Women Empowerment and GSP+ Status of Pakistan (I)

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The clock is ticking as we are getting closer to 2022, when once again, progress in Pakistan will be reviewed and measured to extend the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) status, which means that Pakistan will continue to get preferential treatment in its exports to EU countries. It was in 2020 when Pakistan was extended this facility. This grant of GSP+ status to Pakistan was first granted in 2014, and since then until 2019 Pakistan exports to European countries increased by 65 percent.
Women development as the development specialists called it back in the eighties and nineties, and women empowerment as the current nomenclature is used, has been in focus for the development gurus since the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. It was in this Conference that the notion prevailed and received prominence that women rights are also human rights. This gave impetus to the mantra of human rights based approach and human rights based programming. However development is seldom without economic empowerment, therefore these days in the domain of trade and business, the element of human rights including women and children rights is center staged so that not only the vulnerable segments of the population are protected from exploitation but rather the channel of trade and business is used to improve upon the situation of women rights/child rights in a particular country.
Next year in 2022, the EU will again review Pakistan efforts and decide whether to continue with granting GSP+ status to Pakistan. This review will be held in consideration of whether Pakistan has successfully formulated laws, developed policies and established institutions to implement the 27 conventions related to GSP Plus.
The List of the 27 Conventions to qualify for ‘GSP Plus’ are as follows:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
2. International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights
3. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
4. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
5. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
6. Convention on the Rights of the Child
7. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
8. Minimum Age for Admission to Employment (N° 138)
9. Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (N° 182)
10. Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (N° 105)
11. Forced Compulsory Labour Convention (N° 29)
12. Equal Remuneration of Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value Convention (N° 100)
13. Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation Convention (N° 111)
14. Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (N° 87)
15. Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and to Bargain Collectively. Convention (N° 98)
16. International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid
17. Montreal Protocol on Substances that deplete the Ozone Layer
18. Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal
19. Stockholm Convention on persistent Organic Pollutants
20. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
21. Convention on Biological Diversity
22.Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
23. Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
24. UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961)
25. UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971)
26. UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988)
27. Mexico UN Convention Against Corruption
A quick look at these conventions suggest that they clearly fall in the following categories:
-Discrimination against Women
-Child labour
-Biological Diversity and climate Change
-Narcotics and Psychotropic substances
-Corruption
All of these above categories are interconnected and linked and revolve in a vicious cycle to generate multi-dimensional poverty affecting those who are most vulnerable, marginalized, and below the poverty line. Who could be more vulnerable than women and children. Women and children make up most of the population of Pakistan.
Ever since Prime Minister Imran Khan has come into power, the focus of his economic and social policies are directed at:
-Ending corruption as there is zero-tolerance for corruption.
-Regulating income tax regimes, so that more wealthy people are brought into the net of tax-payers without harassment by Govt
– improving governance including merit-based employment and promotions, and regulating Govt contracts.
-Improving trade policies
-A billion tree Tsunami for improving the environment
-Construction of Housing for those who those who do not own a house
-Panagah for the homeless and shelterless
-Social protection of the vulnerable segements of population through Ehsaas program, with direct cash grants to women.
-Health insurance through Insaaf Health Card
-Kisaan Card for the farmers including women farmers.
All these policies are to improve the lot of the have-nots, and as such these have the unintended effect of directly benefiting women and children. There is so much innovation going on in KP province for inclusion of the marginalized groups especially women. The examples are: there is a KP Policy for the transgender; for the first time the Govt of KP has recruited women Patwaris/land officers; the Police Department has approved amendments in its rule to relax the education requirement from class 10 to class 8 for recruitment of women police force in the newly merged areas. Recently the KP Govt for the first time in its history allocated a billion rupee budget for women development. Additionally in its effort to make a gender-response budget, the Education sector allocated 70% of its budget for female education. The KP Govt has announced the Kisaan card including for female farmers through which improved seeds and farming utensils will be given out. So while much is going on for the women and other marginalized groups, the projection of these innovative and inclusive policies is not happening as warranted. E.G There is no narrative on how tree plantation directly benefits women who are the primary users of forests.
In KP alone the Govt has promulgated a number of pro-women laws, some of which are as follows:
1. Domestic Violence against Women Act 2021, which was passed after some 17 years of delay.
2. Reproductive Health Care Act, 2020, which is land mark law for eliminating discrimination against women. The word discrimination is used five (5) times, such as:
“all women have the right to protection from discrimination in social, domestic or employment spheres by reason of pregnancies or motherhood”;
“ensure elimination of all discrimination against women in health care services”,
“protect women from being discriminated on the base of the “gender of baby”.
This law could be a game changer not just in the reproductive health of women, but also in their status as equal partners. This law lays down the seeds for ending discrimination against the mother and the girl child right from birth by ending son-preference. Because of this law, Pakistan can now answer the routine CEDAW Committee question: whether any law in Pakistan is introduced which uses the word “discrimination”, in affirmative, by saying yes we have now such a law.
3. Women Property Rights Act, 2019
4. The KP Protection of Women Against Harrassment at Workplace Act, 2019
5. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Payment of Wages Act 2013 contain a provision specifying equal pay for work of equal value on a number of grounds including gender.
