Punjab Governor Rafique Rajwana recently approved the 2015 Protection of Women Against Violence Bill. The law criminalises all offences against women, including domestic violence, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, economic abuse, verbal abuse, stalking, abetment of an offence and cyber crimes. A toll free number will also be introduced to receive complaints, in addition to the creation of shelter homes that will provide boarding and lodging facilities to aggrieved women seeking protection.
The new bill is designed to remove bureaucratic hurdles that normally make it impossible for women to file complaints and access any form of justice. One only hopes that the classification of violence against women as a criminal act will make perpetrators fearful of a legal system that will no longer lean in their favour and allow them to go scot-free.
I’m eager to perceive the bill as a guaranteed sign of progress, but one question still troubles me. Does the bill necessarily eradicate the myopic thought process that singles out women for being at fault for harrowing assaults inflicted on them? Our society’s tendency to immediately blame a woman’s attire or character for triggering a man’s indecent behaviour only propagates Pakistan’s widespread rape culture, along with the double standards that give rise to more abusive behaviour.
In October 2015, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) announced that women are not required to cover their faces, hands or feet under Islamic Sharia law. Even though this judgment is considered encouraging, the CII also advised women to “follow ethics and have a careful attitude in society”. They went on to say that, “At the same time, it’s necessary to cover the face and adopt complete covering attire if there are threats of mischief”. The whole “boys will be boys” excuse is an old cliche that continues to prevail. It shouldn’t only be a woman’s job to be patient and calm. The onus shouldn’t only fall on a woman to dress ‘modestly’ and protect her self from a man’s intrusive gaze. Why is it utterly simple for men to receive the benefit of the doubt?
These poor, helpless men are apparently in danger of succumbing to temptation, which is why women must bring it upon themselves to spare them the trouble. Why can’t men ever be expected to exhibit any self-control? Why can’t they just find it in themselves to be a little more respectful and look away instead of trying to undress a woman with their eyes? It’s true that women should make an effort not to attract unnecessary attention, but how far will they have to go to protect themselves? It’s unbelievable how a woman’s choice of clothing is also called into question after she’s been assaulted or harassed.
Even though the new bill is a step in the right direction, it should also address the specific mindset that induces violent behaviour against women. Men should be expected to show some restraint instead of constantly rationalising their inappropriate conduct.
If there are any amendments made to the current bill, here is what they should include: “No matter what a woman is wearing, and no matter how much skin she’s revealing, that doesn’t justify a man’s indecent behaviour. Those actions on his part are not only illegal, but also immoral, disgusting and inexcusable.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2016.
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