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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women warns against “uneven” application of policies and programmes in Pakistan

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
against Women

12 February 2020

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the fifth periodic report of Pakistan on the implements the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  Experts stressed the need for harmonization of gender equality policies and programmes to avoid they were unevenly applied across the country.  They also flagged the issue of gender-based violence, forced marriages and the so-called "honour killings" in particular.
Committee Experts regretted the lack of a national policy on the rights of women.  The devolution to the provinces of the responsibility to implement the Convention was a particular source of concern as it led to the uneven and dispersed application of policies and programmes. 

The delegation of Pakistan explained that the devolution had happened quickly and that the Government had not yet assessed all the overlaps.  The Ministry of Human Rights was responsible for women's rights at the federal, while the Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women acted – independently - on the provincial levels.  Also, many provinces had established their own women's rights policies.  A committee was in place to monitor the implementation of the Convention and various task forces acted as "bridges" between governmental bodies working on gender equality.

The Experts denounced the persistence of forced marriages and "honour crimes", including killings, in some communities.  They urged Pakistan to end impunity for those crimes and to adopt a national action plan against domestic violence.

Pakistan had established a legal basis for the fight against discrimination and gender-based violence, said the delegation, noting a substantive legal and policy framework against acid attacks, "honour killings" and rape.   "Honour killings were now investigated and prosecuted like murders and forced marriages were illegal and punishable by seven years in prison.  The Supreme Court had announced the creation of 116 judicial chambers specializing in violence against women.

In her concluding remarks, Rabiya Javeri Agha, Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights of Pakistan, thanked the Committee Experts for the questions and its spirit of cooperation. 

Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the clear responses and the constructive dialogue.

The delegation of Pakistan was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Human Rights, Ministry for Human Rights and Minority Affairs of the Government of Punjab, Women Development Department of the Government of Sindh, Women Development Department of the Government of Balochistan and the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Pakistan at the end of its seventy-fifth session on 28 February.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee's work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session's webpage.

The webcast of the Committee's public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public tomorrow, 13 February, at 10 a.m.  to consider the sixth periodic report of Zimbabwe (CEDAW/C/ZWE/6).


The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Pakistan (CEDAW/C/PAK/5).

Presentation of the Report

RABIYA JAVERI AGHA, Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights of Pakistan, introducing the report said that the Constitution of Pakistan provided an extensive and robust overarching framework wherein the State guaranteed fundamental human rights and freedoms to all citizens.  The eighteenth amendment had empowered the provinces to realize those rights through concrete legislative and policy measures in their respective areas. 

To ensure synchronization on human rights between federal and provincial authorities, the Ministry of Human Rights monitored and coordinated with provincial governments to ensure a rights-based approach in policy-making and implementation, she explained.  Standardized and endorsed indicators provided a common tool for provincial and federal governments to interpret and measure progress in the realization of human rights.

Women in Pakistan played an active role in all areas of life, from education to economics, including the police, military and United Nations peacekeeping operations, stressed Ms. Javeri Agha.  The Pakistani National Assembly reserved 60 seats for women, there were three women ministers in the current Government, a minister of state and three special assistants to the prime minister.  The equality and fundamental rights of women were enshrined in the Constitution, whose article 25 prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex.  To increase women's political participation, the National Election Commission had added nine million women to the electoral registers since 2013, while the 2017 Elections Act recognized gender inequality in voter registration as an important challenge.  It declared null and void an election without a minimum of ten per cent of women participation. 

Significant legislative initiatives to address violence against women and institute social protection measures had been taken.  Acid attacks had decreased by 85 per cent thanks to the mobilization of civil society and the media, and there had also been a concomitant 70 per cent increase in the registration of cases of acid attacks perpetrated against women.  The Government had opened several shelters and police stations to provide protection and support to women victims of violence.  Alternative dispute resolution law of 2017 encouraged formal mediation and discouraged the use of jirgas, which had been prohibited.

Since its inception in December 2015, the Ministry of Human Rights had grown exponentially from a small cell with 100 persons to a large ministry with over 2,000 officials, noted Ms. Javeri Agha.  Its mandate had expanded to address, among other issues, disability, old age, business and human rights, and climate change and its impact on women.  Last year, the Ministry had launched an innovative campaign to spread messages for girls' education and empowerment through truck art.  The Government was also looking at using music and film to spread awareness on the rights of women and children. 

Although Pakistan had made significant progress in terms of developing legislation for women, lack of awareness of available mechanisms for redress and poor economic conditions often prevented women from accessing justice.  The Legal Aid and Justice Authority Ordinance 2019 aimed to provide preferential financial assistance to disadvantaged women, especially concerning sexual offences, she explained.

