Withdrawal of trade preferences could improve situation of women and girls in Pakistan

Withdrawal of trade preferences could improve situation of women and girls in Pakistan

According to the European Commission’s last GSP+ assessment of Pakistan, “ ‘Honour’ killings, acid attacks, social restrictions on movement and jobs, inequality and abject poverty, forced and arranged marriages depict a grim picture”. Moreover, statistical evidence shows increasing numbers of acts of discrimination and violence against women and girls and proves that targeted legislation is not being implemented. Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Pina Picierno posed a parliamentary question to the European Commission asking why there was no improvement for Pakistan’s females.

Ishaq Khakwani, a former federal minister and one of the leaders of the current ruling party, Tehreek-e-Insaf, has admitted that the Government has not paid enough attention to addressing the issue of violence against women.

Pakistan has benefitted from the European Union’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) since 2014, a trade preference programme to promote trade alongside good governance and sustainable development, including the promotion and protection of human rights and the rights of women and girls. However, neither the current government, nor former ones, have done anything to empower women and girls in the country.

In the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, an official circular forcing schoolgirls to wear the hijab, or the abaya, was issued at the beginning of the year but after widespread outrage, the local Government had to revoke the decision.

Against this backdrop, MEP Pina Picierno of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), on 07 July 2020, posed a parliamentary question to the European Commission. MEP Picierno asked two pointed questions :- “what is the Commission doing to ensure that GSP+ beneficiary countries abide by their commitments?”, and “will the Commission consider partially suspending the GSP+ provisions for Pakistan in the light of its failures to respect the CEDAW Convention [The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women] and to implement an effective and appropriately funded justice system, which convicts the perpetrators of violence against women?”

On 27 August 2020, Commissioner of Trade Phil Hogan replied to MEP Picierno’s question on behalf of the European Commission. His response reviews the Report on the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) to the European Parliament and the Council and the assessment of Pakistan’s implementation of 27 conventions in the areas of human rights, labour rights, environment and good governance. Asserting that “the Report shows that Pakistan is making some progress on effective implementation, e.g. on the elimination of honour killings, the protection of transgender persons and the protection of women’s and children’s rights. The report also notes that more progress is needed, including with regard to discrimination and violence against women and girls”.

He reported that “within the GSP+ monitoring process, the Commission sent a list of salient issues to Pakistan in June 2020 recalling the need to: (i) take effective measures to prevent child marriage across the country; (ii) make progress on the bill raising the legal age for marriage to 18 years and on the bill on prevention and protection from domestic violence against women”, for which “response from the government is expected by September 2020 and will be the basis for further questions and a GSP+ monitoring mission to Pakistan as soon as the health situation allows”.

Commissioner Hogan underlined that discrimination and violence against women and girls were also discussed during the 10th EU-Pakistan Sub-Group on Democracy, Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights in November 2019.

In closing, Commissioner Hogan claimed that “the EU’s engagement with Pakistan aims to support the much-needed progress on women’s and children’s rights” and “effective implementation of the relevant United Nations (UN) conventions is an essential element of the sustainable development objectives underpinning the GSP Regulation”. He also added that “the possibility of a withdrawal of preferences is an important lever for achieving these objectives”. 

The Commissioner gave a standard response in respect of the ever deteriorating situation for women and girls in Pakistan. Violence and abuse continues, as do poor working conditions and low pay for millions of Pakistan’s women. The trade benefits that have been received by politicians and industry in the country have had no impact towards improving the lives of females in the country. There must be consequences for the steady stream of CEDAW violations being committed in Pakistan, and the European Commission must use “the possibility of a withdrawal of preferences” in order to counter the continued violation.

Photo Credit : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Pakistan

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