One million sign to end violence against women in Pakistan

Date : 14 August 2012

A high profile campaign to end violence against women (VAW) in Pakistan has culminated ceremonially with the signature of its one millionth supporter - the country's President.

UN Women launched the One Million Signatures Campaign during the annual 16 Days of Activism in Pakistan in 2011, in partnership with a country-wide network of women's organizations, the EVAWG Alliance.

The campaign has seen more than 450,000 community members and social media users mobilized, along with at least 1,500 Pakistani women leaders. Pakistanis from all walks of life, including a plethora of celebrities and politicians, have publicly signed postcards in support of EVAWG goals, while Charters of Demand have been gathered from 57 districts, many with a focus on reforming laws, policies and services to better serve women. The actions meanwhile engaged women in empowerment-related work across the country, whether encouraging leadership among marginalized women, or campaigning on improving the response of the criminal justice system to gender-based violence.

One panel discussion among women's organizations produced a joint declaration on combating violence against women through the criminal justice system. Signed by 60 civil society organizations, it was submitted to various state representatives and departments.

Many pledges have led to action. During the past nine months thousands of women and men have volunteered at local shelters and advocated for pro women legislation. The campaign also generated political commitments and support for two pending laws, such as the Domestic Violence Bill and the Acid Crime and Prevention Bill.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari became the one millionth signee in his country's One Million Signatures campaign to end violence against women during a ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadr on 27 July 2012. Photo credit: Government of Pakistan

Closing the ceremony on 27 July 2012, President Asif Ali Zardari reiterated the way that “exploitation and discrimination of this nature undermine women's dignity and self-esteem and deprive them of their right to full participation in all aspects of national life.

The President also recounted the various legislative measures that the government has taken for the protection of women in Pakistan, including the 26 women crisis centres now established to provide immediate relief to victims of violence. The event was also used to highlight new commitments by the government, such as the appointment of more women judges.

According to Valerie Khan, a Co-chair of the EVAWG Alliance, steps in Pakistan have motivated other countries to draft similar pro-women laws. Representatives from Rwanda, Cambodia, Nepal and India in particular, have consulted Alliance members on its three-step process for acid and burn-crime legislation.

Applauding the government for its landmark legislation and the work of campaigners in moving the violence against women agenda forward, UN Women's Country Director Alice Shackelford, also highlighted the need for the campaign's momentum to be preserved. Implementation must be ensured, she stressed, throughout the country's provinces and regions.