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Pakistan: A Step In The Right Direction

Categories: South Asia, Pakistan, Human Rights, Law, Women & Gender

At any other time, Pakistan would have been abuzz about news that the country’s National Assembly passed a bill to outlaw domestic violence last week. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill [1] is the most significant administrative gesture to ensure the rights and protection of women and children in Pakistan. The bill, which is yet to be passed by the Senate, aims to stem domestic violence by requiring speedy criminal trials, issuing protection orders, creating grassroots-level protection committees, and punishing wife beaters with long jail terms and hefty fines.

But who has time for domestic violence at a time when Pakistanis are busy wondering whether Baitullah Mehsud, the chief of the Pakistan Taliban, has been killed [2], or pondering the Supreme Court’s recent, unprecedented decision that former president General Pervez Musharraf’s decision to impose emergency rule was unconstitutional [3].

While Pakistan’s mainstream media has provided little coverage or analysis of the domestic violence bill, the country’s bloggers have recognized its significance.

Blogging at Pakistanis for Peace, Manzer Munir points out [4] that the bill is important at a time when militants in Pakistan are persecuting women.

Women have been increasingly isolated and marginalized by the spread of fundamentalism in many parts of Pakistan where the Taliban have brought a strict and narrow minded interpretation of Islam and the roles of women in it.

Yasser Latif Hamdani at Pak Tea House celebrated the news [5] of the bill:

There is never any justification for violence against women and children. NEVER! This should be a wake-up call for all Pakistani men, self included, to behave themselves. Jinnah’s Pakistan Zindabad!

Like many Pakistanis on Twitter, Farhan shared the news [6]. And some tweets, such as Abbas Azhar’s, remained cautiously optimistic [7].

Finally, it's been a long time coming…Hopefully we don’t step backwards!

Multipak tried to clear some misconceptions [8] about domestic violence to stress the importance of the bill:

With domestic violence in mind, many would believe it to be a crime against the lower class women who are beaten or tortured by their husbands. This is wrong. According to experts, it exists in every socio-economic class, and can be justified on any grounds. It can be emotional which includes threatening a wife with severe consequences….

Unfortunately, many a crimes against women are rubbed beneath the carpet in the garb of being a “private” affair. Thus, there is a need to restrict any division of space in crime.

The bill reminded Phillygirl at diaspora group blog Sepia Mutiny [9] of the prevalence of domestic violence in her childhood:

For as long as I can remember, I’ve placed Pakistani culture in the category of indifference/acceptance when it comes to the matter of protecting women and children from the effects of domestic violence. As a child, domestic violence was an inextricable feature of the culture in which I grew up….

From my parents, I continued to hear stories of women whose husbands and fathers slapped them around. And when I went to high school, I heard similar stories from other South Asian classmates. But I’m pleased that Pakistan is (finally!) making a small step in the right direction when it comes to treating domestic violence as a punishable crime as opposed to a private family matter.

In the most comprehensive post about the bill – which compares domestic violence legislature with the draconian Hudood Ordinaces and contextualizes the bill within a history of Pakistani women rights – Sana Saleem at Mystified Justice takes the issue with the clause that a false complaint of abuse is punishable with imprisonment as well as a fine. She also interrogates the overall effectiveness of the bill [10]:

  • First and foremost getting women to actually file a report. In most cases women are too scared to report and have no means to do so. Keeping that in mind significant measures need to be taken in order to get genuine pleas registered.
  • The protection committee will consist of “two police officers and two women councilors”. Provided the immense lack of trust people have in the police department, how will transparency be insured?. The Amnesty International report states: “When women are seriously injured by their husbands or families, police still discourage them from registering complaints and advise them to seek reconciliation with their husbands or families….
  • Also while farce laws such as the Hudood ordinance,are still partly functional, what is the suggested fate of the domestic violence bill. The Hudood ordinance is a staunch reminder of the conditions of women rights in Pakistan.
  • Elaboration on who will be responsible to judge the authenticity. Again the Hudood ordinance is responsible for many rape victims ending up in prison.

Meanwhile, Tanzeel at Pak Spectator tried to reconcile [11] the progressive stance of the bill with conservative views on the permissiveness of domestic violence:

Surprisingly domestic violence is a rapidly growing problem of Islamic countries, though Quran clearly denies any sort of violence on women in anyway however our learned scholars through different interpretations have finally drawn conclusion to beat wife….

Those who bring religious justifications to beat their wives should think on humanitarian lines as well, sometimes we don’t have to believe in each and everything just because some scholar feel that their women should be treated like that, with due respect I would suggest that Saudi Judge to stop portraying false image of Islam and avoid mixing culture with religion.