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Pakistan: Treatment of Women

Volume 690: debated on Monday 12 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What the Department for International Development is doing to support improvements in the treatment of women in Pakistan.

My Lords, DfID’s programme in Pakistan supports women’s empowerment and gender equalities in a number of ways; for example, it has just approved a £90 million programme to support Pakistan’s ability to deliver improved maternal and new-born healthcare. We have also committed up to £18.5 million in support of initiatives that seek to improve women’s economic and political empowerment, protection against violence and, in the case of girls, improved access to education. In addition, we naturally support the UNDP’s gender support programme.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. It is very close to International Women’s Day. A month ago, a woman Minister in Pakistan was shot dead by someone who said that he was opposed to women in politics and to their refusing to wear a veil. The UK’s development partnership with Pakistan includes a commitment to respect human rights. How does the Department for International Development satisfy itself that this is being observed?

My Lords, DfID at the moment agrees with the Government of Pakistan indicators of progress covering the 10-year lifespan of the DPA as well as annual benchmarks of progress. Once those have been agreed, they and other DPA indicators will form the basis of annual aid talks, when the UK and Pakistan will review jointly progress against those commitments. When DfID has concerns that the commitments are being breached, the UK will invite Pakistan to explain its position. Our response to any breach will be determined by the conditions or circumstances that led to any specific breach.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister noted that since the women’s protection Bill came into force in December the number of allegations of honour killings, suicides and mass rapes has not diminished. I wonder if DfID will single out women’s organisations which are campaigning for reforms in the law and administrative practice, such as the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the ORAP Foundation, Women’s Action Forum and War Against Rape. Will the department also ascertain whether Pakistan has issued an invitation to the UN rapporteur on violence against women, who might have some useful advice to offer on administrative reforms at grassroots level?

My Lords, naturally we deplore the fact that honour killings, rape and violence are still taking place at such a rate in Pakistan. We recently approved a Gender, Justice and Protection Fund, which is part of the UNDP’s gender support programme. The fund will help civil society to deal with these very difficult questions. Of course, we also believe that all the work that we are doing to empower women economically and to improve their education in Pakistan will help them to become stronger and to hold out against the violence, so that they will not be subjected to it.

In respect of the UN rapporteur, I do not know what the answer is but I shall certainly find out and inform the noble Lord.

My Lords, can the Minister say what the Government of Pakistan are doing to repeal the notorious Hudood laws affecting women and many others which their own Council of Islamic Ideology has declared unislamic?

My Lords, in November 2006 President Musharraf pushed through the women’s protection Bill, which reformed part of the controversial Hudood ordinances dealing with rape and adultery, despite significant opposition from religious parties. We welcome this as an important step in the enlightened moderation agenda. I am sure that it does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

My Lords, what plans do Her Majesty's Government have to co-ordinate with international partners to encourage Pakistan to undertake wide-ranging public awareness programmes through the media, the education system and public announcements to inform both men and women of women's equal rights?

My Lords, much of the work that the UK Government are doing in Pakistan is focused on advocacy and enabling women to know more about what is happening as well as educating men so that they better understand the need for women’s economic and political empowerment. We are also working with UN organisations such as the World Bank, which has recently introduced a new gender action plan.

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend was quite right to mention the importance of economic empowerment of women in this respect. What is the Department for International Development doing in respect of microfinancing for women who are trying to get into if not the labour market necessarily, as we would understand it at least some sort of means to support themselves and their families?

My Lords, I am very proud to say that DfID has provided more than £12 million to the Kashf Foundation, which is one of the largest NGOs providing microfinance services in Pakistan. Between 1999 and 2003, we helped that organisation to increase its client base from 3,800 to 63,000. We are continuing with that programme to improve the livelihood of 300,000 poor women and their families through small business development. Moving on from that, we also recognise that once women have received microfinance they have to leap forward to grow their businesses, and we are working with the World Bank and other organisations to see how best we can help them in that matter also.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a third of local government councillors in Pakistan are women, as are 72 of Pakistan’s 342 Members of Parliament? Should we not congratulate them on passing the women protection laws and encourage them rather than always criticise them?

Indeed, my Lords; we certainly congratulate the Government of Pakistan on the steps they have already taken and welcome the fact that 33 per cent of all councillors, 22 per cent of the National Assembly and 17 per cent of the Senate are women. We and a lot of other countries have much to learn from that. However, that does not mean that there is not an awful lot more to do to ensure that women in Pakistan are properly empowered and properly educated and have proper access to healthcare. We congratulate them and want to work with them in doing more.