Friday Feb 03, 2023
ISLAMABAD: The Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony Mufti Abdul Shakoor has been found involved in gender discrimination — yet again.
The minister, for the last three months, has been obstructing the appointment of a female officer for the post of director-general Hajj. During the Hajj mission in 2022, he also created hurdles for female assistants from the ministry and other departments.
In the wake of these obstructions and a formal complaint filed by officer Saima Saleh from the religious affairs ministry and nine other women with the federal ombudsman, the office rejected the minister’s opinion and ruled that the Constitution of Pakistan’s Article 25 provides complete rights to women.
The minister, after the ruling, had to include two female officers and one female stenographer on the Hajj mission as the federal ombudsman issued an order allowing the same, as per past practice as well as the Hajj and Umrah policy of Saudi Arabia.
Maulana Abdul Shakoor, who assumed the ministry’s office last April after his party — Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) — joined the Pakistan Democratic Movement-led government in the Centre, projected the discriminatory attitude towards women working within the ministry.
Nearly two months after he was appointed as the minister, the aforementioned officer Saima and other females filed a complaint that they are being prevented from going on Hajj duty because of their gender.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Constitution and Saudi government’s laws provide equal rights without any gender discrimination and do not prohibit women from coming on duty.
Despite the federal ombudsman’s ruling, the minister only allowed three women on the Hajj mission. Women from some other ministries were selected as assistants after they appeared on a ballot, however, Maulana Shakoor did not allow them to become a part of the Hajj mission.
After this development, the matter went to the Islamabad High Court (IHC). But the ministry maintained that it is the only competent authority to decide whom to send as an assistant and the ban on whether the name appears on the ballot or not, does not apply.
Meanwhile, the religious minister said that he did not object to women going for Hajj last year, in fact, the objection was to them travelling without a Mahram (male guardian).
“The objection was raised on the basis that it is not permissible for women to go alone on a religious journey,” the minister said. Meanwhile, there is no such restriction in the shariah in the case of a job or service.
Last week, Geo News reported that Abdul Shakoor was also allegedly against the appointment of a female officer for the vacant positions of director and director-general Hajj in the ministry.
In the wake of the episode, a purported audio clip of Maulana Shakoor and the female candidate surfaced in which the minister could be heard asking her about the significance of a dupatta. He had also asked her about her choice of not wearing a dupatta and what impression would it give to countries around the world.
The minister alleged the female candidate of illegally recording during the interview and had said that an inquiry would be initiated. “The audio has been presented in a distorted way,” Mufti Shakoor said.
A petition against the alleged gender discrimination case is also being heard in the Islamabad High Court.