Economic empowerment of women was one of the key priorities, which the Government worked to achieve through, inter alia - poverty eradication policies focused on women.  The "Benazir direct subsidy programme" had spent no less than 691 billion Pakistani rupees in favour of 5.8 million women.  The Enforcement of Women's Property Rights Ordinance of October 2019 aimed to ensure women received their legal share of inheritance property.  Recently, the Senate had passed a bill granting six months' paid maternity leave to working women and up to three months' paternity leave to fathers.

The Government of Pakistan was committed to protecting women from exploitation, exclusion and marginalization.  At the same time, it was endeavouring to provide women with equal opportunities and an enabling environment in which they could grow and excel to their full potential.

Questions from the Experts

Opening the dialogue with the delegation of Pakistan, Committee Experts addressed country's legal framework and asked why Pakistan had not yet withdrawn its interpretative declaration to article 29 of the Convention and stressed that the Pakistani Constitution could not justify non-compliance with the treaty's certain provisions.  They wanted information about steps taken to bring national legislation in line with the Convention and the progress in amending article 25 of the Constitution concerning the definition of discrimination.

Although the Committee had already called upon Pakistan to abolish traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, the country had chosen to integrate them into the judicial system.   Could the delegation provide data on the use of such mechanisms in cases of violation of women's rights?  Did Pakistan maintain gender-disaggregated statistical data?

Human rights defenders were subject to harassment, Experts pointed out.  Did the Government intend to maintain the space for civil society organizations to participate in human rights protection?

Ensuring women's participation in peace and security at all levels was crucial, as per Security Council Resolution 1325 and the Committee's general recommendation 30.  Were women's civil society organization included in peace negotiations?  How did the Government address gender in conflicts?  Did it have a clear roadmap and adequate budget allocations to do so?

Responses by the Delegation

Pakistan had not yet withdrawn its interpretative declaration to article 29 of the Convention because national consensus on the matter had not yet been reached.  While further dialogue among stakeholders was needed, the declaration did not limit the implementation of the Convention and its provisions, delegates assured.

The Constitution provided a broad spectrum of fundamental rights - because they were broadly defined, their application could hardly be limited.  In its article 25, the Constitution prohibited discrimination based on sex and authorized the Government to take special measures to guarantee the rights of women and children.

Data collection was indeed a challenge, said the delegation.  Because data were often collected at the provincial level, Pakistan – in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme - was working on developing a system to ensure data and information sharing across all levels of the governmental.  It was also developing human rights-related indicators with the assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  More than 100 indicators for social protection of women and children had been developed. 

Jirgas were most prevalent informal systems of tribal justice in Pakistan and were based on codes that were detrimental to women.  The courts had declared them illegal and unconstitutional and the Government sought to bring them under the ambit of the law.

On peace and security, delegates explained that women were participating in various capacities, such as elected officials and mediators, and through various channels, including civil assemblies, the judiciary and the police force. 

Questions by Committee Experts
Turning to the national gender machinery, Committee Experts regretted the lack of a national policy on the rights of women.  The devolution to the provinces of the responsibility to implement the Convention was a particular source of concern as it led to the uneven and dispersed application of policies and programmes.  How did the devolution benefit women?

Although it was the lead gender equality entity, the National Commission on the Status of Women did not have an official consultative role.  Why were steps not taken to make its input mandatory in the policy development and legislative process?  Reportedly, only three provincial Commissions on the Status of Women were operational – what resources was the Government allocating for their work?

Experts also underscored the lack of clarity around the definition and application of temporary special measures and asked about concrete steps taken to end discrimination against women, considering that Pakistan ranked 151 out of 156 countries listed in the Gender Gap Index.

Responses by the Delegation

There were two levels of the national gender machinery, explained the delegation.  At the federal level, the Ministry of Human Rights was responsible for dealing with women's rights, while at the provincial level, this was the task of the Provincial Commission, which acted independently.  Many provinces had established their women's rights policies.

The devolution had happened quickly, and the Ministry of Human Rights had not been able to asses all overlaps, delegates acknowledged.  The Ministry was cautious not to overstep and encroach on the mandates of the Provincial Commissions.  Pakistan had sought international assistance to adopt a national human rights policy framework, to "connect the dots", unify the institutional framework and avoid overlapping between federal and provincial institutions.

A committee was in place to monitor the implementation of the Convention and various task forces acted as "bridges" between governmental bodies working on gender equality.  As provinces were in charge of services delivery, monitoring and evaluation, the various strategies existed to ensure coordination at the national level.

The National Commission on the Status of Women had a role in the revision of the laws and it acted as a watchdog, pushing different organizations to move forward.  It closely monitored high-profile cases of violations and had published many reports on issues such as inheritance, which the Government had used to develop policies.

