By: Faiza Ilyas
KARACHI: Speakers at a seminar on domestic violence on Thursday criticised the provincial government for delaying the enactment of a law on domestic violence and said a major hurdle in this regard was the mindset of many male lawmakers who did not consider the issue worth legislating about.
The speakers added that there were some lawmakers who looked at civil society organisations struggling for women’s rights with suspicion.
The bill on domestic violence was not a declaration of war against men, they explained, adding that it was aimed at ensuring that women got an opportunity to have a better life that would in turn benefit society.
The seminar, Provincial dialogue on the domestic violence bill , was organised by the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) in collaboration with Aurat Foundation.
Legislation on the subject was a need of the hour, as domestic violence affected a complete cross section of society and was not just restricted to rural, illiterate settings as was generally perceived, they said.
Tracing the history of the bill on domestic violence, the speakers informed the audience that the bill was passed by parliament in 2009 but it lapsed when it wasn’t taken up in the senate within a specific time.
Following the passage of the 18th constitutional amendment, the bill could only be taken up by the provincial assembly where the bill had been introduced as a private member bill in 2008 and had not been vetted by the law committee so far, they said. Efforts were on to press the government to introduce the bill in the assembly, they added.
“No government performs without pressure from civil society. And, I think it’s the best time that we push for the legislation as the government seems to be looking for a pro-women legislation before it leaves in one-and-a-half years,” said Anis Haroon, who heads the NCCW.
She added the job shouldn’t be left to the next assembly as nobody could be sure about its composition.
She also expressed her reservation over the implementation of the bill once it was passed by the provincial assembly and said the local government system could have helped in its implementation at the grass-root level.
“Nobody wants the bill to end in a fiasco. With the political scene favouring the commissioner system, one has to think how the piece of law could benefit the masses,” she remarked.
She laid emphasis on the fact that the bill would also benefit minorities.
Commenting on the law against harassment of women at workplace, Ms Haroon said the fact that a large number of cases had been registered under the relevant law enacted last year showed that it was actually benefiting women.
There was a dire need to appoint ombudsmen in provinces who could take up complaints under the act and set up committees for women protection in departments that had not yet established such bodies, she said.
Dispelling the impression that domestic violence bill was only meant for women, Advocate Maliha Zia, who has been involved in preparing the draft bill, said that it included all acts of physical and psychological abuse committed by an accused against any vulnerable person with whom the accused was or had been in a domestic relationship. Stalking had also been included in the draft, she said.
“The complainant has been provided with the opportunity to directly approach court. The court at any stage can grant temporary custody of an aggrieved person to a service provider or some other person in accordance with the will of the aggrieved,” she said.
Minister for Women Development Tauqir Fatima Bhutto acknowledged that long delay had already been caused in presenting the bill in the assembly and said the law minister was too occupied with other work that he had not given time for a discussion on the bill.
Recalling past efforts, Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Ahmed Khuhro said that 32 private bills were presented in the previous assembly but none of them were accepted. Not even the one related to the construction of ramps in buildings for physically-challenged persons.
Adviser to the chief minister Sharmila Farooqui, MPA Humaira Alwani and Aurat Foundation representatives Mehnaz Rehman, Shireen Ejaz and Rubina Brohi also spoke.