Stories about rights

We’re here, we’re queer, deal with it!

In 2003, Brazil brought the case for homosexual rights on the United Nations table, only to be derailed at the last minute by Muslim and African countries. Instead, amendments were introduced and approved for the removal of any reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation. My country, Pakistan, was the captain of Team Homophobe. It distributed a memo to the member states declaring that the approval of the recommendation would be: “A direct insult to 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.” This year, thanks to three abstentions, China being absent, Libya’s suspension and the efforts of South Africa to table the resolution again, it was ...

Read Full Post

No, it is not time for gay rights in Pakistan

In the wake of the same-sex marriage bill passed by the New York Senate, a few people are supporting similar kind of rights for the (still closeted) gay community in Pakistan. In my view, it is disastrous to even think of it at this moment, for the following reasons: The gay community in the United States (US) achieved their current rights after decades of continuous social, political and legal struggle. Yet even today, several states including the US federal government do not recognise civil union/partnership. Some states permit civil unions but they don’t equalise those to marriage. According to public wishes, ...

Read Full Post

Let them wear bangles

Has life for women in Pakistan improved or deteriorated over the past decade? This question is being hotly debated in the wake of a report that listed Pakistan as the ‘third-worst country in the world for women’. Now, I am not one to say that some Pakistani women have not made great strides in the past ten years or so. When critics of reports like the one I mentioned above rattle off names of prominent women politicians, educationalists, intellectuals and social workers as proof of women’s success in Pakistan, I agree wholeheartedly that these women have effectively contributed to society, ...

Read Full Post

Is it time for gay rights in Pakistan?

Earlier this month, for the first time in its history, the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to protect and uphold gay rights universally. The US Department of State successfully lobbied to bring under the banner of universal declaration of human rights, equal rights for lesbians, gays, and transgender people. The resolution was passed with 23 affirmations against 19 disavowals. While some of us celebrate this momentous turn in attitudes, it is sobering to note that it took the UN this long to recognise the oppressive violence faced by homosexuals everybody and to finally declare that yes, gays are human ...

Read Full Post

Working from home: Basic rights denied

Contrary to popular perception, most women work in Pakistan, and often inside the home in the informal economy. Sixty-five per cent of the female workforce works at home, and a 2009 survey estimated their number to be 8.52 million, although activists suggest it may be as high as 12 million. These workers are not protected by formal labour laws and suffer the legal and social disabilities that are typically associated with this form of work – no rights to minimum wage, no social security benefits, inability to organise in unions and lawfully challenge violations of occupational health and safety (OSH) ...

Read Full Post

A question of religion

A furore was recently raised in the United Kingdom (UK) over the voluntary religion question in the 2011 census. Humanists and secularists attacked it for being ‘fatally flawed’ because the information, according to them, can be used to influence public policy and services. For anyone living in Pakistan the outcry might seem a smidgen over the top, given the country’s strident penchant for religiously determined identity systems. Here almost every conceivable form or questionnaire comes replete with a doctrinal question. For example, anyone wanting a passport has to first declare their faith of preference. Need an ID card? Then identify yourself ...

Read Full Post

Can’t kill, detain or release militants? Frame a legal policy

Despite Islamabad’s cartwheels and somersaults, the mud of extra-judicial killings in terrorism hotspots is sticking. The US government’s report on human rights violations in Pakistan said nothing new; Islamabad’s refutation was predictable. But in the absence of a coherent strategy to deal with captured militants, the frustration of the military as well as rights activists is growing. While the military describes the status of the General Kayani-commissioned report on the video depicting the gunning down of six civilians by men in uniform as ‘ongoing’ and insists it will figure out – eventually – what to do about those found guilty, ...

Read Full Post

Take a lesson from Bahrain

Imagine a lonely man without a job. His community barred from political representation, having no rights and no future to look forward to. With extreme frustration and deep-rooted anger, he one day gets off the wrong side of bed, thinking it’s time to bring about a change. That was the situation with the people of Bahrain. People with no real rights to speak of. Pushed over the edge, this man, along with a few others, decided to make himself heard, albeit peacefully. They take to the streets just so they get noticed. Understandable so far, but the plot thickens. The ...

Read Full Post

Legitimising extremism: The state’s deafening silence

Despite fighting a long war against militancy the state seems to have displayed recent apathy towards the spread of extremism over the past year. Its inability and unwillingness to challenge jihadi groups has legitimised the cleric and his judgments. Sadly for minorities, this has turned into an increased threat as many feel that their connection to the country is rapidly deteriorating. Last month, the Federal Shariat Court issued a ruling that declared several sections of the Women’s Protection Act 2006 against Sharia law. The ruling effectively stated that “no legislative instrument can control, regulate or amend FSC’s relating to the Hudood ...

Read Full Post

Failed projects and infringed human rights

The CDA has been going through a tumultuous period since the incumbent government came to power, with budget surpluses disappearing amid overly ambitious revenue projections, delayed projects and overlapping organisational roles following the inception of CADD and the PM’s task force on Islamabad. The latest cockamamie scheme was to replace the light bulbs in streetlights around Islamabad with LEDs, based on the argument that it would save money in the long term and reduce the strain on the national electricity grid. The phrase you must spend money to make money goes back at least 2,000 years, and the civic body appears ...

Read Full Post