Just recently, the Punjab government (And I am no fan of them politically) passed, Unanimously, the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act. I consider this a huge first step in making the Pakistani public and private sphere better and safer for women, and my hope is that the federal government and other provinces will also soon come up with concrete measure and laws and institution to enhance the protection of women. It goes without saying that a lot of acts of epistemic and physical violence go unreported in Pakistan, and since we never really built the social safety net, there is often no legal recourse for battered and abused women. This law does two things: It gives us a legal definition of violence, and provides a method of reporting such violence. Furthermore, the law also mandates the provincial government to create a system of reporting, creation of shelters for battered women, and to create a functional offices that oversee the welfare of the victims.
I have read the bill line by line and would like to highlight some important aspects of it below:
The bill defines the domestic violence as follows:
domestic violence” means the violence committed by the defendant with whom the aggrieved is living or has lived in a house when they are
related to each other by consanguinity, marriage or adoption. (emphasis added)
“violence” means any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime;
The three instructive terms above ( consanguinity, marriage or adoption) pretty much cover all women in the private sphere except the female servants/ maids/ or females who might enter a household to work (like the domestic workers). I hope the government would consider those situations in mind while further amending the law, as this violence does not only happen to women living in a household but to also those who work in a household. But overall, I suggest, all of us men would want our female relatives and friends to be protected against all the offenses listed above.
Furthermore, the law also provides for establishment of shelters and also creates a reporting and prosecutorial mechanism. The bill mandates the Punjab government to undertake some concrete measure for its implementation:
Measures for the implementation of the Act
(1) The Government shall:
(a) institute a universal toll free dial-in-number for the aggrieved persons;
(b) establish Protection Centres and shelter homes under a phased programme;
(c) appoint necessary staff at a Protection Centre for mediation and reconciliation between the parties, rescue, medical examination, medical and psychological treatment and legal help of the aggrieved
persons and proper investigation of offences committed against aggrieved persons;
(d) arrange for wide publicity of this Act and the protection system in Urdu and, if necessary, in local languages;
(e) institute a mechanism for the periodic sensitization and awareness of
the concerned public servants about the issues involving women and
the requirements of protection and relief of the aggrieved persons; and
(f) take other necessary measures to accomplish the objective of this Act.
Furthermore, the law will also force the government to establish women’s shelters and to create a regulatory mechanism including the creation of Inspectors’ offices at district level.
Now, a close reading of the bill suggests that not even a single item in the bill is in any way against slam; In fact, the sole purpose of the bill is to provide legal protections and modes of reporting to women who might face domestic abuse. On the whole, this bill just legislates what a civilized “Islamic” nation must do to protect women. One would think that such actions of the government would be welcomed by the Islamic parties, all of whom tend to “espouse” the idea of protecting women as part of their every-day credo. But alas, no such luck.
The so-called religious leaders have already started attacking the law, and it seems none of them have actually read the law. Here are some of the opinions from these so-called “learned” Ulama who are so willing to shape our national destiny:
The Amir of Jammat-e-Islami also found the law a threat to the family values of Pakistan. In my humble opinion, all these “men” are trying to do is to fight for the exclusive male privilege in Pakistan. We know that violence against women has increased in Pakistan in the last decade and so: That IS a fact! Now, I do not want to draw a causal connection between the violence against women and the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, but maybe I should!
All of these so-called Ualma should read the text of the bill and then ask themselves some hard questions. A society that cannot protect the weak and where women are supposed to be silent recipients of male violence or male dictates is irreconcilable with the times in which we live. This law is just the first step: we need more than this! We need the kind of implementation of law that teaches our men that it is never okay to abuse women, not under any pretext!
So, in a nutshell, let us support more such initiatives and let us challenge these demagogues openly so that they cannot just keep forcing us into a religious straightjacket that no one can fit in!