ANUSHA KHWAJAEvery year on 8th March International Women Day is celebrated, which symbolises achievements due to the struggle waged by women over centuries to realise their social and economic rights. It is universally acknowledged that woman is an indispensable and basic unit that ensures continuation of human race and also guarantees its survival. Therefore, efforts should be made to empower them so that they can make valuable contribution in the society. In connection with International Women’s Day, a function was held at Aiwan-e-Iqbal on Saturday. Addressing the function, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif announced a comprehensive package of far-reaching reforms for removing hurdles in the laws for bringing women into mainstream of national development. He also announced amendments to various laws for upholding women rights, regularization of lady health workers, while Punjab government will distribute two lakh more laptops worth Rs.8 billion among talented boy and girl students.A provincial commission on women has been set up in Punjab and its chairperson has also been appointed. Shahbaz Sharif said that under the law, approved by Punjab Assembly, representation of women has been made compulsory in all government institutions, autonomous boards, development and research centers. The government has also decided to arrange training for the wives of workers; and topics regarding equality between males and females are to be included in the syllabus of schools. He said that economic empowerment of women is essential for granting them due status in the society. In Islam importance of women can be understood from the example of Hazrat Khadija who was herself a trader and Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) looked after her business. Historical evidence suggests that during ‘ghazawats’ women used to look after the wounded. Nevertheless, before advent of Islam, the women had no social or economic rights; hence no share in family’s property; and it was in fact Islam that gave them their rightful share in the property also.It has to be acknowledged that the women are equal partners in the development of the nation and have the right to equal opportunities in all walks of life. They must be provided opportunities that would facilitate the realization of their potential in the intellectual, professional or cultural fields, of course, within the parameters laid down by Islam. After 66 years of slow and steady progress in the field of women’s rights, they are playing an important role from union council, district council to provincial and national assemblies. Article 25 of the 1973 constitution, which was exhaustively debated and unanimously passed by democratically and directly elected legislature of Pakistan reads: “All citizens are equal before the law, and are entitled to equal protection by the law. And there shall be no discrimination on the basis of gender alone”. However, credit goes to Shahbaz Sharif for having initiated legislation work for the empowerment of the women in Punjab, which should be emulated by other provinces.A lot has yet to be done to restore the status of women in the light of original 1973 constitution, as Article 34 of the constitution provides:“Steps shall be taken to ensure the full participation of women in all spheres of national life”. It should be borne in mind that the empowerment of women is directly linked to the greater economic role, which is dependent on increased access to education and skill development. The fact remains that no society can be considered civilized if women are deprived of their rights, and no nation can progress if half of its working population is denied the opportunity to take part in its productive process on the basis of gender. The founder of the nation, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his speech at Aligarh University in 1944 had said: “The nation cannot rise to the highest glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are the victims of evil customs. It is crime against humanity that our women are shut up in the four walls of the house as prisoners.”It was in response to his call that the women had actively participated in the freedom movement and creation of Pakistan. Yet they were denied their due role in the nation-building process, let alone sharing the decision-making process of the country. As a matter of fact, the present world is male-dominated world and the men manipulate the laws. The degree of domination, however, depends on the backwardness of the society. Anyhow, Punjab has once again taken the lead in preparing programs that would directly benefit women, as Punjab government has decided to create opportunities for women in jobs and trade, and vows that all possible steps would be taken for the empowerment of women and their welfare. Under the guidance of Shahbaz Sharif, at least 30 percent representation of women has been made compulsory on the boards of all government corporations, institutions and companies in Punjab, which will help achieve the laudable objective of empowerment of women.This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 10-Mar-2014 here.