Protection of Women against Violence Bill: Good but not good enough?

The recently approved Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015 has received a mix response from provincial parliamentarians and civil society organisations.

While the chairperson of the stand committee which approved the bill lauds it as an historic landmark, the opposition and civil society members, on other hand, think the bill has left much to be desired.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Social Welfare Standing Committee Chairperson Punjab Assembly Member (MPA) Shuakat Manzoor Cheema termed the bill an important step towards empowering women. The chairperson said that the bill will go a long way in addressing grievances of women of the province as it makes landmark provisions aimed at strengthening women.

Cheema’s colleague from the opposition, Dr Nausheen Hamid of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), however, feels otherwise. Hamid termed the bill incomplete and said, “The proposed protection law does not consider various forms of physical and non-physical violence as crime. The issue of domestic violence should ideally be seen as a crime against state for it to be an effective deterrence.”

She also said that many of the clauses in the bill are unpractical and against the social norms of the society.

The bill has also drawn criticism from many women rights organisations who termed it limited in nature.

Speaking to Pakistan Today, Dina Arham of Shirkat Gah said, “We believe this law will only serve as a band-aid on a gaping wound. By addressing the consequences of violence and not the social evil that underlies it, the government is providing temporary and not permanent solutions.”

Women rights organisations in a campaign after the bill was approved by cabinet stressed the need to introduce criminalisation of act of violence.

“A protective law on violence against women, must criminalise domestic violence, a form of violence that is inflicted on thousands of women and girls in Punjab every year. The socio-cultural reality of Pakistan is that institutions of justice do not view violence committed in the home as a public matter and therefore refrain from pursuing legal action,” said Ms Arham, a woman rights activist.

Civil Society Organisations which worked closely with the provincial government to draft the original version of domestic violence bill has urged the government to debate the bill at a public hearing so that the opinion of notable lawyers, civil society organisations, including those working for women’s rights and persons with expertise on the issue can be taken into account.

Welcoming the initiative, Provincial Commission on the Status of Women Chairperson Fauzia Viqar has hailed the bill.

Talking to Pakistan Today, Viqar said, “The Bill provides for an effective protection system for women survivors of domestic, emotional, psychological and verbal, economic abuse, stalking and cybercrime. It also provides for rescue of women who have been wrongfully confined and filing a case of habeas corpus for such women”.

Elaborating the salient features of the proposed law, she said Violence against Women Centres (VAWC) and shelters will be established in all districts under a phased programme. Women will also get protection through residence orders, protection orders and monetary orders that ensure the victim will not only be protected but she will also receive monetary compensation for losses suffered.

“The protection system in the bill is one of its kind and a major improvement over similar institutions where they exist in the South Asian region,” said Ms Viqar.

The bill strengthens existing shelters for women and aims to create shelters where there is a need.

Planned Violence against Women Centres will house all related facilitation services under one roof, including police desks for the registration of FIR; a female medico-legal officer of the Health Department for medical examination, dedicated staff along with necessary infrastructure for collection of forensic evidence and a psychologist for psycho-social counselling of women survivors of violence.

“District Women Protection Committees will also be created to monitor violence against women and provide support to women survivors of violence in their districts. It is expected that documentation of cases by the various institutions under this law will help obtain an accurate picture of violence against women and strengthen prevention and protection measures in the province,” she added.

The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women chairperson said the bill and protection mechanisms contained within it will be crucial in terms of prevention and protection of women who are subjected to violence at home and outside.

The proposed bill is likely to be tabled in the assembly after the budget session scheduled on June 10.

Earlier, the bill received principle approval on April 16, from Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and on May 20, the provincial cabinet gave approval of the bill after which it was tabled at the floor of the house only to be referred to the Standing Committee the same day.

Two domestic violence private member bills were also submitted in the Punjab Assembly. Pakistan Muslim League assembly member Dr Samia Amjad moved bill (2008-2012) but it was rejected. Another bill was submitted in the assembly by PTI MPA Dr Nausheen Hamid on January 17, 2014 but it was also rejected because it was a monetary bill.

Hassan Naqvi

The writer is a Lahore-based journalist who covers politics, economy and militancy. He can be reached on Twitter at: @Hassannaqvi5



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