Every hour two women are beaten in Pakistan, according to an estimate by Human Development Foundation, a local NGO. Yet, almost a year after being cheered by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2009, has not been passed.
After years of struggle, parliament last year finally passed the comprehensive 28-clause bill moved by Pakistan People’s Party MNA Yasmeen Rahman, who is also the adviser to prime minister on women development. The bill had originally been authored by MNA Sherry Rehman in 2004.
However, two months after Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who is also the minister for Women Development, had termed the passage of the bill a “big achievement,” it was rejected by the Senate, reportedly because of the objections of one senator, preventing it from becoming a law.
According to insiders, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – Fazl senator Maulana Muhammad Sherani (presently the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology) had objected that the bill was not ‘male-friendly’ and was contradictory to Islamic law.
Later, the Council of Islamic Ideology also termed the bill “unnecessary”, adding that the implementation of this law would increase the rate of divorce in the country. This criticism was denied by human rights activists who had worked closely with the government on the legislation. They were also disappointed with the government for letting the bill lapse only due to the objections of a single member.
Most countries in South Asia, including India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have legislation against domestic violence.
Although a parliamentary mediation committee – comprising members of both the upper and lower houses – was immediately constituted, its recommendations could not be put forward due to the passage of the 18 amendment under which the committee was disbanded.
“The role of the mediation committee was to resolve the controversy over the stuck bill. All the pending bills will now have to be passed again by a joint session of the National Assembly,” explains Yasmeen Rahman. The domestic violence bill is among the eight bills currently pending with the parliament and that have been further delayed under the 18th amendment.
Activists on the other hand argue that the mediation committee had enough time to incorporate the suggestions made by the Senate.
Not a crime
“What was in fact needed was to incorporate domestic violence in the mainstream law, that is, the Pakistan Penal Code because right now it is not even classified as crime,” says Dr Fauzia Saeed, member National Commission on Status of Women. Saeed had previously pursued the legislation against sexual harassment at workplaces.
“We were able to formulate a law against sexual harassment because we were persistent and refused to rest until the government agreed. Unfortunately most NGOs fail to understand this and the only effort they make is present their recommendations to the concerned ministry,” says Saeed.
“The problem is that men in our country refuse to accept women as emancipated individuals,” says PPP MPA Shazia Marri, the first member to submit a domestic violence bill in the Sindh Assembly on May 17, 2004. “In Sindh, we are quick to talk of legislation against Karo-Kari and other forms of violence against women but what about those silent victims at home who are abused verbally or physically by their husbands every day?”
Marri feels that every woman in the provincial or National Assembly must have experienced some form of verbal or physical abuse by their husbands. “But they will never admit it, nor will they push for this bill because possibly they believe that it is normal.”
According to Aurat Founda-tion’s report for 2009, 608 cases of domestic violence were reported across the country, of which 271 were from Punjab, 134 from Sindh, 163 from Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa, 22 from Balochistan and 18 from Islamabad. Each year large numbers of women are beaten, tortured or burnt by their husbands. They have few places to escape to.
What the bill promises
Under the proposed Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2009, monetary and other relief to aggrieved persons through protection orders will be mandatory and violators will be punished with jail terms and fines. The money collected from fines will be paid to the victims.
The bill would also give an aggrieved person the right to approach a first class magistrate’s court with an application following which the court is required to fix a hearing within three days. The final decision will be given within 30 days.
“Some other changes have been incorporated in the bill to make it more effective and Yasmeen Rahman is ready to present it again, but before that we have to wait for a joint session,” says Saeed. “Considering that there are seven more pending bills, no one knows when the domestic violence bill’s turn will come.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2010.