So the opposition have raised an objection to the Domestic Violence Bill (DVB) that was supposed to go through in Parliament.
This has delayed the passage of the bill, which was formulated by women’s rights activists in the National Assembly to make it a criminal act to enact violence upon women and children. But in a startling show of resistance, parliamentarians from the JUI-F and the PML-N have refused to bow down in subjugation to the American-Zionist-Indian conspiracy that they believe the bill represents, masquerading under the guise of human rights. “We won’t let Western culture dictate to us,” is the tagline used by the maulvis who want the Bill’s passage delayed and possibly cancelled completely.
What does this even mean? The mind boggles. If ‘western culture’ is opposed to domestic violence, does this mean ‘eastern culture’ is supportive of it? Of course, the answer is no. Domestic violence is not an ‘eastern’ or ‘western’ issue, but a global issue.
The debate on the DVB continues to rage in Pakistan’s parliament and behind the scenes. The Bill has not been thrown out; it continues to be discussed in a parliamentary committee. Apparently there are some technical lacunae which some of the parliamentarians find troublesome, but the greater objection is that its opponents say that the Bill itself is harmful to family structure. On the other hand, the Bill’s supporters say that the technical lacunae can be removed without losing the Bill’s intent to protect women and children against violence enacted in the household.
I’ve read through the Bill in its entirety and honestly can see nothing ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘anti-Pakistan’ or ‘anti-Eastern culture’ in it. At the most, it provides technical and legal procedures and due process under legal guidelines for how to stop domestic violence, harassment, and emotional and mental abuse (such as the withholding of money from a spouse in order to manipulate or control her). If anything, this Bill strengthens Pakistani families, and is completely in line with what Islam outlines as proper behavior between spouses in the sacred space of the home.
According to Marvi Sirmed, who is taking part in a civil society committee on the Bill that’s running parallel to the parliamentary one, The News International misreported that women demonstrators in favor of the Bill “insulted” Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the head of the JUI-F, on the floor of Parliament. What really happened, says Sirmed, is that women demonstrated outside Parliament, raising slogans against Mullah-ocracy (“Mullah gardi nahin chaley gi” or “Mullah-ocracy won’t fly here”). This was in return for Fazlur Rahman’s statement in Parliament that the proponents of the DVB were “home-breakers, shameless, westernised, pursuing a Jewish/westernised agenda”. This kind of bombastic soapboxing, great for headlines and soundbites, is very common in Pakistani politics. Incendiary, provocative and untrue, it has caused us more harm over the years than good.
In a parliamentary committee meeting held to discuss the objections to the DVB last week, representatives of both Maulana Ghafoor Haideri and Ataur Rehman of the JUI-F and Khwaja Saad Rafique of the PML-N attended the meeting, in which the Bill’s proponents and supporters — including Bushra Gohar, Attiya Inayatullah, Yasmeen Rehman and Nafisa Shah, amongst others — explained the necessity of the Bill, answering their questions and clearing their doubts about the Bill’s value and intent. There seemed to be general consensus on the portions of the Bill that criminalise violence against women from all parties, reports Sirmed, and women’s rights activists remain hopeful that the Bill will be presented in Parliament and passed as soon as possible.
As yet, no word on whether the Bill will make it through or not. But with headlines like “In-laws burn woman alive for not bearing a son” (April 11,The Express Tribune), sixty per cent of acid attacks taking place because of domestic disputes (according to Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy), and a persistent patriarchal mindset in which women who are the victims of domestic violence have ‘provoked’ men into beating, burning, and killing them, there is simply no more time to lose.
It’s a tough fight, but respect for women, for Pakistan’s parliament, for democracy, and for its institutions are all being demonstrated in the process of passing this Bill. We have every reason to hope. Perseverance will pay off. And Pakistan will be better off for it in the end.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.