ONE would have thought that the organisers of a recent workshop in Islamabad on domestic violence against women would be the National Commission on the Status of Women or an NGO concerned with the uplift of women. It was a pleasant surprise when the organisers turned out to be the Council of Islamic Ideology, and amongst the participants was the chairperson of the NCSW. Speakers at the workshop called for a change in the social and cultural attitudes responsible for domestic violence against women. They also urged legislation to curtail the prevalence of physical and mental abuse against women at home. Constitutionally, the CII is an important organisation mandated to vet all laws to ascertain whether they conform to the Sharia. If staffed by reformists, it can strike down obscurantist legislation or suggest amendments. The recent workshop may be an indication of a turning point in the CII’s role in our society.
That the CII has addressed a topic which it would traditionally have avoided touching upon is itself a refreshing change. Moreover, the points raised were pragmatic, reflecting more or less the views of women in general. Thus participants pointed out that women needed to be empowered through education, job opportunities and the provision of basic facilities; and that the right of divorce for women should not be a matter of choice but something that is an integral part of the marriage contract. The workshop also noted the sharp rise in the incidence of violence against women. This is an unhealthy trend that needs to be countered. Cooperation among all segments of society in curtailing violence against women and promoting their uplift will help to ensure better chances of success in our effort to improve the lot of women.