ISLAMABAD, (Pakistan Point News - APP - 21th july, 2016) : The speakers at a panel discussion on Thursday stressed effective legislation to curb the incidents of violence against women and strengthening of institutional defence mechanism for the victims and their access to justice. The discussion, organized by Australian High Commission and the United Nations Women Pakistan on 'Progress towards gender equality in Punjab', focused on the 'Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016' that was passed by the provincial legislative assembly earlier this year.
Australian High Commissioner Margaret Adamson opening the discussion said violence against women was a serious problem that continued to plague all countries across the globe. Terming women in Pakistan as integral to the country's journey towards progress, Adamson said Australia was committed to advancing the rights of women and promoting gender equality in Pakistan. The High Commissioner commended the Punjab government on establishing the Violence Against Women Centres (VAWCs), saying that the 'one stop shop' model would provide safe support to women survivors of violence.
Salman Sufi, senior members of Chief Minister Punjab's Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order Wing) highlighted the salient features of the Violence Against Women Centres - the country's first-ever initiative taken at government level to provide assistance to the women violence victims. He said the VAWC would act as a 24/7 women-run facility under one roof and provide the victim multiple services including first aid, FIR lodging, prosecution, medical examination, forensic and post-trauma rehabilitation.
He mentioned that all departments of the Centres were linked through a special computer software developed by Punjab Information Technology Development board. He said with launch of pilot VAWC to be operational in Multan by mid September, the Punjab government had sent a message to the world that violence against women would never be accepted as a norm in society. Jamshed Kazi, country representative UN Women Pakistan said violence against women was one amongst the biggest threats to any society and called the need for supporting the State and the judiciary to uphold their responsibilities to deter such crimes in first place.
He lauded the government of Punjab for taking a bold, progressive and much-needed step to go ahead with the Protection of Women Against Violence Act, adding that if implemented in letter and spirit, it would bring positive change for women in the province, besides setting up an example throughout the country. Hina Jillani, social activist and lawyer said violence against women was happening in Pakistan many times in the name of culture and religion, which was also being condoned by the society.
She stressed the need to strictly address the perpetrators of violence against women. Jillani lauded the spirit of Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016, however raised questions on the loopholes for speedy prosecution and for not criminalizing the domestic violence. Fauzia Viqar, Chairperson of Punjab Commission on the Status of Women focused on the provincial responsibilities (post devolution) to ensure comprehensive measures protecting women and justice to women survivors.
She mentioned that the single forensic laboratory in Punjab was over-burdened and stressed capacity-building of more women to take charge at Women Centres. Nadeem Ashraf, Federal secretary Ministry of Human Rights termed it a bold step by the Punjab government not to retract the bill on Protection of Women Against Violence despite pressure. The panelists addressed the gaps and key constraints that could hinder progress to end violence against women and girls in Pakistan, particularly in Punjab.