Protecting women’s rights
At long last, the National Assembly unanimously passed, on Tuesday, a landmark legislation prohibiting certain customs against women, like badla-e-sulh, wanni and swara, which are prevalent in certain parts of the country, particularly the rural areas. Under these centuries-old traditions, women are deprived of some of their basic rights as human beings and even traded to settle personal, family and tribal disputes. Last month, the Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill, moved by a lady parliamentarian, Ms Donya Aziz of PML-Q, had, unfortunately, been twice blocked mainly on procedural counts. Hopefully, when it goes to the Senate it will be approved by it, after which it will be sent to the President for his signatures before it becomes a law of the land.
The legislation, if it becomes law and rigorously imposed through a proper enforcement mechanism, would go a long way towards improving the social conditions and status of women. For instance, it prohibits a totally un-Islamic practice, called marriage of women with the Holy Quran, which is generally resorted to by some feudal families to disinherit the woman of her legitimate right to property. It is, indeed, good to see that even if a woman supposedly swears on the Quran that she intends to marry the holy book, it would be regarded as if the marriage has been forced upon her. Its violation carries three to seven years of imprisonment and a fine of half a million rupees. Similar punishment is prescribed for giving a woman in forced marriage to settle civil or criminal liability.
That such outrageously vile customs should have continued to flourish in a society like Pakistan that was conceived as a modern, welfare, Islamic state, 64 years after it had come into being, is a grave indictment on the affairs of the state so far. One would have expected our parliamentarians to have passed proper legislative measures and put in place an effective mechanism to enforce them long ago so as to free women from the bondage of these cruel practices. But, it has generally been the women rights groups and some like-minded individuals, who have been striving to highlight such discriminatory traditions, change the mindset of the people and urge the government to pass laws to prohibit them; these customs have also brought shame upon the country from every corner of the world, as in the case of Mukhtaran Mai. It would, however, not be correct to say that in urban, metropolitan towns women are treated above any discrimination vis-à-vis men. Lahore, perhaps, reports the highest crime rate in the province against women like burning them for not bringing enough dowries. The pity is at times the women from the in-laws are known to be involved in this heinous crime. Beating and suppression of women to deny even their legitimate wishes are also fairly widespread. The need is to change the mindset.