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New women’s bill

With the controversy surrounding the passage of the much-needed Women’s Protection Bill still fresh, the government introduced further legislation in the National Assembly on Tuesday to seek a ban on cruel and unfair customs against women. The introduction of the bill by the president of the Pakistan Muslim League itself touched off a minor controversy inside the lower house, with the Pakistan People’s Party accusing the ruling party of insincerity. It sees in Chaudhry Shujaat’s tabling of the bill as a private member, a ploy to cheat the PPP of the opportunity to sponsor it. Aside from the controversy, and regardless of whether the government is actually trying to score political points through the bill in this electoral year (the PML chief did say that he had introduced it on the instructions of President Musharraf), the legislation is a positive development. Perhaps this is why its introduction faced almost no opposition from the members.

The measure proposes to amend two previous legislations, including last year’s Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill. The objective is the complete outlawing of such unfortunate practices as vani and swara and the custom of ‘marrying’ women to the Holy Quran in Sindh. This particular custom is specifically meant to cheat unmarried women of their share in the family’s property, and one of the other purposes of the new bill is to prevent women’s victimisation in terms of inheritance. Of course, laws in themselves don’t change customs and they seldom have a direct effect on the protection of a victimised section of society. Atrocities against women have continued in Pakistan despite all the legal actions against them. What is really required is a change in social attitudes. However, apart from its practical utility, such legislation — notwithstanding the controversy that it will cause, as this one almost surely will — does help in spreading awareness with regard to the scourge they seek to eliminate.

Source: The News

Date:2/15/2007

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