board of Religious Institutions which was not open to outside interventions and interpretations.

Questions by Experts

The participation of women in public life and in the judiciary was still low and Experts asked about measures to increase the number of reserved seats for women, the increase in the quota for minorities and particularly for minority women and the concrete measures to ensure that the 10 per cent quota of participation of women in the judiciary was achieved.

Answering those and other questions, the delegation said that the number of reserved seats for women in the Parliament could only be done though a constitutional amendment, so for now, no increase was envisaged. Still, it was expected that a greater number of women would be standing for the Parliament independently. The women parliamentarians were very active and most of the legislation adopted recently had been the outcome of their work. The quota for minorities would probably remain at five per cent, but there was a need to increase the representation of women within that quota. There were variations between political parties in terms of participation of women and there was no legal requirement for the parties to ensure a certain number of women in decision-making bodies. The 10 per cent quota for women in the judiciary was not always filled because the number of applicants was not enough.

A Committee Expert noted that women in Pakistan had unequal rights to citizenship and citizenship through descent was only given through the father.

There was great disparity in literacy rates and education rates for girls between urban and rural areas and the Committee wished to hear more about how this issue was being addressed and what measures would be taken in order to ensure access to education for girls. What was the status of the many initiatives for girls’ education mentioned in the State Party report and what was their impact? What were the principal areas of study that girls engaged in and how did that influence their employment? Experts inquired about plans for the provision of education and guarantees of the right to education in times of crises, which were important given the conflict and disasters facing the country.

While acknowledging some of the gains towards the empowerment of women, it was a fact that the participation of women in the labour force was low at 21 per cent. What measures were being undertaken to enable women to move from the informal to formal economy and to guarantee the employment of women in the public sector? What was the status of the pending Employment Bill and what did it contain?

Another Expert took up the issue of extremely high maternal mortality rates in Pakistan and asked about the causes and the national plan to provide services which would reduce maternal mortality and morbidity. The law on abortion was very strict and many women resorted to unsafe abortions. The Reproductive Health Bill was in the pipeline; what was it contents and the timeframe for its enactment?

In 2009, some 70 per cent of children had not been registered at birth; what measures were being taken to issue birth certificates to all children and particularly refugees? Another Expert asked about plans to increase the budget allocated to the health sector and would the priority be given to reproductive health and health of children? What would the impact of devolution be on the development of the health sector and how would it influence the cooperation with United Nations agencies?

The informal sector in Pakistan was very large, particularly in agricultural and domestic sectors, and informal workers were denied all forms of social benefits and did not enjoy any protection. Did the Government have plans to strengthen programmes supporting the engagement of women in the labour market? What plans were in place to guarantee access to land to landless women? Poverty was a serious issue in Pakistan; how was it affecting women and what strategies were in place to eradicate poverty of women?

Response by Delegation

In response to these questions and comments and others, the delegation said that education for all was a constitutional right of all children and the Government was in charge of guaranteeing that right. This said there were many factors preventing access to education in schools, which led to a discrepancy in the education rates for boys and girls. The education of girls was very important to parents and there was a growing demand for the construction of new girls’ schools. The measures by the Government included training of teachers and building of schools for girls. The destruction of girls’ schools happened only in some areas of the country, where extremism and terrorism presented challenges. There was no separate curriculum for boys and girls. Poverty was one factor affecting the education of children, and there were a number of incentives to ensure that girls were attending schools. In addition to poverty, there were cultural factors and certain customs which presented obstacles to the education of girls.

Abortion was allowed if the health of the mother was at risk and spousal consent was required. A system for birth registration existed through the local Government system, but until recently, many parents did not see the benefit in getting the children registered. There was a small fee involved in registering the child, which could be waived under special circumstances. There were about three million registered refugees in Pakistan, and they mainly inhabited resource-scarce areas. Refugee children enjoyed all services available to Pakistani children and there was no bar on refugee children being taught in local schools.

Maternal mortality rates were high even though a decline was recently registered. The reasons included lack of recognition at the household level whether a woman needed emergency services, distances to health services and their quality. Health services lacked staff and trained people and there was an unmet need for family planning services, midwives and emergency obstetric care. The number of unsafe abortions in the country was quite large and abortion was used as a family planning measure by women who had achieved their desired family size. The health budget was low and needed to be increased, but it should be noted that many health programmes and initiatives were in addition to those covered by the official budget. Home based workers would soon be covered by the previously mentioned policy, which would open the door to signing the International Labour Organization Convention.

Rural women could contribute to decision-making through the local government system; those local governments needed to be revived and it was hoped that this would be achieved this year. Under the law, women had the right to inherit and own property, but this right was often denied. Only two per cent of land owners in Pakistan were women. Pakistan was a very poor country and between 33 to 40 per cent were said to live below the poverty line.

