PESHAWAR: Women rights activists and female members of the provincial assembly from a religio-political party seemed to be at odds over the definition of domestic violence during a consultation in the capital city on Friday on lacunae in a bill tabled in the last House on the subject.
“Isn’t it breaking up a family if husband goes to jail for beating up wife,” said veiled woman legislator from Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl Fauzia Bibi justifying domestic violence by giving different cultural and religious perspectives. She ended up saying the passage of the bill would westernise the society.
It seems nothing has ‘changed’ as just like the legislature of the previous PPP-ANP coalition provincial government, some members of the current provincial assembly still seem opposed to the Domestic Violence Bill calling it a western agenda and interference in privacy of homes. PPP woman legislator Noor Sehar had an anti-domestic violence bill in the previous assembly but it remained pending during the five-year term of the last government.
The current draft, circulated among the participant, seems an improved version of the previous bills. “It defines domestic violence as all acts of gender based or other physical or psychological abuse committed by an accused against women, children or any other vulnerable person with whom the accused is or has been in a domestic relationship…,” Uzma Mehboob, a legal consultant and rights’ activist, told the participants at a gathering of MPAs, women rights activists and journalists.
The event was organised jointly by Shirkat Gah and Provincial Commission on the Status of Women to discuss how loopholes could be removed and more members of the provincial assembly Women activists, religious parties differ on domestic violence could be consulted on it.
“Some oppose the bill in the previous assembly saying it would westernise the society and promote divorce, while others called it intrusion in privacy of home,” said Uzma Mehboob.
“This bill is not just for women. It would protect all sharing a household against domestic violence,” said Provincial Commission on the Status of Women chairwoman Neelam Toru dispelling the impression that this bill was just for women who faced violence at the hands of husbands.
Neelam Toru also seemed quite agitated that sometimes in the name of Islam and at others in the name of culture, women were denied rights.
Yet, she seemed hopeful as she said the ongoing consultations with the legislators would help remove lacunae and pave the way for tabling the bill in the provincial assembly to become a law.
The struggle to make law to prevent domestic violence in the province has been going on since 2005. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa lags behind as Sindh has passed the law and Punjab and Islamabad Capital Territory are preparing such laws.
The attendance of MPAs at the consultation was thin but one woman member of the JUI-F Fauzia Bibi conveyed a mindset, which is still present in the provincial assembly that could be a hurdle to the passage of the bill if it’s ever tabled in the House.
Two legislators of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf however, seemed very positive and suggested that male members of the assembly be taken into confidence.
“The draft should be polished and if it has nothing in conflict with Islam, then lobbying with the 99 members to pass it is needed. I hope it will become a law,” said Zarin Zia, an MPA from PTI.
A number of women rights activists said domestic violence existed in every household. There was a need to make a law to deter such behaviours as defined in the bill.
“Many feel domestic violence is not our issue but it is very much happening in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,” said Sherin Javed, programme officer working with Aurat Foundation, who compiled data of violence against women under a project.
Roohi, another young woman rights activist, who works with a shelter for women victims of violence, said she had dealt with many cases of domestic abuse. “There may be concerns regarding implementation of laws in our country, but it doesn’t mean we don’t need such special laws,” she said.
Treating women with love and care and giving them due share in inheritance are rights of women in Islam, which doesn’t say confining them to the four walls as is projected by religious bigots, said a woman rights activist, who seemed to be bent on going with lobbying for the legislation on the issue of domestic violence.