INTERVIEW: DR. SAEEDA MALIK, MINISTER OF WOMEN DEVELOPMENT, SINDH.

Growing economic participation of women
Mirrors the pleasant change in the society

TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI-TARIQSAEEDI@HOTMAIL.COM
Nov 05 - 11, 2007

Dr. Saeeda Malik, Minister of Women Development, Sindh has devoted her thirty-five years to serving women beings on medical and political fronts.

Bagged a Gold Medal in MBBS and Post Graduate degree in Gynecology & Obstetrics both from Pakistan & England, Dr. Saeeda Malik has contributed significantly for redressing the sufferings of the ailing humanity by establishing two private hospitals in Karachi.

She holds the chairperson ship of Health Welfare Organization; Al-Malik Trust; Physiotherapy Centre (Charitable) and Life Member PMA Society of Gynecology & Obstetrics; SGOP; and Arts Council. She is associated with the politics as long as with the medical profession. That dated back to late seventies.

In an interview with Pakistan & Gulf Economist, Dr. Saeeda Malik described her professional and political journeys as well as the range and scope of activities of women development department in Sindh, struggling to create a female egalitarian society, which, she thinks, is right now mostly influenced by the male chauvinism. She is of the view that until attitudes and behaviors of the women turns around nothing significant they should long for out of social and economic turnarounds.

A GLANCE AT HER POLITICAL CAREER:

Dr. Saeeda has kept the titles of Chief Organizer, Ladies wing, Tahreek-e-Istaqlal Sindh; President, Ladies wing, Tahreek-e-Istaqlal Sindh; Member, Central Working Committee; Joined Muslim League as President Muslim League Sindh Women Wing; Chief Organizer PML (Quaid-e-Azam) Sindh Women's Wing; and Vice President Central PML Women's Wing.

Dr. Saeeda Malik has traveled in more than 34 countries of the world and has presented medical papers in national and international forums. She has attended Medical Conferences held in UK, Singapore, Washington (USA) and Sydney (Australia). Recently, she inaugurated a Pakistani women's website: www.womenpk.com.

Detailing a retrospection of her career, Dr. Saeeda told that for good 35 years she had been practicing as a gynecologist. That was the time when she had routine public contacts in the masses. Women, usually form all strata, coming with their health related problems, got so closed to her that they had shared their daily social problems with her, they were inflicted with. Her belongingness to a political family instinctually tended her to address women's social problems thereon. She said, "this brought me and husband to the local and then mainstream national politics." Basically ours is the patriarchal society. It is not that we got to have a kind of enormous resources to do away the effects of male melancholy on female. Even, within the available means we could bring revolutions, she uttered. What women have to do is to bring changes in their attitude and behavior and things would get into the right path automatically.

When I enquired, "which area women development department mostly focuses on: social or economical, as both are interdependent on each other. Economic well being of women translates directly into their social emancipation?" She momentarily thinks and says, she advocates in entirety the opinion that stable economy certainly eradicates the social evils and once the economy gets strong so does the social status of women. Pakistan was founded on the line to ensure equal opportunities for both women and men. The women, previously, accounted as a minority section of society, form fifty percent of the population right now. Every government worked to realize the overture vision of the nation of equality, however, apparently without effective outcomes. Present regime has done loads of thing to bring compatibility with the vision, but there are yet to do many works in this regard. It was her idea that the welfare works for women should not be carried forward alone there is a need to develop a woman completely to harvest her real potentials. This broached upon a brainstorming meetings ultimately culminated in the separate ministry for women development in August 2003. In past, women development cell was established in the planning development department in 1979. In 1998 the women development department was merged with the social welfare department at the secretariat level. In 2001 the directorate of women development was abolished and a women development wing established under directorate of social welfare. This was the idea, later, adopted by other provinces and federal government, she exhilarated.

Empowerment to the nation as a whole can never be possible by neglecting half of the population, she expounded. Of course, women have been given significant representations in the upper and lower parliaments and the senate. At least, their voices are audible to the legislations now. They've got out of the clutches of spiral of silence. What we emphasize now is to build an adequate socio-economic environment for the women. It is possible only through giving them equal opportunities in all aspects of their lives. We have the sufficient human capital to utilize for inputting into primary, secondary, and tertiary sectors of the economy. Education level is abysmally low especially in case of rural localities. Much of the time, we talk about bridging the gap between rural and urban population, which, even today, are unachieved. Our ministry has done appreciable works for this. Now the women of the rural areas are much aware about their rights and potentials. We want to empower them legally as well as socially and economically.

