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A pro-women legislation

December 12, 2011 will remain a historic day in Pakistani women’s fight against violence and discrimination as the Senate unanimously passed two bills to criminalise such anti-women practices.

The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) Bill and Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, were also unanimously passed in the National Assembly a few months earlier.

The Acid Crime Prevention Bill recommends 14 years to lifetime prison sentence for the perpetrators in addition to a minimum fine of one million rupees.

The other bill contains five clauses which has now made anti-women practices such as marriage to Holy Quran, forced marriages and depriving women of their inheritance an offence punishable by half a million rupee fine and/or three to seven years of jail term.

Both bills will amend the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 and the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1898.

The bill to criminalise acid throwing, introduced in 2010, faced little opposition on its way to becoming law because of its obviously heinous nature.

But the Anti-Women Practices Bill, introduced by Donya Aziz of Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid had been pending in the National Assembly since 2008.

It is unfortunate that the bill was delayed for so long only because it sought to prevent inhumane practices of which some of the feudal politicians sitting in the National Assembly were themselves guilty.

In fact, a month before it was eventually passed, unjustified and baseless attempts were made in the assembly to block it using one pretext or another.

The women parliamentarians in both Houses should be applauded as they rose above political affiliations and lobbied parliamentarians from their own parties to gather support for these bills.

They have proved the importance of, and need for, women’s presence at every decision-making level.

They have validated the affirmative action taken by Musharraf in 2002 to increase the number of reserved seats for women to 60.

This has translated into the last two parliaments with the highest percentage of women’s participation in the legislative process.

At 22.5 percent average, Pakistan has now the second highest women’s representation in South Asia after Nepal with 33.2 percent.

As women and human rights across the country celebrate a well-deserved victory, efforts are now needed to be concentrated on the practical manifestation of these laws.

Though legislating to end practices used to enforce the perpetrator’s power over the victim was overdue, this is just one step to achieving equal status in society.

The overwhelmingly patriarchal attitudes prevalent in all economic classes mean that the law enforcement agencies are also desensitised about women’s plight.

There needs to be an institutionalised effort to make police stations more women-friendly, and reduce scandalous connotations attached with seeking justice against a family member.

For this purpose, the bill seeking to make the National Commission on the Status of Women an autonomous body must be quickly passed.

Given enough authority, the commission can lead the way in reducing injustice meted out to women.

And as always, all this will take twice as long without the media’s help since, the television channels play a huge role in maintaining or debunking anti-women practices.

At this point, it is necessary to point out that another bill Seeking Penalty for Domestic Violence was approved by the National Assembly in 2009, but was allowed to lapse in the Senate.

A similar bill has been pending in Sindh’s provincial Assembly for the last three years.

The bill once introduced for debate will surely face opposition by conservative legislators who feel domestic issues should remain domestic.

But physical and psychological violence at the hand of a family member is anything but a domestic matter.

A woman who is not safe in her own house should at least be able to seek recourse from the authorities.

Unless violence in all forms, whether inside or outside the house, is made an offence, all social efforts to eliminate it from our lives will be in vain.

The time to end this brutality is now.

Source: Business Recorder