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Thursday, 7 March, 2002, 11:49 GMT
Musharraf promises women equality
Women's group protest on Pakistani streets
Urban women are becoming better organised
President Pervez Musharraf has told Pakistani women his government will end discrimination and violence against them.

Political empowerment will enable women to fight for their rights

President Pervez Musharraf

General Musharraf said his administration wanted to ensure Pakistani women enjoyed greater political and economic rights.

He was addressing a gathering of hundreds of women at a meeting in Islamabad on the eve of International Women's Day.

"It is through political empowerment that women can emancipate themselves. Political empowerment will enable women to fight for their rights themselves", he said

In January, President Musharraf expanded the country's National Assembly to 350-seats and reserved 60 of these for women.

Violent discrimination

That may not be enough to free Pakistani women from the difficult lives they are often forced to lead.

Last year human rights organisations reported that many women suffer beatings by male members of their own families.

Women office workers in Karachi
A nucleus of working women is growing

Some husbands, and occasionally fathers and brothers, have been known to torture their womenfolk for minor mistakes or small disagreements.

There have even been reports of 'honour killings' of young women who married against the wishes of their male relatives.

President Musharraf said he was moved by tales of discrimination told by delegates attending the meeting.

He identified the lack of education as a root cause of women's problems.

Nearly two-thirds of all Pakistani women are illiterate, compared to just about half of Pakistani men.

The president said this inequality would be addressed on a priority basis and discrimination in primary education would be removed by 2010.

Hopeful signs

Some women in Pakistani cities have already taken the initiative to take charge of their lives.

Women can take charge of their own lives - why should we be dependent on our husbands?

Post Mistress Farzana Nisar
They have taken up jobs usually considered a male preserve in this male-dominated society.

Last year, Pakistan's first women's post office opened in Karachi.

It is managed and staffed entirely by women.

While many Pakistani women from affluent families have joined the professions, it is harder for poorer women to break into job areas traditionally dominated by men.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | South Asia
Pakistani women seek more poll reforms
19 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Inside a Peshawar brothel
27 Apr 01 | South Asia
Pakistan women work for change
25 Jan 01 | South Asia
Pakistani women hail landmark ruling
29 Dec 00 | South Asia
Pakistan's women poised for power
02 Sep 00 | South Asia
Boost for Pakistan's women
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