- Pakistan’s laws on women scream for reform
That plain speaking and persistent champion of social causes regarded as provocative by ‘polite society’ and usually conveniently swept under the carpet, Farhatullah Babar, has shone the spotlight on another dark and deep-rooted aspect of our national milieu and culture, the ‘outlaw’ status of women, unprotected under existing laws, and helpless prey to the most barbaric practices, especially in rural backwaters. Shameful and anomalous in the modern age, terms like ‘honour killing’, ‘karo-kari’ and ‘wani’ have become familiar usage in our lexicon, and most people scarcely bat an eyelid when another horrific incident is reported and soon forgotten. The widely abused Qisas and Diyat law is a handmaiden of the rich and powerful, who literally get away with murder by harassing and threatening the heirs of their victims into submission, in case they are not amenable to compensation. In parts of southern Punjab, Balochistan and especially in Sindh, tribal elders or jirgas and village panchayat’s impose harsh and inhumane punishment on the weaker sex, based merely on suspicion or as a consequence of a crime committed by their male relatives. This may be a hideous ‘premature burial’ or being buried alive, rape as revenge, paraded naked in public, or equally tormenting, forced marriage to a man old enough to be the victim’s grandfather. Even apex court orders are circumvented by these powerful individuals and groups.
As a signatory to the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Pakistan urgently needs to tighten its pro-women legislation in view of the grievous ground situation, as for instance by considering pardon of an offender only after his court conviction to discourage blatant honour killing, and by introducing and strictly implementing a wide-ranging women Bill of Rights. The Council of Islamic Ideology could be a vehicle for change, but its past decisions, rebuffing the 2006 Women Protection Bill, permitting child marriage, rejecting DNA evidence and holding that assent of the first wife is not necessary for re-marriage, appear reactionary and hardly beacons of hope. Strict judicial intervention, education and strongest condemnation of such heinous crimes by civil society and media can succeed in breaking the fetters of ignorance and prejudice.