On 2 February 2012, the Pakistan Senate unanimously approved the “National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012″ to protect women’s rights against every kind of discrimination. The new bill replaces the National Commission on the Status of Women Ordinance from 2000 and strengthens the Commission by giving it financial and administrative autonomy through an independent Secretariat.
The Commission will investigate and gather information on issues regarding women’s rights, as well as have increased responsibilities to oversee the international commitments made by the government on all women’s issues. The newly adopted bill also changes the status of the Commission’s Chairperson who will now have the seniority of a State Minister, making recommendations directly to the national cabinet. The Commission will also have enhanced membership with two members from each Province and one member each from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan, Islamabad and two members from minorities.
The preamble of the bill highlights “promotion of social, economic, political and legal rights of women” as provided in the Constitution and “in accordance with international Declarations, Conventions, Treaties and Agreements relating to women including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.”
Women’s groups have lobbied for the strengthening of the Commission for years, and the bill underwent many revisions in the National Assembly, before amendments were introduced. While previous governments had consolidated temporary Commissions into one permanent body in 2000, the main drawback was that the Secretariat of the Commission was placed in the Ministry of Women’s Development, leading to lengthy bureaucratic procedures and red-tape.
UN Women works with the Government at the national and provincial levels on legislative review and reform. It has been for the past years the main partner of the National Commission on the Status of Women providing both financial and technical support as well as joint planning and advocacy. Collaboration includes: three out of the five paid positions in the Commission are supported by UN Women; the ongoing work of the Commission around a national framework for gender equality post-devolution — a consequence of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution by which many of the functions of government bodies have been de-centralized and moved to the provinces — is supported and advised by UN Women; and many ongoing joint efforts around recently approved legislations, as well as others in the pipeline form strong areas of cooperation. The National Commission on the Status of Women was also a grantee of the UN Trust Fund on Violence Against Women from 2007-2009 to address honor killings.
With the autonomous status making the Women’s Commission more agile and better positioned to undertake their investigations into women’s rights violations, their monitoring and advisory functions, women’s rights in Pakistan will be better protected, say activists.