Gender equality was a reality in Pakistan, the delegation assured.  This was evidenced by the fact that there were now more female doctors than men, women outnumbered men in engineering exams, women made up 49 per cent of students in the Civil Service Academy, and the employment rate for women had doubled.  Pakistan had done a lot on the affirmative action front: there was, for instance, an Ombudsperson that addressed harassment of women in the workplace, both at the federal and provincial levels.  Women in need could access free legal aid, while as a result of another measure, forty thousand girls were now enrolled in schools that had been previously reserved for boys.

Under an "open Government partnership" approach, the Ministry of Human Rights had developed strong partnerships with non-governmental organizations.  The Government and civil society were two sides to one coin: they both work towards improving gender equality.  No country could function without its civil society, said the delegation, announcing that the Ministry was developing a framework on citizens' engagement for the whole of Government.

The delegation remarked that the issue that annoyed non-governmental organizations was the registration and said that all the organizations that received money from abroad came under closer scrutiny. 

Questions by Committee Experts
In the next round of questions, Committee Experts regretted the persistence of forced marriages and "honour crimes" in some communities.  Raising concern about impunity for those crimes, they asked the delegation to provide data on prosecutions and sanctions for the perpetrators and urged Pakistan to adopt a national action plan against domestic violence.

Experts asked about measures put in place to protect women and girls living in remote areas from trafficking in persons.  Was there a national action plan to address this issue?

Responses by the Delegation

Pakistan had established a legal basis for the fight against discrimination and gender-based violence.  There was a substantive legal and policy framework against acid attacks, "honour killings" and rape.   A recent legal amendment prevented guardians from forgiving the perpetrators of "honour killings", which were now investigated and prosecuted like murders.  Forced marriages were illegal and punishable by seven years in prison.  The legal age of marriage was 18.

Women victims of violence could access legal aid and helplines were in place to provide advice and support, while the Supreme Court had announced the creation of 116 judicial chambers specializing in violence against women.  Authorities in Sindh province, for example, had established a high-level commission to combat "honour killings". 

Because the tradition continued to play a big role in perpetuating violence against women, the Ministry of Human Rights and provincial departments deployed efforts to raise awareness and train police and the judiciary on laws against gender-based violence.  A campaign to raise awareness about violence against women run in schools across the country.   An important strategy in combatting forced marriages was increasing the knowledge of women about their rights, which was why more than 1,000 officials tasked with marriage registration in Punjab had received training which enabled them to better detect forced marriages.

On trafficking in persons, Pakistan had adopted two pieces of legislation in 2018.  The central law enforcement agency had been mandated to work on this issue and to cooperate with provincial law enforcement entities.  Efforts were made to strengthen the capacity of civil servants to better address trafficking.  Recently, an official had been convicted of participating in human trafficking, the first in ten years.  The Government had created a federal investigative agency and had established cooperation with third countries.  Prostitution was criminalized.

Questions from the Experts
Turning to the participation of women in political and public life, Committee Experts regretted the decline in the share of women in the provincial assemblies in Sindh and Punjab.  Would Pakistan increase the quota for women representation in the National Assembly, currently at 17 per cent? 

Prejudice and insecurity, in particular, explained why women were giving up running, they noted and asked what was being done to fight negative stereotypes that impacted women seeking participation in political and public life, including in the judiciary, academia and the police force.

Would Pakistan ratify the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation explained that there were quotas for women at the provincial level that varied from 17 to 22 per cent and assured that a greater number of women were coming into the political area.  A programme called Benazir focused on encouraging women to add their names to electoral lists. 

A lot of emphases had to be put on voters' registration.  Efforts were being made to capitalize on the momentum built in the lead-up to the previous elections to continue the registration drive.

Pakistan was a diverse country in which women had held high positions such as Prime Minister and Speaker of the House.  There were nevertheless enduring patriarchal perceptions of women and many still believed that women should stay at home.  It was, however, important to note a gap between patriarchal perceptions and stereotypes and the attitude of the youth, who were pushing things forward. 

Transmission of nationality remained discriminatory, as Pakistani women faced additional restrictions in comparison to men, delegates acknowledged.  This matter had to be further examined in light of the jurisprudence.

Pakistan had significantly changed its approach to transgender issues.  A national governmental committee comprised, amongst others, of members of the transgender community, had been established.  An event for the transgender community had been recently held at the Prime Minister's residence. 

Questions from the Experts

Experts asked about the number of women and girls engaged in vocational training.  The current system limited the opportunities available to girls and women with disabilities.  How did the Government address stereotypes through education?

