ISLAMABAD - Though, ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’, according to a book of an American writer, John Gray, that talks about fundamental differences between the genders, but they have to live together as they have been sent on the same planet and to be respectful of each other and recognising each other’s contributions can reduce differences.As the International Women’s Day activities are going on, Dr. Riffat Haque suggests that maintaining a balance in give and take and taking care of each other’s self-esteem in relationships can make environment conducive.Dr. Haque has been heading Gender and Women Studies Department of Allama Iqbal Open University and has been a part of many national and international projects implemented in the country for the empowerment of women.She believes that women should also know about their rights and stand up against abuses. ‘Women should know the ways to earn respect. Lack of education and awareness among women about their rights is one of the main reasons for atrocities committed against them and they even don’t know that their rights are violated’.Though, violence is a global phenomenon but customary practices and misuse of religion has surged gender-based violence in our country. Only a change in mind set can bring a change in society and end gender discrimination. But curriculum of educational institutes has reinforced gender stereotypes instead of changing mindsets that need a complete overhaul. And law-enforcing institutes also be made gender sensitised to know the sensitivity of the women issues.   This is the time to highlight the criminal instead of the victim.  No matter how good laws are on paper, they mean little if they are not implemented in letter and spirit. She says that the state organs should sprang into action immediately if any crime is committed against women. It will make people think twice before committing any gender-based crime. ‘In Iran’ the government has managed to control the crime rate by taking strict measures. Last year seven men who had molested a woman in a marriage ceremony were publicly hanged that left a deep impact on the minds of people’.     “Due to our geopolitical situation and foreign policy, priorities of the governments keep changing but the women issues never get the highest priority,” she says. ‘But If the governments really want to progress, they must show some seriousness. No government can afford to ignore women as no nation can move forward’ if half of the population is held back’. She praises the incumbent and the Musharraf government for taking positive steps for the uplift of women that have borne fruits and increased their representation every field. She particularly commends the efforts of passing 11 bills to end gender-based violence. But at the same time she also criticizes Zardari government for not restoring local bodies system that transferred power to women but due suspension of the system problems could not be solved at grass root level.   She considers that balanced participation of men and women in decision-making is a precondition for the improved functioning of democracy and society and is part of the overall sharing of responsibilities between women and men.When asked about the main steps to help elevate the status of women today, she refers to creating more job opportunities, introducing women friendly transportation system and establishment of government hostels and daycare centers. ‘If organisations cannot afford to establish daycare centers they should allow women to work at home according to international practices. In developed countries women are allowed to work at home and only visit offices twice or once a week.  Men are also given paternity   leaves to take care of their children’. Women should acknowledge their power and only vote for those parties that have better policies in their manifestoes for them and social sector’ she opined.