blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Shezreh Mirza
During my experience as a participant of the New York City program by Global Youth Connect (GYC), I observed many striking human rights issues and how women struggle in this society. However, the level of discrimination is less in the United States as there is more awareness, more recognition and more accountability of the rights of women compared to a country like my own, Pakistan, where there is no adequate education, healthcare and security – all essential human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the culmination of all the cherished rights of every human being. They are the recognition of the inalienable rights of human beings and exist to promote “Freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Pakistan was one of the nations who voted in favor of this declaration. Article 1 of the declaration states that all human beings are born free and equal” and Article 2 states “Everyone is entitled to the same rights without discrimination of any kind.” Pakistan is known as a patriarchal state where the rights of women are often violated; however, Pakistan has the distinction of being the first nation in the Muslim world to have elected a woman to the offices of Prime Minister and Speaker of the National Assembly. In the elections of 2008, more than 22 percent of women were elected to the legislatures, which is the highest number of women to be elected to any assembly in Pakistan. Nations around the world gave women the right to vote much after men could vote. The first country to ever give women the right to vote was Isle of Man. However, Pakistan gave women the right to vote at independence in 1947.
Several bills have been passed in the National Assembly to protect the rights of women. Pakistan is a society where men are seen as breadwinners, which leads to oppression against women. One milestone for the Parliament was the bill that established the National Commission on the Status of Women which would “promote social, economical, political and legal rights of women,” as prescribed by the Constitution of Pakistan and also in accordance to the declaration and treaties relating to women, specially the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Pakistani government has also taken action to remedy violations of women’s rights, such asin the case of Qisas law prescribing acid thrown at women – the Parliament of Pakistan has passed a law that punishes the perpetrator with a prison sentence of 14 years. There is also a welfare program initiated by the Government of Pakistan called the Benazir Income Support Program that allocated Rs. 34 billion in 2008-09 and Rs. 70 billion in the last fiscal year. This program provides financial support to 5 million families, and especially to single mothers. The speaker of the National Assembly also set up a women’s caucus in the national assembly that women parliamentarians are a part of and they deal with day to day violations against women and address them, they also have worked on three prominent bills for women’s rights. These are all steps forward towards a friendly environment for women in our country and this process will continue if there is strong democratic leadership with strong women involvement in the Parliament.
GYC took its participants to The Floating Hospital that treats women who have suffered from sexual assault and domestic violence free of charge. They educate women of their rights, carry out their medical checkups for free and ensure their safety. It was a great learning experience for me as it is important that these patients are treated and their needs are met. Domestic Violence is an issue in Pakistan as well, women from rural areas of Pakistan usually face a threat by their husbands. However, an act against Domestic Violence has been passed by the Parliament and now women can press charges against their husbands if they fall victim to domestic violence.