Violence against women: Civil society says PA Bill fails to address all issues

Published: February 26, 2016
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PHOTO: AFP

PHOTO: AFP

LAHORE: 

“They are taking us for a ride again,” Shirkat Gah executive director Farida Shaheed mused on Thursday while talking to The Express Tribune about the Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015 that was passed by the Provincial Assembly (PA) on Wednesday.

She said civil society had been exhorting the government to criminalise domestic violence, something that was not done in the Bill. At best, she said, the Bill provided provisions to protect women who had already been subjected to violence. “It offers women first aid after they have been beaten up,” Shaheed said. She said complaints had to be lodged with protection officers but a domestic violence case could not be registered. Additionally, Shaheed said the Bill outlined punishment in case of a violation of interim orders but not for abuse women had been subjected to. “It will be far more expedient to take an unambiguous stand against domestic violence,” she said. This, Shaheed said, was missing from the Bill.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Pakistan Civil Society Forum (PCSF) welcomed the Bill’s passage while highlighting what it identified as some of its shortcomings. “It will help provide a foundation needed to foster a conducive environment for women,” the statement read.

The forum said the Bill would only have an impact if it was effectively implemented. “The fruits of this legislation are linked to its implementation in letter and spirit; as only a transparent system of complaints and quick problem resolution can help assess how important women are to the incumbent and succeeding governments,” the statement read.

While praising the development, the PCSF said some changes needed to be introduced. “Some provisions of the legislation need to be amended to ensure better protection of women. Overall, however, the initiative is commendable,” the statement read. The forum highlighted provisions included in the bill such as a toll-free universal access number, the formation of district protection committees and centres for reconciliation and resolution of disputes as positive initiatives.

Aurat Foundation regional director Mumtaz Mughal told The Express Tribune that the foundation had withdrawn its reservation on criminalisation of domestic violence as the Bill provided a good framework to protect women. “Domestic violence has been criminalised in Sindh and Balochistan to little effect due to poor implementation,” she said. Mughal said protection mechanism instituted by the Bill was adequate.

She said the foundation had asked the government to incorporate cyber crime and psychological violence in the definition of violence, which it had done. Mughal said the foundation had also asked the government to define economic and psychological abuse, something that it had also done.

MPA Azma Bukhari said civil society had been continuously asking for domestic violence to be criminalised. “Such things are done in steps,” she said. Bukhari said the government had drawn a great deal of flak over the Bill. “Some men seem to think that the Bill is geared directly against them,” she said. Bukhari said the government had strived hard to allay the reservations of various stakeholders.

The lawmaker said the Bill declared domestic violence an offence. She said the PPC comprehensively covered instances of bodily harm in its various sections. Bukhari said an FIR regarding an instance of domestic violence could be lodged under those.

Landmark move: HRCP welcomes Bill’s passage

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) on Thursday welcomed the passage of the Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015 by the Provincial Assembly (PA).

The commission expressed hope that the effective enforcement of the Bill would help protect women from violence and ensure that justice was meted out to culprits in a statement. “The HRCP welcomes the adoption of the Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015 by the PA on Wednesday as a good first step,” the statement reads.  The commission said the Bill appeared to be a rather comprehensive attempt to institute a system to prevent violence against women and protect and rehabilitate victims of such acts. The HRCP said the legislators who had introduced and supported the Bill deserved to be praised for doing what was right.

“The Bill includes a broad definition of violence, steps to make complaint submission easier, establishment of committees at the district level to investigate complaints, and shelter homes for the protection of aggrieved women. These are all much-needed measures that deserve praise. It is important to remember that cosmetic and purely procedural changes have had no impact in the past. The change in law will only make a difference if it is effectively enforced, the legislature continues to engage with the issue and ensures oversight,” the statement reads.

The HRCP said it was unfortunate that there was no paucity of elements who had taken upon themselves to denounce any effort to save women from being harassed or assaulted. The commission said the obligation of the state in the circumstances included not abandoning whatever little positive change was brought forth and raising awareness about the importance of the legislative measure in question. “The onus is also on civil society organisations and the media to analyse the Bill, the pace of its implementation and the impact it has on protecting women from being subjected to violence,” the statement reads. The HRCP expressed hope that the development would facilitate the Bill’s enforcement to protect women nationwide and ways would be found to push through the Central Bill that has been pending for long to extend protection to women in the Federal Capital Territory.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 26th, 2016.

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