Adam Thomson

British High Commissioner to Pakistan

Part of UK in Pakistan

14th March 2011 Islamabad, Pakistan

Commonwealth Women’s Day in Pakistan

Today is Commonwealth Day and it’s about women.  The Commonwealth is an increasingly important family of nations who share a common history and have shared interests looking to the future.  Last week, it was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.  So this year Commonwealth Day is rightly celebrating the role of women as agents of change in society.
Pakistan knows more than most countries about the role of women as agents of change.  In many ways, Pakistan has been ahead of the UK.  Until the most recent UK General Election, Pakistan had more female parliamentarians than the UK. 
Whilst the UK was catching up, the first female Parliamentary Speaker in the Islamic world, Dr Fehmida Mirza, was establishing the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus to empower her fellow female Pakistani parliamentarians.
It seems to be working.  A recent study showed that women were responsible for 80% of the draft legislation tabled before Parliament, and attended significantly more debates than their male counterparts. It has led to a Bill to protect women from sexual harassment at work, and a debate has begun about criminalising domestic violence. 
It is right that Pakistan’s female parliamentarians are highlighting the serious obstacles that many women still face.  Human Rights Watch estimates that 80% of women in Pakistan have been victims of domestic abuse.  They highlight the impact this has not only on the lives of millions of women, but also how it risks holding back Pakistan’s own development.
The Government of Pakistan understands this.  Educating women is one of the most effective ways Pakistan can become a stable, prosperous and strong democratic nation. Prime Minister Gilani last week called for action in response to Pakistan’s education emergency.  Once women are educated and are able to be economically and socially active, research shows they invest their earnings, however modest, into their families, feeding a positive cycle of investment in human capital.
Every woman can be an agent for change – however small that change may be.  Pakistan’s parliamentarians and its Government are moving in the right direction.  Commonwealth nations and others must continue to support Pakistan to help its women achieve their goals and overcome the serious obstacles they face in doing so.