Delineating the prominent issues, she said, ministry of women development is working for: recognition of the status of women in conformity with the Islamic injunctions; elimination of the orthodox practices in the name of religion; achievement of the true spirit of Islamic society and polity; women education and health; women empowerment i.e. social, political, legal and economic; reformation in societal attitude; facilitation to media in creating awareness; gender equality; and institutionalization. Previously, this department performed like lobbyist and catalyst and lagged behind in service delivery concept. But the independent ministry expanded the working horizon of women development ministry nationwide.

She has a firm belief on institutionalization that could bring about startling changes in the present socio-economic spectra. This could marvel and excel reformation and revolution processes rapidly. She believes that institutionalization has a proximity to natural development. Individuals are more likely to follow principles than individuals. Therefore, she said, we have set a direction and an institution in the form of the ministry of women development for disciples to follow. Other than empowering women socially ministry of women development is paving a way to ensure the availability of finances to rural women, who wish to embark on their business ventures. Henceforth, she claimed that they always tried to provide lending facility.

She thinks woman is a better economic manager, who runs her household with even a scarcity of budget. Alongside the promotion of entrepreneurship among women, there is a dire need to hone their skills. In the backdrop that majority of the women populace is illiterate. Skills development for employment remains a suitable option to make them independent. In this regard, our ministry established sales and display centers in the different districts across the province in order to market and sell products designed by the women. Additionally, the women are guided dully to improve their skills. So far, the ministry has trained such women in es without collaterals through national and local government financing institutions. Rural woman is highly dependent on her spouse to obtain collaterals, thereby, she could barely avail the financing facilities. Moreover, she is still taken non-seriously by her family folks. Given the circumstances, it is under the comprehension of negative impacts of collateral condition by financial institution on them. When I objected that let alone collaterals interest rates are also high enough to attract the locale women. Dr. Saeeda defended that even though collaterals and high interest rates formed obstacles in mobilizing rural women towards self-sustainability and achieving economic viability government, at least, opened for them monetary source, that was available never before. In a broader perspective the advantages are being showered onto women, she added. As economy gets stable further and banks well structured public benefits would start multiplying. By and large, there are some successes. 15 to 20 districts all around Sindh province. Talking about the linkages ministry has with different trade bodies and chambers; she stated that to keep women abreast with the contemporary market dynamics, ministry organized symposia and expositions. Moreover, the women skills have also been introduced in the international exhibitions. But, she also added there lacks a coordination among stakeholders to some extent; they are trying to plug the wholes. To execute the pending development projects in collaboration with these trade bodies, ministry of women development signed a MoU with the women wing of KCCI recently. Urban women are doing more and rural women need to be supported more, which the ministry focuses on, she pointed out.

Outlining government's achievements in all aspect of women development, she said this is the first instance when any government dared to bring reforms in the "Hudood" ordinance. By virtue of that thirteen hundred women prisoners set free, languishing in jails under Hudood implications.

Gender Reform Action Plan, introduced to evaluate and monitor women development in the various government departments, has inducted focal persons in all the line ministries such as education, health, information, etc. These focal persons are delegated to report black and white departmental fads and ongoing projects and its affects on women. Similarly, first time ten percent quota in superior services has been assigned to women, she proudly said.

Day care centre, working under the umbrella of ministry of women development, provides baby seating facilities for the workingwomen. It has medical doctors and trained nannies. The facility is available on nominal charges. Dr. Saeeda said baby seaters are being properly trained to fulfill required job needs in the centre. The firms of international repute carry trainings. So far, five badges have been prepared. The ministry has planned to set up such centers in all the eighteen towns of Karachi and other districts across Sindh.

In her message to women, Dr. Saeeda Malik said the rapid transformation in the working group criteria in all professions are the wake up call for the male. Women participation is increasing in all professions such as military, medical, judiciary, banking and finance, so on and so forth. Islam has bestowed women with the tremendous rights, thus, they should not sit back and move forward. They must also be in contact with fellow women and build strong networking with them. They should help each other and avoid leg pulling, she urged.