Thursday, 9 August 2018

Which is worse: corruption or misogyny?

By Ayesha Khan

Imran Khan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman in Abbotabad
Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons

The ‘Naya Pakistan’ we find ourselves in will be filled with unknowns and new opportunities. One of them will be the chance for women voters to decide which is more inimical to their interests: corruption or misogyny?

Pakistan will have a Prime Minister with a strong view on the question. He is personally not corrupt, in the sense that no accusations have ever been wielded against him for illegally making or giving payments or ill-gotten gains. He has made incorruptibility the backbone of his credibility as a politician, and the masthead of his party.  (However, his selection of ‘electables’ in the allocation of tickets, including many old-guard figures whose reputations are more questionable, led to protests from PTI workers before the elections.)

Misogyny, on the other hand, is a badge he wears with pride. As a recovered playboy, he is at great pains to distance himself not only from his past but any whiff that may remain from his considerable time spent in the west. Comfortable, at last, with a pious and curiously shrouded wife, he said in an interview before the elections, “I totally disagree with the western concept and the role of the feminist movement, which has completely degraded the role of mother.” He then waxed on about having been brought up by his mother, etc.

On social media, women activists expressed disdain for the suggestion that being feminist implied they respected the role of motherhood less, most being devoted mothers themselves.

He escaped virtually unscathed from a set of allegations within his party that its leadership had a habit of making unwelcome advances to some of its women members. Ayesha Gulalai put her career at stake by going public with the details. The National Assembly tried to constitute a cross-party committee to investigate, but PTI and its coalition partner Jamaat-i-Islami refused to participate, alleging it was politically biased. Other women members spoke out in support of Gulalai, but the matter was never properly investigated within Parliament.

Imran Khan’s fondness for the Taliban, blasphemy punishments, public appearances with religious extremists, and defense of the traditional all-male jirga are well-known to the Pakistani public. While these tendencies make him anathema to women’s rights activists, who have fought for the last forty years against discriminatory laws and practices in the name of culture and religion, they don’t seem to bother the female PTI voter.

It would be useful, therefore, to take a look at the experience of women closer to the seat of power, during the PTI’s last government in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa 2013-18. Legislation is the primary function of an elected assembly, more so after the passage of the 18th Amendment which devolves most law-making to the provinces. Unfortunately, no progressive legislation for women passed in KP under the PTI government.

In contrast, PPP-led Sindh and PML(N)-led Punjab each passed important domestic violence laws that had the political backing of their respective provincial governments. While they are imperfect pieces of legislation, they nonetheless recognize the different types of psychological, physical and economic violence against women that are commonplace in Pakistan, and attempt to provide women with access to justice and protection. When the Punjab law was put to the vote in 2016, male PTI members walked out of the Assembly and refused to participate in the vote, even though women from the party remained as a show of protest.

In KP, the PTI government undermined women’s efforts to pass domestic violence legislation, according to numerous interviews with those who were part of the failed process. The first draft in 2015 was based on the relatively weaker Punjab law, so the KP Provincial Commission on the Status of Women was sure it would pass as it was drafted with the support of even the religious parties. However, the law department suggested to the Chief Minister that since this was a ‘sensitive’ bill, it should be sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for approval.

At this stage, the Chief Minister had the option of backing the legislation by opening it up for discussion within his cabinet and Assembly, while demonstrating his support for the cross-party effort. By allowing CII the opportunity to call the bill un-Islamic, it virtually killed it (Punjab never sent its draft to CII). The KP Women’s Caucus in the Assembly later re-drafted the bill, and included even more concessions to male power by suggesting ‘corrective measures’ by husbands would be permissible. However, the outcry from civil society activists succeeded in blocking this bill from presentation, and since then the Caucus and KP-CSW have not managed to re-establish a strong working relationship.

Meraj Hamayun, who chaired the Caucus, believes PTI’s Speaker of the KP Assembly was ‘prejudiced and anti-women’. Throughout the Assembly’s tenure, the 22 women members, almost all on reserved seats, struggled to be taken seriously. They were subjected to snide remarks from male colleagues, ‘who told us we should be happy we found ourselves in the assembly, we might as well get dressed up nicely and just turn up, nothing else.’

After some women legislators initially spoke up on an issue, but against the PTI party position, sources allege the Chief Minister threatened them to never dare divert from the party line again. As a result, they did not speak for the rest of their days in the house.

A PTI woman told me she believes a certain mindset exists, even within the party, “that politics is not for a good woman.” Despite having a majority in the house as well as a PTI Chief Minister, there was no will to pass a law for women. ‘I don’t know how to shake our party leadership,’ she says.

Although PTI has strong support amongst women voters, its government in KP virtually abandoned their own (female) elected representatives when called upon to protect women’s interests. ‘It’s the other half of your country that you are marginalizing,’ says a baffled member of the KP CSW. The alleged sidelining of the women’s wing in the selection of reserved seats candidates for the 2018 elections suggests the party is not interested in grooming women to win elections.

Women would do well to consider the consequences of having a government that is deaf to their interests.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

“Slaves” and “Bondsmen” after Abolition: Grey Areas and Missed Opportunities

by Mishal Khan

Agricultural worker in India
Photo credit: The British Library, page 485 of 'The History of China & India, pictorial & descriptive

The conviction that slavery is an institution that belongs in the dustbin of history is a view that has moved from consensus to consensus as a matter of international law – the lowest common denominator that nations agree upon. In Pakistan, and indeed in South Asia in general, bonded labour has become synonymous with “modern slavery,” the most blatant violation of this now sacred international principal. Bonded labour entered the spotlight during the 1990 Darshan Masih case, often hailed as a watershed moment leading to the passage of the Bonded Labour Systems (Abolition) Act of 1992. In light of the persistence of the practice today, the solution is usually to be found in enhanced enforcement of legislation, in greater legal penetration of the court system, and increased alignment with international law.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Of Market Queens and Women’s Empowerment

by Ayesha Mysorewala

Street market in Accra, Ghana
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

I recently visited Ghana for the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health conference 2018 (ANH 2018) to present the findings of our LANSA research paper on the potential of agricultural asset transfers to improve nutrition in Pakistan.

