Oxfam Hosts Policy Dialogue on Women’s Mobility and Economic Empowerment

ISLAMABAD: As part of Oxfam’s international 16 days of activism campaign against gender-based violence, a policy dialogue ‘Free from Fear: Women’s Mobility and Economic Empowerment’ was held at the Serena hotel.

The campaign raises awareness about gender-based violence on local, national, and international levels between November 25th, the International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women – December 10th, Human Rights day.

This year’s theme proposes the idea of a world where women can participate in social, political, economic and public spheres free from fear of harassment and violence.

Speaking on violence against women and girls in public spaces, Balochistan Awami Party Senator Sana Jamali said, “My father and I are a force against the injustices women face in our province and we are making efforts to ensure women are empowered.”

The event hosted many notable women and religious leaders including Secretary to the Council of Islamic Ideology Dr. Hafiz Iqram-ul-Haq, MNA Romina Khurshid Alam, Senator Sana Jamali, Chairperson, Gender Studies, University of the Punjab Dr. Ra’ana Malik, and Chairperson, BISP Dr. Sania Nishtar. The various speakers discussed the roles of religion, youth and violence against women and girls, and shared opportunities, challenges and recommendations for ensuring Pakistani women’s safe mobility and economic empowerment.

Speaking about the global campaign, Oxfam in Pakistan’s Country Director Mohammed Qazilbash said, “Oxfam wants to focus on profiles of influential women who are working in their communities to raise awareness of the different forms of gender violence related to access of resources and opportunities. Public space violence and harassment restricts women’s mobility and consequently their access to educational and economic opportunities, without which they are unable to participate in decision-making at all levels. Unless we ensure safe public transport and violence and harassment free public spaces, our women will remain economically disempowered.”

Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for women’s equality and empowerment because it is essential to all dimensions of inclusive and sustainable development and integral to the prosperity of any nation. In short, all the SDGs depend on the achievement of Goal 5. The important role of gender in sustainable mobility continues to gain traction. Creating safety involves much more than just responding to violence. It is imperative to create the conditions by which women are able to move about safely and without fear of violence or assault.

BISP Chairperson Dr. Sania Nishtar appreciated the organizers for selecting this theme also including academics in the panel. She said “The theme of women’s mobility is cross-cutting and critical. Women’s mobility is essential to their access to health and education and their participation in the workforce. The issue becomes worse in rural areas where a leading cause for maternal mortality is lack of access to transport”

Oxfam in Pakistan Programme Quality and Funding Director Uzma Aftab said, “Our ‘Free from Fear’ theme underscores the need to recognize that fear is not a normal state of existence and that women and girls deserve access and enjoyment of their human rights without fear and with a system that holds perpetrators accountable,”

University of the Punjab Gender Studies Department Chairperson Ra’ana Malik shared statistics from her study to highlight the seriousness of the issue and reminded the audience that 39 per cent of women in a city like Lahore feel unsafe walking alone at night. “We need to address women’s mobility from homes to public spaces and make their safety a priority; they need to be able to travel free from fear.”

Secretary to the Council of Islamic Ideology Ikram-ul-Haq said “At the time of the Holy Prophet (P.B.U.H), women were empowered, they were involved in business and farming, and ran cottage industries and the Prophet (P.B.U.H) encouraged this.”

The ‘Free from Fear’ activities were supported by a digital campaign, illustration competition and various national and district level events, to draw attention to the limits violence places on women’s mobility and their ability to participate in economic, social and public life. The event brought together policymakers, duty-bearers, academia, civil society and media together to actively work towards creating a world where women and girls can live free from fear.

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