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Pakistan's democracy striving for women's empowerment: Sherry

09 March, 2012

WASHINGTON: Pakistan's democratic government had enacted a series of legislative measures to protect and advance socio-economic rights of women, as the representation of half of the country's population is imperative to help the country grapple with current challenges and march forward as a strong nation, Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman said.

The diplomat was speaking at an event 'Empowering Women: The Way Forward' at the Pakistan embassy, which she hosted to mark the International Women's Day.

"Pakistan is about women who lead the way forward," Sherry said at the gathering of American State Department officials, leaders of Pakistani-American community and women activists.

US Ambassador for Global Women's Issues Melanne S Veneer and Shirkat Gah Chief Executive Officer Khawar Mumtaz also addressed on the occasion. The Pakistani embassy also recognised the outstanding achievements of Pakistani women, including the Karachi-born director of Pakistan's first Academy Award winning film 'Saving Face', Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, historian and professor Ayesha Jalal and Shaista Mahmood.

The courage of Pakistani woman hailing from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Shad Begum, was also recognised by the US secretary of state.

The top Pakistani diplomat in Washington referred to civil society dynamics in the country such as media and said, democracy brought an empowerment dividend, and Pakistani women "will be the first to rock the vote and claim their place in the sun as leaders at all level".

"We passed landmark legislation criminalising sexual harassment at the workplace, making it mandatory to appoint neutral mediators at all levels to adjudicate charges of sexual discrimination," she added.

"Many people have been removed for harassing women, even in government universities through the new law," she noted amid applause from the gathering.

At the same time, the ambassador acknowledged the scale and nature of the obstacles in the way of women's empowerment.

"Many better people before me have had to take bullets for standing up for the rights of women and minorities in Pakistan, so when we are asked to do more, it doesn't go down too well. We were doing what we could with a war next door, a war that the combined resources of the US and forty plus nations had not been able to win."

Pakistan, she emphasised, has made a conscious decision to fight extremism and there is no ambiguity that it is fighting on the side of tolerance and moderation.

Empowerment, justice and liberty are not defined only by political values. They are equally defined by economic and social values, Sherry Rehman added.

Sherry drew the participants' attention to the vital support the women of Pakistan have come up with in the fight against forces of parochialism.

Women and minorities are the first casualty of any conflict linked to terror or extremism. However, in Pakistan they bravely soldier on, writing, painting, tilling the soil, making movies, teaching, flying planes, building businesses and leading the frontlines of so many battles of resistance with fearlessness and courage, she said, appreciating Pakistani women.

"The ambassador noted that the ground realities, and global statistics rank Pakistan poorly for violence against women and gender inequality but said the government was unflinching in its determination to protect and preserve rights of women.

"We are a moderate nation and so is our religion," Sherry said. US Ambassador for Global Women's Issues Verveer underscored that betterment of women meant betterment of the entire family and society.


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