6. The KP Factories Act 2013 , which has protection clauses for workers including women working in factories.
7. The Elimination of the custom of Ghag Act, 2013, which is to end forced marriage through pronouncement or “ghag”. Since its passage, only four (4) cases have been registered under this law. This shows that a negative social norm can be reduced and eventually eliminated when the law acts as a deterrent against the negative social norm.
The KP women parliamentarians with technical support from Labour Department and KPCSW has completed work on drafting the Home-based Workers Bill, which is soon to be introduced in the Assembly. Simultaneously, the Labour Department has approved the Home-based workers policy, which has for the first time introduced the provision of female labour inspectors (as advised by KPCSW). As mostly women work in the informal economy and as home-based workers, unregulated by labour laws and therefore more vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, including low wages, therefore the passage of this law will protect those women.

To Be Continued
The KP Social Welfare Department, the Child Commission and the KPCSW provided support to the Women Parliamentarian Caucus in drafting the Child Marriage Restraint Bill, which is soon to be introduced on the floor of the Assembly. A Costing Study of Child Marriages by UNWOMEN has demonstrated the pull down effect of child marriages on the economy of Pakistan. Similarly the Political and Economic Analysis of Child Marriages study in KP by UNFPA has built evidence on the negative effects of child marriages on the reproductive health and education of girls, including their agency and social standing, resulting in maternal mortality, illitracy, GBV and poverty of women. Saudi Arabia and a dozen other Muslim countries have introduced laws which prohibit marriage of girls below the age of eighteen (18). Sindh province also has a law which bans marriage of girls below the age of eighteen year. Following clue from these, the KP Government is also working to bring about such a law. This will be a positive marker for gaining points with the GSP+ status.
The granting of the GSP+ status require not only legal reform, but also whether the Govt has developed policies and established institutions to implement the 27 conventions related to GSP Plus.The office of the Attorney General for Pakistan is head of the Treaty Implementation Cell for coordinating and steering the process of the implementation of GSP+ related conventions. This office has the necessary legal background for advocacy for legal reform, and to carry out its role of steering and coordinating the policy makers from the federal and provincial governments in the task of formulating policies and strengthening institutions for complying with the GSP+ status requirements.
The formulation of policies and strengthening of institutions is the mandate of the federal and provincial Governments. The federal Govt introduced the Anti-Rape Ordinance last year and as a follow up works with provincial Governments for the establishment of Gender Based Violence (GBV) Courts, and Crisis Centers in District Hospitals along with the establishment of forensic labs. These can be seen as building of institutions for protection of women. This year the federal Government even allocated funds for the implementation of the Anti-Rape Ordinance. It is efforts like these which helps in the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In order for Pakistan to sail smoothly through the review process next year, the following recommendations are made, which in my humble opinion if carried out could be a harbinger of good news:
1. Pass the KP Child Marriage Restraint Bill, the KP Home Based Workers Bill, the KP Acid and Burn Bill and the KP Transgender bill, which are already in their final stages, and similar such laws in other provinces.
2. Adopt and sign on the the ILO Convention C190 for safer workplaces. This will further help against women harassment at the workplaces and care of children.
3. Adopt KP Policy on Private-sector supported Day Care Centers in Govt offices. It is need of the hour to help women retain their jobs.
4. Strengthen the institutional capacity of the Women Commissions at the federal and provincial levels by doing the following: immediately recruit chairpersons in all the provinces where needed. Institutionalize a Women Commission in Baluchistan. Form the District Committees of KP Commission on the Status of Women, as these are the implementation mechanisms for the KPCSW and without these neither the KPCSW Act nor the newly promulgated KP Domestic Violence Against Women Act can be implemented.
5. Fulfill the employment quota for women (10% in KP) for all levels of employment including the judiciary, police, district management, and especially in newly merged areas by relaxing the rules of recruitment in favour of women.
6. Institutionalize day care centers for children of working women in all public and private areas of employment.
7. Strengthen the Labour Department with women inspectors so that they can collect data on home-based workers.
8. Link Environment and Forestry Departments with schools and colleges to engage students in environment protection and tree plantation.
9. Strengthen the capacity of Women Chambers of Commerce in all districts, and develop their linkages with the Technical and Vocational Training Authority.
10. Support the universities to strictly implement the law which prohibits drug-abuse on campuses, both public and private sector educational institutions.
As the beneficiaries of GSP+ status are mostly industrialists, exporters, and traders, therefore they are the main stakeholders. They should be involved in facilitating and helping the Government in its efforts to comply with the 27 Conventions requirements. They can support the Government through public private partnership in the strengthening of institutions, especially day-care centers in all Government and private institutions. They can start collecting, compiling, and sharing data with Government on equal pay for equal value of work, number of women employed by them; private sector affidavits against recruitment of child labour, and other such information, which if produced in the form of a report by the Commerce Ministry for the GSP+ assessment can make a very positive impression.
While the Government is doing its best to comply with the requirements of the 27 Conventions where applicable, it is also for the private sector industrialist, exporters, and traders to know and understand their role in ensuring the future prospects of the GSP+ status for Pakistan. It is for them to lead and be the torch bearers for creating awareness against discrimination of women and exploitation of children, because it is they who will benefit if Pakistan gets extension of being treated as a preferred country for exports of its goods and services to EU countries.
The writer is Chairperson of KP Commission on the Status of Women