History of Women Empowerment in Pakistan

Muslim reformers such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan brought reforms in education and tried to empower women through education. Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had a positive attitude towards women. After the independence of Pakistan Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah tried to eliminate socio-economic disparities against women in the country.

Before 1947 there was a tendency for the Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League and women were organized into large-scale public demonstrations.

Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947 under the Pakistan (Creation of Pakistan) Ordinance, and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution. The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Government

The democratic regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1970-1977) had liberal attitudes towards women. All government services which had been denied to women earlier were opened to them. About 10 % of the seats in the National Assembly and 5% in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women, with no restriction on contesting general seats as well.

Gender equality was specifically guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973. The constitution says that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.” Additionally, it affords the protection of marriage, family, the mother and the child as well as encouraging “full participation of women in all spheres of national life.”

Zia-ul-Haq's Military Regime

The martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1986) took some of the steps for women’s development

  1. The establishment of the Women's Division in the Cabinet Secretariat,
  2.  The appointment of Commission on the Status of Women.
  3. A chapter on women in development was included for the first time in the Sixth Plan.
  4. In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq inducted 20 women as members in the Majlis-e-Shoora
  5. In 1985, the National Assembly elected through nonparty elections doubled women's reserved quota (20 percent).

However, Zial-ul-Haq initiated a process of Islamization through discriminatory legislation against women. He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah. He suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution of 1973 including the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex.

Benazir Bhutto Government

During her election campaigns in 1988, Benazir Bhutto voiced concerns over social issues of women, health and discrimination against women. She announced different plans to set up women's police stations, courts and women's development banks. She also promised to repeal controversial Hudood laws that curtailed the rights of women. However, during her two incomplete terms in office (1988-90 and 1993-96), Benazir Bhutto did not propose any legislation to improve social status of Pakistani women. She was not able to repeal a single one of Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation laws which were protected both from ordinary legislative modification and from judicial review by virtue of the eighth constitutional amendment.

Nawaz Sharif Government

In 1997, the Nawaz Sharif government proposed a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution that would entirely replace the existing legal system with a comprehensive Islamic one and would override the “constitution and any law or judgment of any court.” The proposal was approved in the National Assembly (lower house), but, it was strongly opposed by women’s groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties. They demanded that Hudood legislation must be repealed as it discriminates against women and conflicts with their fundamental rights.

The improvement of women's status was stated as one of the 16 goals listed in the Pakistan 2010 Program (1997), and is a critical policy document. Later on the document omitted women while listing 21 major areas of interests. Likewise, another major policy document, the “Human Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy” (1999), states women as a target group for poverty reduction but lacks gender framework.

Pervez Musharraf's Regime (1999-2008)

  1. On September 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was established an independent ministry.
  2. On July 2006 General Musharraf signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1300 women who were currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.
  3. In late 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Women's Protection Bill, repealing some of the Hudood Ordinances.
  4. The Cabinet had approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services. Before this, there was a 5% quota for women in all Government departments.

President Asif Zardari Government (2008-2013)

The government’s highest priority is to address discriminatory laws against women, which includes

  1. Adoption of Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010.
  2. Criminal Law (Amendment) Act.
  3. Acid Control and Acid Crime Act and Prevention of Anti Women Practices Act.
  4. The National Commission for Human Rights Act 2012 has been enacted to monitor the overall human rights situation.
  5. The Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act 2011 has been promulgated to provide financial and legal assistance to deserving women.
  6. Moreover‚ 26 Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Centers for women have been established in various districts to provide immediate relief to female victims of violence. Around one million women are receiving direct assistance under Benazir Income Support Program, while the National Commission on the Status of Women has been strengthened to monitor the violation of women’s rights. A proposal is under consideration to give more representation to women in the judiciary.

Nawaz Sharif Government

The government of Pakistan under the leadership of Nawaz Sharif, Having the strong belief that the country could not make progress without providing equal opportunities to women which were half part of society, was taking appropriate actions to increase women rights to help them come on par with men. Nawaz Sharif, also being a state party to the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), lead the government to take measures to ensure women’s rights as envisaged in the CEDAW where as it is still taking multiple reforms to enable women to participate in all walks of life.

Nawaz Sharif has started Prime Minister’s Youth Loan to help the youth of Pakistan build a brighter future for themselves, in which 50 percent of the scheme has been allocated to women to help encourage women to setup their own businesses and thus allowing women to have equal rights.



(Source: Women in Pakistan, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)