|Script of an interview With Guylaine Idoux of French Magazine ‘Elle’
13 September 1997
Q. 1. When did you decide to implement the women police stations?
Ans: When I was re-elected Prime Minister in October 1993, I decided that the State had a responsibility to take measures for the protection of women.
Our press had been publishing stories of how women had been stripped and humiliated to punish their men folk or had been burnt or hit by the male members of their families.
The Women’s Police Stations, staffed by women, was to give confidence to women to come forward and report cases of rape, assault and maltreatment without embarrassment.
We also saw the women’s police stations as an avenue of opening up employment for women in Pakistan.
Q. 2. Was it a measure you had already observed in any other country?
Ans: I had not seen a women’s police station in any other country. It was an idea which grew in my mind while meeting women and questioning them about why they silently faced humiliation. I found they felt doubly punished when they had to live an ordeal and repeat it in front of men.
Men tended to stick with men and did not appear to take what women had to say as seriously as the situation warranted. I felt women would empathize with women and that crimes would not go unregistered and be properly investigated.
Q. 3. What were the reasons for their implementation?
Ans: The reason for their implementation was the social taboos where women believed that if they talked about being raped, beaten up, abused, robbed they were bringing shame upon their family. Thus women never had the backing to go public with their miserable situation.
Q. 4. Was it complicated to implement this measure? Why?
Ans: Politically the Party, Parliamentary group and cabinet was unanimous in setting up women’s police stations. However, we faced obstacles from the bureaucracy which was slow in allocating the finances, in drawing up the structure in recruiting the women and in training them.
Q. 5. Did you face any opposition while implementing these police stations?
Ans: We did not face much opposition towards the idea because of the general impression in the country that women did not have a fair deal.
Q. 6. Today, do you think that these police stations have improved women rights?
Ans: The women’s police stations certainly sent a signal that as we approached a new century, women’s issues and the plight of women would get greater attention in Pakistan.
Q. 7. Were any measures taken concerning trials involving women?
Ans: I believe trials did take place. For example at the Islamabad Police Station alone 475 complaints were received during 1994-97 for various crimes against women.
Q. 8. While exercising as Prime Minister, were women rights your priority? Why?
Ans: Pakistan faced manifold problems and as chief executive, I had to face them all these included:
a). The threat of Pakistan being declared a terrorist Nation.
b). Western pressure to roll back our peaceful nuclear programme.
c). An army operation in Karachi.
d). An insurgency in the disputed area of Jammu & Kashmir.
e). An economy which teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.
f). Population growth rate at 3% and high infant mortality rate.
g). Seventy thousand registered villages without electricity.
i). Ten hours stretches of power shut downs.
j). National growth rate of 2%.
k). Abysmally poor standards of education and health.
Q. 9. Have you, yourself ever felt discriminated as a women?
Ans: I have faced discrimination at the hands of my opponents who have stooped to abuse and obscenity in their opposition to me.
I also felt that the qualities of leadership in men was different than women. I was often told that I was not “ruthless” and that one had to be “callous” at times. I did not agree.
Q. 10. Some people proclaim that your husband Asif Ali Zardari has been manipulating you?
Ans: It is unfortunate that some people are so blinded by their own prejudices that they believe women are easily manipulated by men. This was not true in my case. Both my husband and I had independent careers, constituencies, schedules. We went our different ways in the day and met up late in the evening. When we did meet up we had an unwritten rule not to discuss work, but, like most husbands and wives, put the worries of the day behind us. We liked to chat about our family, watch television or catch up with our reading.
Q. 11. Many occidental women are convinced that Muslim women have no choice but maledomination. What would you tell them?
Ans: I do not believe that women do not have choices. My father brought me up to make my own decisions and I do. Any woman with self-respect will not accept being dominated by any one no matter how much she loves them. I believe my daughters will be as strong nailed as I am and will not only make their own choices but expect to have a career and a family.
Q. 12. On the other hand, many Islamic fundamentalists proclaim that women are not in the right place when accepting public duty. What would you answer them?
Ans: Islamic militants are incorrect when they claim women are not in the right place while accepting public duty. God made men and women equal. The Holy prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, married a successful business woman. This set an example to all women that working gave stature and respect to women.
Q. 13. Do you feel that Pakistani women condition have improved over the years?
Ans: Many Pakistani women do not accept that much has changed in Pakistan because there is so much that needs changing. But I believe much has changed and I have seen it with my own eyes.
Having elected a woman Prime Minister, Pakistani women have a stronger bargaining position at home.
Now women, even in rural areas, work. Most women today in urban areas lay down the rule that they will not allow their husbands to take a second wife, that they will not tolerate abuses that they will work if they so choose to, their daughters will be educated and they will decide the size of the family.
Q. 14. It has been a difficult year for you. In March, you declared in Time Magazine that you did not want to become Prime Minister. Do we have to understand that Benazir Bhutto, the first woman to become Prime Minister in the Islamic world, is tempted to leave politics definitively?
Ans: I have never said I would leave politics. I will always help my Party . After serving twice as Prime Minister I felt worn out by a job to which I gave my best. I did not want any reward, only an acknowledgement. Instead I felt that I had been unfairly slandered by my opponents. I also wanted to strengthen the Pakistan Peoples Party by presiding over a transition in its leadership as Deng Xiao Ping had done in China. However, the Pakistan Peoples Party is not prepared to accept that I will not serve as Prime Minister when the Party is re-elected. I will do whatever my party decides at the appropriate time.