Making a fervent plea for promoting gender equality in the Indian sub-continent, Pakistani human rights activist Asma Jahangir on Friday expressed the hope that Parliament would pass the much awaited Women's Reservation Bill soon.

Delivering the 16th Justice Sunanda Bhandare Memorial Lecture, Ms. Jahangir noted that the situation of women in the entire subcontinent left much to be desired and said there was need for a movement to create public awareness about the need to ensure equality between men and women.

Referring specifically to the long-pending women's bill, she recalled how women activists in Pakistan were able to get 30 per cent reservation introduced in the country's National Assembly, inspired by the 33 per cent reservation in local bodies in India. “Now it is time similar reservation was made available in the Indian Parliament also.”

Stressing that the condition of women in Pakistan had improved a lot over the years, Ms. Jahangir noted that it was all because of the relentless struggle by women in the country and not because there was any “friendly” government. “Politicians ride on the shoulders of public opinion. They do not shape public opinion.”

Emphasising that reservation for women was not a matter of charity or tokenism, but a matter of right, Ms. Jahangir recalled that there were attempts to lower the quota to 15 per cent, but these were thwarted and a quota of 30 per cent was finally introduced in the Pakistan National Assembly.

On doubts that reservation would lead only to women relatives of male leaders getting elected and not the women from the general public, she said it was true that some of the women elected were relatives of male leaders, but there were far more women from the general public. “Relatives of male leaders also spoke a different language after being elected.”

Ms. Jahangir said there was need to put an end to intolerance for those working for peace, human rights, protection of the rights of the minorities and women's emancipation.

Paying rich tributes to Justice Bhandare, the activist hoped more women and men would follow her footsteps and work to establish an egalitarian society.

Born in 1942, Justice Bhandare enrolled as a lawyer in 1968 and was elevated as a judge of the Delhi High Court in 1984.

Through her activities and judgments, she sought to establish a society where women, the underprivileged and the differently-enabled could live with dignity and freedom. She passed away on November 10, 1994 at the age of 52.

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