The Express Tribune Editorial 19 May 2021

Protecting women rights


The federal and all provincial governments in Pakistan are taking measures to protect women and their rights. The pro-women steps include necessary legislation to ensure their rights, safety and proportionate representation in jobs and all spheres of life. In all provinces, there are Darul Amans (shelter homes) for women facing social injustices like violence, early marriage, and women who have no one to look after them. At Darul Amans, women are provided all facilities, including legal aid and psychiatric help.
Recently, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Women Parliamentary Caucus has formed advisory bodies in order to provide better services to women living in shelter homes. These committees comprise gynaecologists, psychologists, personnel from the women police, local government officials, lawyers and district officers for Darul Amans. The caucus has also sought the appointment of male officials for women shelter homes. The caucus meeting reviewed matters pertaining to Darul Aman in the province and announced measures needed to improve facilities at these places. In K-P, around 5,000 women have sought shelter in Darul Amans over the past five years. In 2017, a helpline named Zama Awaz (My Voice) was set up in the province through the efforts of the women legislators’ caucus. The helpline, set up in collaboration with USAID and an NGO, provides women direct access to lawmakers of and from the province and thus helps in speedy resolution of their issues.
The women parliamentary caucus of the province signed a MoU with the UN a few years ago. Under the agreement, UN specialists are assisting women legislators in drafting laws aimed at protecting women’s rights and highlighting their issues. Much needs to be done to improve women’s lot in the country. One of the major issues affecting women’s lives in Pakistan, mostly in its rural areas, is the prevalence of under-age and child marriages. Only Sindh has enacted a law prohibiting under-age marriages. The legislation has fixed the minimum age for marriage of girls at 18.



No room for complacency


The lockdown between May 8 and 16 — i.e. before and during Eid — has had a positive outcome in terms of Covid containment. The Covid-positivity rate in the country has come down to 8.6 per cent as of May 17 from a double-digit rate a little more than two weeks back. The lockdown orders were strictly enforced this Eid, pretty understandably because the authorities were serious about avoiding an India-like situation that has caused records after records of daily deaths and infection cases. Even though Eid shopping had been allowed in the country the last time, this time around the authorities did not budge an inch despite protests from the traders and shopkeeper in many cities of the country.
We all — the government and the public — have done well to celebrate Eid Covid-style, but we cannot afford to be complacent even now. It’s because while there has been an overall drop in the Covid-positivity rate in the country, certain areas in big cities have emerged as Covid hotspots. For instance, Karachi’s East district has recorded a 26 per cent Covid-positivity rate during the May 10-16 week — the highest figure among all of districts of Sindh. The authorities, therefore, need not lower the guard and continue to ensure that the public comply with the prescribed safety measures, and the public needs to cooperate with the authorities in fulfillment of their duties. The to-do for the public is: wear the face mask, follow social distancing protocols, and get themselves vaccinated.
A meeting of the NCOC, the Covid nerve centre, is scheduled to take place in Islamabad today to review the lockdown measures adopted before Eid. While the business timings in case of shopping centres and marketplaces have already been raised to 8pm and those of eateries to 12 midnight, decisions as regards schools and office attendance are expected during the meeting. The NCOC is advised to move with all the care and caution.



Ring road probe


Hours after NAB formally opened a probe into the controversial Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) project, we saw two prominent cabinet members issue full-throated denials of involvement. Most significant was Zulfi Bukhari, the prime minister’s special assistant on overseas Pakistanis. Bukhari quit his job until his “name is cleared up of any allegations and media’s obnoxious lies”. He said he was doing so out of respect for PM Imran Khan’s past statements calling on people facing inquiries to step aside until their names are cleared. The resignation already puts Bukhari above several prominent PTI leaders who refused to do so in the recent past. If Bukhari is guilty, his action is moot, but if he is innocent, his stock is definitely going to rise.
The other denial came from Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan who said he would “leave politics for life” if there is any proof that any RRR land belongs to him or his relatives. Curiously though, the minister later said that he might have a “personal connection with a house or an individual” involved in a housing society but no financial links. This voluntary admission itself merits investigation since it opens the possibility of the trading of favours that may not be in the best public interest.
The fact-finding committee has also raised eyebrows. One major point of consternation is the dueling reports issued by the three-member fact-finding committee. The Rawalpindi commissioner laid most of the blame on housing societies and a few bureaucrats, while the two junior committee members issued their own report which said that the controversial changes were all approved by individuals of higher rank than the accused bureaucrats. This implies that they feel the bureaucrats named by the commissioner were actually scapegoats for big fish.
It is worth noting that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, whom the PM has stood by despite many scandals, was the final authority. Without delving into the PTI and the opposition’s name-calling, it was also interesting how PTI leaders said the inquiry shows the PM’s commitment to anti-corruption. If the cabinet members are found guilty, should the PM be forgiven for hand-picking corrupt politicians in the first place?

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