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Women’s bill: will it solve problems?

THE landmark ‘Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2011’ bill was finally approved in the National Assembly unanimously. Its laudation is in order for the government for taking an extremely positive step towards women emancipation.

In a society that is strictly tied to its cultural and traditional roots, women are treated more as a commodity and symbol of honour than a human being.

There have been countless unpleasant incidents of torture inflicted on women. This bill at least gives some hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

The five-clause bill specifically deals with the cases where a woman is forced to enter in a marriage as badal-i-sulh, wanni or swara or any other practice to settle a feud, prohibition of forced marriage, prohibition of depriving women of the rights of inheritance and prohibition of marriage with the Holy Quran.

As regards prohibition of marriage with the Quran, the bill tackles a ritual which is often rife in feudal families of Sindh and Punjab.

The bill provides for at least 10 years’ jail and a fine of Rs1m for using deceitful means to deprive a woman of inheritance, and up to seven years and a minimum of three years with Rs0.5m as fine for compelling or facilitating the “marriage of a woman with the Holy Quran”.

It now remains to be seen whether the upper house follows up a bold step and, more importantly, whether a sincere effort is shown by the authorities concerned to implement it.

We can say that the newly- passed bill in its objectives mentioned that the legislation aimed at reducing social injustice against women by proposing severe punishments, which is commendable.

However, we should not forget that in Sindh alone some 1,000 forced marriages take place every year of which a mere 12 to 15 per cent come to notice. The rest die suffocating under ‘political influence’ and the power of money. The ones presented before courts linger due to fake documents, absent respondents and missing witnesses.

Women are still raped, killed for ‘honour’, harassed at the workplace, etc. Does passing a bill and making it into a law and then leaving it to rot on shelves help? So far, it hasn’t.

Again it has to be said that though the bill in itself is well-intentioned and a step in the right direction, the overall circumstances and prevailing mindset remain a far, bigger obstacle.

This bill, however, can be considered a watershed for women in the country as it was authored by a woman, and passed in an assembly which is governed by another woman.

Here I congratulate the bill mover, Dr Doniya Aziz, as well as Speaker Dr Fehmida Mirza who also played a vital role. She had consulted every parliamentarian, whether male or female, and unanimously passed the Anti-Women Practices Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2008 with the full support of the house.

We all must appreciate the services and vision of Benazir Bhutto by paying tribute to her as she had always given high priority to legislation that protected the rights of women.

Sindh MPA, Thatta

Source: DAWN