Lahore: Chief Minister Punjab Shehbaz Sharif has initiated a campaign under the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) to highlight and safeguard women rights and empowerment. Any woman facing verbal, physical harassment, domestic or property issues can get in touch with the commission by calling a toll free helpline number and lodge their complaint. The PCSW is empowered to initiate action under relevant legal clauses after verification.

To promote this cause and spread awareness, banners have been put up on the roads giving the relevant clause, actions and sections of law; the banners also have the helpline number on it. This will not only bring awareness among the masses especially women but also allow women to stand up for their rights where they are being deprived.

The Punjab Women Development Department is headed by the Secretary Dr. Aman Iman, Deputy Secretary Falak Sher Bhatti, Section Officer M. Arshad, Section Officer Nabila Shafat, and Law Officer M. Taimoor, was established on April 4, 2012 under “Punjab Women Empowerment Package 2012 (PWEP)”. On International Women's Day March 8, 2012 the Punjab Government announced the setting up of this project with the basic aim to Safeguard Women Rights, and improve socio-politico-economic status of women with special focus on rural areas.

The Customer Care Representative who responded to this scribe’s call on the helpline number said, “… We have devised a proper system of taking complains. We have lawyers to whom the calls are forwarded according to their cases and they assist the caller accordingly. People can then visit the lawyers if needed for follow up, as it is a safe and secure procedure. All details will be kept confident and protection will be provided to the caller. NGOs and activists are not part of this initiative at the moment.”

Regarding the timings of the office and helpline call operator said, “Office is open from 9 am to 4 pm. Currently the helpline does not work on Saturdays and Sundays, nor is this a 24 hour service for now. We have had a satisfactory response from the public.” In terms of promoting and bringing awareness of women rights the CSR said, “…. we will be launching more campaigns across Punjab and people can log-on to our websites, http://pcsw.punjab.gov.pk/ , http://wdd.punjab.gov.pk/to get a lot of important information. In case people want to speak to us they can call us at 0800-93372. This helpline will not only take your queries but also complaints too.”

Marvi Sirmid a journalist and social activist speaking about the PCSW initiative said, “This is a very good project but it needs to be highlighted more to bring awareness to women. The project should not be restricted to Lahore only; the government should focus on rural areas.”

Voicing her concern about the safety of women she said, “The government should end the trust deficit in ladies and provide them adequate (post complaint) security otherwise they will not come forward with their complaints. Presently women are not willing to go to the police or lawyers due to lack of protection. Data should be released to show how successful the project is in building trust in the ladies as they have been suffering a lot due to no protection (and male domination in society). But at no cost should the details of the complainant be given.”She further said, “Women who want to live alone, in hostels or in Dar ul Amaan due to various reasons, should be provided with safe and secure environment. Ladies should be given training in craft work or in other areas to earn a respectable and independent living.”

The initiative though still in its initial stages, has been receiving calls to inquire about this initiative and a number of complaints pertaining to harassment, inheritance, family matters etc., and it is heartening to know that this has had an effect on women who find this an avenue to voice and redress their grievances. It is hoped that soon this will expanded to rural areas with due publicity and involvement of local notables and opinion makes so that this become a success story to bring justice to the long oppressed female gender in Pakistan.