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Give divorced women more rights, take suggestions from the UAE, urge experts

KARACHI: Ever since the Hudood Ordinance was amended in 2006, no woman has gone to jail on adultery charges in Pakistan, said Anis Haroon at a conference on Wednesday.

The social activist was addressing the audience at an event focused on the UN’s ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’ organised by the US consulate at Marriot Hotel.

National Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Anis Haroon explained that, under the ordinance, hundreds of women were imprisoned on unsubstantial rape and adultery charges. When the Women Protection Act brought about amendments to it in 2006, not a single woman was arrested on zina (fornication) charges.

According to Haroon, land ownership disputes are one of the causes of violence against women. “It’s a cultural practice not to give inheritance rights to women,” she explained, “where there is less land holding, there is less violence.” She went on to speak on legislations on the rights of women, adding that the bill against harassment at the workplace has prompted several complaints from victims working in banks or private institutions.

She was, however, disappointed with the fate of the bill against domestic violence, which lapsed in the senate. “A major attack came from Islamist ideologists, who believe that this violence should not be recognised as it will increase the rate of divorce.”

As for the rights of divorced women, Justice (retired) Majida Rizvi had an interesting suggestion. She said that a divorced woman, who does not work, should be paid a lump-sum amount of money for the services she rendered at home. “If she has not contributed outside, then her contributions at home should be acknowledged.”

Middle Eastern laws for woman are better than those in Pakistan, observed human rights activist and lawyer, Iqbal Haider.

“I was shocked to find out that the UAE, (despite) being an orthodox country, has better laws,” he said. “Maintenance is granted for one year, and not three months, as compared to Pakistan.” If a man harasses a woman in a marketplace, then he can be arrested right then and there.

According to Justice (retired) Nasir Aslam Zahid, in 2003 and 2004, over half of the women in prisons were there because of the Hudood Ordinance. Now, no new prisoners have been brought in since the amendment in 2006. However, with the success of the amendments, people should not stop struggling to repeal the Hudood Ordinance, he said.

For his part, US Consul-General William J Martin felt that it was shocking that, even in the 21st century, one in three women around the world experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. “Women’s participation in society is a mark of development and social enlightenment,” he said. “We all have to speak out against brutality to women, and will not tolerate their exclusion from society.”

Even women in the assembly are not safe, said MPA Humaira Alwani. They are harassed by their male counterparts, something she has experienced many times when trying to speak about her resolutions.

She also spoke of how victims of violence often want to fight but their families settle the matter with compensation. She cited the case of an acid burn victim, Maria Shah, as an example who maintained that the man who attacked her should not be pardoned till the day she died. Her family, however, felt that Rs500,000 were forgiveness enough.
Source: The Express Tribune

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