What really struck me about Ghana was the overwhelming presence of women on the streets. In Makola, the largest open-air market in Accra, women and ‘market queens’ dominated the selling space – loudly marketing everything from clothes and jewellery to freshly obtained snails and vegetables.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

In the midst of a crisis

by Asad Sayeed

Photo credit:Wikipedia 

Pakistan appears to be in the midst of an economic crisis as the rupee seems to be in free fall with foreign exchange reserves depleting in the backdrop of a high and unsustainable current account deficit.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Identity Search: Women and Social Media Politics

By Sana Naqvi

Digital revolutions are on the rise in Pakistan
Photo credit: Wikimedia commons

Each era brings a novel tool through which thoughts are expressed, networks are formed and ideas disseminated and Pakistan is no exception. The insatiable desire to reach out to more and more people has led to advanced thinking in terms of how collective spaces are defined and how to interact within them. Social media, whether WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter, has come to the forefront and transformed the digital arena in constructive ways. In Pakistan, the internet penetration rate stands at 22% as of April 2018, with 55 million 3G/4G subscribers and 35 million social media users, with political engagement and awareness campaigns now being run through such mediums. These social platforms are being used in ways that they have never been used before, with citizen journalism becoming a popular phenomenon, where the general public (as opposed to just journalists) speaks out and documents events even as they happen. What they articulate has wide-spread influence and has given a new face to civil society, expanding its powers to affect people, events and legislation.

Monday, 21 May 2018

What Does it Take to Change Your Mind?

By Marium Ibrahim

When evidence conflicts with strongly held beliefs, how easy is it for us to change our minds?

There may be many motivations behind why we hold certain beliefs, but what are these motivations, and in the event that evidence shows otherwise, how easy is it to change our point of view?

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Let’s talk about…wheat flour fortification

By Haris Gazdar

Wheat flour chakki in Pakistan
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons

1. What is food fortification?

Food fortification is the addition, usually at an industrial scale, of essential micronutrients to commonly consumed foods, to overcome nutritional deficiencies in vulnerable populations. It is a response to ‘hidden’ hunger – or the persistence of deficient diets in populations where hunger, as such, may not be obvious. Common examples of deficiencies are minerals (iron, zinc, iodine) and vitamins. Common examples of food fortification are salt iodisation, fortification of milk, condiments, cooking oils and staple foods with various micronutrients.

2. Why is it in the news?
Major stakeholders in the world of nutrition are supporting or taking part in fortification initiatives currently being launched. These are donor-supported programmes in various provinces to fortify wheat flour with iron and folic acid, salt with iodine, and cooking oil with Vitamin A. Mandatory regulation has been put in place in some provinces.

3. Why is food fortification so popular among stakeholders?
It seems like a low-cost response that can reach large numbers of those in need relatively easily through existing government and market systems. It does not require major economic uplift or poverty reduction – in fact it is best suited to addressing micronutrient deficiencies precisely in those populations which no long face extreme hunger and poverty.

4. So, does it really work?
Yes, no, maybe.

Salt iodisation has a good record globally and in Pakistan. Staple food fortification with folic acid has worked in many countries to address a foetal condition known as NTD. But there is little evidence that staple food fortification with iron reduces anaemia.

And in Pakistan the fortification of wheat flour with iron and folic acid has been tried several times without any publicly available evidence of success.

5. What is the hitch with wheat flour fortification?
There may be several, some technical others practical.

Technically, there is no clinching evidence that adding iron to staple food is an effective way of reducing anaemia. There are questions about quantities and absorption.

Practically, for fortification to be even considered, it should be applied to a food that is consumed by much of the target group through the year. In Pakistan there is no precise information on:
  • What proportion of wheat flour that is consumed is milled industrially? Estimates range from 30 to 50 per cent. 
  • What proportion of the population consumes milled flour all-year round, and what proportion of the population most vulnerable to anaemia consumes it? 
  • Why do most rural households and many urban ones prefer chakki flour, and those that do use milled flour often opt for ‘fine’ varieties rather than regulated flour? 

6. Anything else?

Around half of Pakistan’s population suffers from inadequate energy intake. One in three households say that they are vulnerable to hunger. So, Pakistan needs to urgently deal with actual hunger and not just hidden hunger.

7. What does that have to do with wheat fortification?
We need a serious reform of food security policies to ensure that no person is vulnerable to hunger. Current policies which aim to address food security are based on government wheat procurement and its subsidised supply to private sector mills who are then supposed to provide subsided flour to the population. This clearly does not work. The system has created adverse incentives and rent-seeking for capturing subsidies. Regulatory weaknesses in the sector arise from these rent-seeking opportunities.

Wheat fortification projects, by focusing on a technical solution around the same inefficient sector, are in danger of doing two things:
  • Detracting from the need to address actual hunger, and not just ‘hidden’ hunger 
  • Ignoring numerous sector analyses which call for a reform of the wheat system 

8. What needs to be done?
Policy and public debate must focus on ‘hidden’ hunger as part of a broader agenda of food security and combatting hunger – rather than imagining that stand-alone technocratic solutions are possible. And existing fortification programmes might avoid disappointment if they recognised some of the problems highlighted here, revised some of their expectations, and took on board existing critiques of the wheat subsidy system. 

This blog is a part of a new “Let’s talk about…” series that distils key research findings aiming to start a public conversation on emerging issues.