There was a growing trend of women joining non-traditional occupations, such as commercial pilots, police officers and others. Pakistan was an agrarian economy so it was difficult to collate the number of women engaged in the agricultural sector in rural areas. The Human Resource Development Ministry was dealing with the implementation of the International Labour Organization Conventions and had a mechanism in place where it met and reviewed the status of implementation.

Follow-up Questions

What happened with women who had undergone illegal abortion and those who performed the abortion that was not a medical abortion? Would the devolution put breaks on the privatization of the health sector? What cultural factors were in place militating against girls attending schools? Refugee camps were recognized as sources of trafficking in women and Experts asked about protection measures for refugee and internally displaced women living in camps. Given the number of devastating disasters affecting Pakistan between 2005 and 2011 and the number of internally displaced persons, how was the Government ensuring protection and equal access to services for displaced women and girls? Did Pakistan intend to adopt the Refugee Convention and the Convention on Status of Stateless Persons? How were women involved in conflict negotiations and mediations?

Responding, the delegation said that women undergoing illegal abortion were not subject to any charges and were not questioned. Privatization of the health sector in Pakistan was on the increase and private practitioners existed at all levels; the majority of health care was provided by private practitioners and devolution would not affect this rate of privatization. One way to ensure that illegal abortions did not take place was to make contraceptives available, including emergency contraception which was freely available in the country. Women’s access to reproductive health care in the public sector was at low or no charge; mobile health units had been introduced to serve remote areas.

Cultural factors were affecting girls’ education in some areas, particularly rural and remote areas. Poor families preferred to spend their limited income on educating boys as they would grow up to be bread winners for families, but the willingness of parents to sent girls to school was increasing even in remote areas.

Refugee camps close to the Afghan border were in fact settlements where people who sought refuge from Afghanistan had settled down together. The local authorities were working in those refugee camps in close cooperation with international donor agencies, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other United Nations agencies. Multilateral and bilateral donors were also involved in the whole process of looking after internally displaced persons. It was impossible to state with certainty that there was no trafficking in women from the camps. During the floods of 2010, an area roughly the equivalent of Italy had been under water, and any country would be ill equipped to deal with a disaster of such magnitude. It was imperative under those circumstances to provide support to everyone. Pakistan was considering the signing of the Refugee Convention but no decision had been made yet.

Questions by Experts

What was the impact of the alternative and informal justice and dispute resolution mechanisms on ensuring equality under the law and what measures were being taken to eradicate those mechanisms?

Concerning Family Law in Pakistan, there was no unified family law, but each party was governed by personal status laws. The existence of multiple legal systems in the family law was discriminatory to women. Hindu laws and marriages were not codified and marriages were not registered, and Hindu women were among the most vulnerable in Pakistan. What was the marital property regime and were women entitled to property accumulated during the marriage? Was there a bill to raise the age of marriage? Was marital rape recognized as a crime under the law?

Response by Delegation

Early marriage was a big issue and there was a Bill submitted to the Parliament asking for standardisation of the age for marriage at 18. There was recognition of the issue in the country and many were advocating for this change. At the moment, there was no unified code of law for family matters which were governed by personal status laws; Hindu law was not codified and Christian law was outdated. The issue of the conversion of Hindu girls had emerged recently and the Government had become cognizant of the issue, but it was not yet clear how it would be addressed in the Hindu marriage code. In case of divorce, maintenance of the children was the responsibility of the father. Marital rape was not recognized under the criminal law.

Through consultations with stakeholders a Hindu law and a Christian law had been drafted and sent to the Parliament. Pakistan did not recognize cast, while Hindu did, and that was one of the reasons why consensus on the issues of marriage could not be reached. Muslims in Pakistan believed that girls were eligible for marriage at the age of puberty. In order to circumvent religious arguments, the Government introduced the possession of the national identity card as a pre-requisite to marriage and this card could only be obtained at the age of 18.

Closing Remarks

NICOLE AMELINE, Chairperson of the Committee, stressed the importance of the rule of law and encouraged Pakistan to strengthen its legal framework, particularly in relation to the prevention of violence. The persistence of the specific cultural system of unacceptable violence in some parts of the country was an important concern. The priority must be access to security, justice and education for women and girls.

KHAWAR MUMTAZ, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women of Pakistan, thanked the Experts for their pertinent questions which would guide Pakistan in moving forward towards full compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Pakistan was dealing with a whole range of institutional and external challenges and the Government was very clear in how to move forward in issues of access to justice and access to education.

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