03/29/2005, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Phone companies not allowed to hire women operators in Haripur

by Qaiser Felix
Authorities force companies to fire women phone operators. This confirms Pakistani government discriminates against minorities and favours religious extremists.

Haripur (AsiaNews) – Haripur district authorities in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province have banned women telephone operators in the district and directed Public Calling Offices (PCOs) to relieve female operators

The decision was taken by the Criminal Justice Coordination Committee (CJCC) in December 2004 and last week police began checking whether the order is being implemented or not.

The administrative letter in which the order was issued said that PCOs are a "public place. A lot of complaints from general public are pouring in that employment of female operators at PCOs is creating immoral activities. This trend is required to be curbed [sic]. Therefore, all the PCO-owners "are hereby barred not to appoint any female public call operator at their PCOs. Those already employed should be removed forthwith in public interest [sic]."

Speaking to AsiaNews, some former telephone operators complained about the CJCC decision.

Ms Riffat said before the ban she made about 1,500 rupees per month, but now she does not have the economic means to feed her family. She added that there are companies willing to hire female employees but their salaries are insufficient to meet family needs.

Javed Qureshi, provincial secretary of the Pakistan Democratic Party, said the ban violated Articles 18 and 34 of the constitutions.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has also harshly criticised the ban.

In a press release it said that the government's promises that it would pursue policies based on 'enlightened moderation' are empty, have become "irritating" and fly in the face of reality.
The press release, which was signed by the HRCP chairperson Asma Jahangir and secretary general Syed Iqbal Haider, said that two recent incidents—the ban by the Haripur district government on hiring female telephone operators and a cabinet committee's recommendation to restore the religion column in passports—reflected the government's "real" intentions.
"Government policies continue to be hostile to women and religious minorities," the press release said. "The Haripur Criminal Justice Coordination Committee's claim that women working in public call offices have contributed to immorality is not only absurd but amounts to blatant discrimination against women."

Manzoor Waseem Bhatti, the founder and president of Teach Awareness through Skill and Training (TASK), an NGO in Lahore, told AsiaNews that these measures were taken only to please Muslim religious extremists and are harmful to the country, and will surely damage the image of Pakistan in the world.

"These decisions by the Pakistani government have no justification at all. As a Pakistani Christian and observer I strongly condemn the inclusion of religion in passports as well as the ban on women telephone operators in Haripur," TASK president said.

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