What measures was the State party taking to ensure all refugee girls had access to education?  On literacy rate and the alarming dropout rate, Experts inquired about measures taken to foster girls' participation in secondary education, including that of pregnant girls.

The gender pay gap in Pakistan stood at 34 per cent, more than double the global average.  The labour force participation was low and the number of women entrepreneurs stood at approximately 1 per cent.  How did the Government address the discrepancy between laws and policies on the one hand and the situation on the ground on the other? 

The Experts were concerned about the high proportion of women employed in the informal sector in the provinces, which might suggest a need for adopting a federal policy on informal work.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that, following a gender analysis in three provinces, school curricula had been modified with gender lenses.  Teachers were receiving training, including on mainstreaming gender in education and gender stereotypes in education.  Provincial authorities were working to provide schools with latrines, an important factor in girls' education.

Young girls with disabilities were receiving targeted support to facilitate schooling.  There were about 80 schools that provided specialized education, but the Government was increasingly integrating inclusive education in its planning.  Regarding the education of refugee girls, all children in Pakistan could go to school free of charge, delegates assured.  Stipend programmes to foster secondary education of girls were available in all the provinces.  As a result of concerted efforts, 3.7 million more girls were in secondary education.

School dropout rate for girls was high between grades 1 and 2 and grades 4 and 5.  Pakistan was investing in the training of teachers, provision of free textbooks and school renovations, as strategies to improve the quality of education and facilitate access to schools to reduce dropout rates.  It was also developing plans to monitor attendance, including through digital means.

The federal government is working towards the progressive realization of women's rights in the area of ​​labour at the provincial level, said the delegation.  Other measures were aimed at integrating women into the formal work sector, including encouraging the creation of microenterprises by women.

It was important to consider the informal sector to get a better picture of the gender pay gap.  Measures had been taken to improve the quality of life of women working in the informal sector by enhancing their skills and providing them with training, for example on financial access to markets and life management skills.

Questions from the Experts

Continuing the dialogue, an Expert expressed concern at the very high maternal mortality rate and Pakistan's very restrictive abortion law, whose ambiguity was causing concern among health professionals.  Would Pakistan include rape and incest as grounds for legal abortion and what steps was it taking to reduce abortion-related maternal mortality?

Experts requested information on how low-income women and women in rural communities benefitted from plans and programmes on sexual and reproductive health and urged Pakistan to improve access to health services for adolescent girls, including sexual and reproductive health care.

Experts asked how the Government included a gender perspective in its development and anti-poverty strategies.

The delegation was asked about women's access to land, whether the Benazir programme was reaching all women who needed it and how Pakistan collected data on the situation of minority and disadvantaged women, especially victims of forced labour or sexual violence.

On marriage and the family, the Experts asked about the impediments to the finalization of the Christian Marriage and the Christian Divorce bills.  Child marriage was widespread, they noted with concern and asked about measures taken to fight the phenomenon.  Women did not enjoy the same rights as men in matters of divorce. 

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that both the federal and provincial governments took steps to reduce maternal mortality, including training of midwives – more than 10,000 had been trained in Sindh province.  The Lady Health Workers programme provided counselling and basic medical services to pregnant women.  In Sindh, a public-private partnership had been put in place whereby doctors were available and provided services to people in remote areas. 

The vagueness of the abortion law allowed for some latitude in its interpretation in favour of women and a high level of discretion.  It made it thus easier for women to resort to abortion.  A task force was in place to coordinate the expansion of access to family planning services in the provinces.  The use of contraception was very low - about 35 per cent – and this was something that needed to be looked into.  The Ministry of Health had started to provide post-partum care to women in 275 facilities.  

Pakistan was working to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex people and its delegation today was the first to include a legally recognized transgender woman.

On women's access to land, the delegation explained that Pakistani legislation on agricultural matters recognized the role of women in harvesting and managing land.  The Government was making efforts to foster the formalization of the agreements related to land that concerned women.  By law, inherited landed had to be shared amongst siblings, including women.  A lot of women informally worked in the agriculture sector, delegates added.

Getting everybody on the same page regarding marriage and divorce required significant work, the delegation stressed.  The Government had held consultations with various faith organizations, including religious minorities, to draft the legislation.  Hindu rite marriage was regulated by law and the Christian minority was currently being consulted in the context of the revision of the Marriage and Divorce Act; similarly, a specific law should be adopted in favour of the Sikhs.

The Ministry of Human Rights was training the judiciary to raise awareness around human rights conventions and it sought to educate women on the right to divorce. 

Concluding Remarks

RABIYA JAVERI AGHA, Secretary, Ministry of Human Rights of Pakistan, thanked the Committee Experts for the questions and its spirit of cooperation. 

HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the clear responses and the constructive dialogue.


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