A landmark bill seeking to deter all forms of domestic violence against women has reached a serious deadlock following heavy resistance by opposition parties, especially the Jamiat UIema-e-Islam (JUI-F) and the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N). The failure of the recent attempt to pass the bill in a joint session of the parliament has now sparked an unpleasant standoff between civil rights activists and JUI-F supporters.
The JUI-F asserts that under this law, a father will not be allowed to discipline his children and the institution of family in our society will be destroyed. The JUI-F has also lashed out against NGOs which they feel promote a culture which is taking our women away from Islamic values. Although the PML-N expressed disappointment concerning the lack of consensus-building needed to pass the bill, its stalwarts have hardly played a positive role by claiming that external forces have stakes in the passage of this bill, being championed by western-funded NGOs.
If one were to put aside the above emotive assertions –– which do grave injustice to effectively address the violent nature of crimes being committed against women within the household –– the specific objections made with reference to the bill itself are hardly convincing. Consider the opposition’s objection to clauses pertaining to deputing protection (police) officers for women or ensuring women protection through the National Commission on the Status of Women.
Protection from domestic violence is a fundamental human right. Why can’t the opponents of this bill turn their energy to demanding that women actually receive their share of inheritance property or exercise their right of consent to prevent forcible marriages, as envisioned by Islamic laws?
Another analyst has rightly noted that the language and insensitivity shown by those opposing this bill have made explicit a particular mindset which tends to trivialise, politicise and undermine all women rights issues.
The need for institutionalisation of measures to protect women and children from domestic violence is vital. Without relevant legislation, it will remain very difficult to prosecute such crimes as they will largely continue being dismissed by police as private affairs to be sorted out within families. This gives protection to perpetrators of violence and causes further victimisation of women. At least 943 Pakistani women and girls were murdered last year for allegedly defaming their family’s honour, according to collated figures released by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. This excludes the multitude of other forms of violence which did not result in outright death and are often not even reported.
The proposed bill rightly acknowledged incidence of domestic violence. However, a mere law cannot change attitudes toward gender-based violence by itself if the political will for its proper implementation is not present. Even if the bill had been passed, it would need redoubled efforts to provide women easy access to complaint centres.
It will be a shame if the current opposition to the bill leads to diluting it so significantly that the required measures needed to effectively protect women cannot be put into place.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2012.