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Keeping women down

The kind of action we have seen repeated again and again from a National Assembly still dominated by men – despite the entry of more women to the chamber – is disappointing, to say the least.

A bill that could have gone a long way in empowering women mainly by granting them rights over inheritance was blocked by male legislators for the second time in two weeks, using what can only be termed as the most flimsy of excuses.

What is obvious is that our law-makers do not wish to see the women who make up 50 per cent of the population move to a more equal status and are willing to go to virtually any length to prevent this. What was especially saddening was the sight of members of the PPP – a party led through some of its toughest years by a woman – join ranks with those blocking the bill.

The potentially historical bill in question, authored primarily by Dr Donya Aziz, was titled the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill and sought essentially to penalise practices like forced marriages and ‘marriages’ with the Holy Quran, a practice mainly aimed at depriving women of property inheritance.

The bill, passed by the house committee, was deferred on October 11 for a week after National Assembly Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza referred it back to the law ministry and Justice Fakhrunnisa Khokar for some minor amendments in clauses pointed out by legislators. But despite this, trivial objections from law-makers, including the PPP’s dissenting former law minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, backed by some representatives of the PML-N, the PML-Q and the PPP, led to the bill being set aside once again.

The approach adopted reflects the attitude of those who run the affairs of our land, and also, at a broader level, the vast majority of men in the country. Their attitudes need to change if the plight of women is ever to alter. Today, a huge number remain victims of practices rooted in medieval times, and this will not change till our legislators show a readiness to alter the mindsets that prevent them from abandoning perceptions and ideas about women built over many centuries.

Source: The Express Tribune