Women over mullahs

The losers have beards

Whenever women are talked about in Pakistan a storm is brewed; the recent Women Protection Law 2016 is no different.

It is the right of every citizen to be protected and it is the state’s duty to ensure that, but women do not seem to fall under the ‘citizen’ criteria for the mullah committee of the country.

Religious scholars belonging to all schools of thought untied and stated that the Women Protection Law 2016 is un-Islamic. Fazlur Rehman, the chief of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam said, “This law makes a man insecure. This law is an attempt to make Pakistan a western colony again.”

“These mullahs see themselves as the offenders hence the rebuttal,” Nighat Dad, a lawyer and founder of Digital Rights Foundation said while talking to DNA.

The discussion on the act had started more than a year ago because of which it was delayed, “Civil society, MPAs, religious scholars; all of these people were consulted before passing the bill. But when it comes to protecting women it seems like no amount of consultation is enough,” Fauzia Waqar, Chairperson Punjab Commission of the Status of Women, told DNA.

The Islamic view

“The current bill has been imposed on us by foreign countries; it is just to make them happy and not actually for the women,” Siraj-ul-Haq, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, said during an exclusive conversation with Pakistan Today.

He further said that the current act is against women and that they are working on an alternative act with the consultation of women, the Holy Quran and the Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH).

“They didn’t consult Muslim scholars and they didn’t even get enough votes to pass the bill in the assembly, that is because the bill is against the protection of women and Islam,” he said while unresponsive to questions.

He further ensured DNA that his party was in the favour of empowering women through all means and a lady lawyer was part of the team working on the alternative women protection act.

He added that the law would be the undoing of all marriages and divorces would increase.

“The ‘kara’ (GPS bracelet) will become grounds for divorces and marital dispute.”

Fauzia Waqar, on the other hand, stressed that “GPS bands would only be issued to men who commit serious crimes.”

Yet Siraj-ul-Haq stressed that the police and the system were corrupt and they would never want any family to live happily.

“If the husband is removed from his house; who will guard the house then? These corrupt people who treat women so badly in jails and police stations?” he asked.

Though the act isn’t perfect and some reservations might be true, what is incomprehensible is the inflexibility towards the act.

A new bill

The government seems adamant to protect women who face domestic violence.

“What these people fail to understand is that this law is especially for women who face violence every day to the extent that they suffer from brain damage,” said Fauzia Waqar, Chairperson Punjab Commission of the Status of Women.

She explained that previously when women tried to complain, police couldn’t help them as there were no laws or provisions under which they could register a complaint, now they do.

She also added that women who complain are ones who have had enough and the government is ready to provide for them. “The government has launched women protection centres. If they improve the Darul Aman’s, that would also be a good shelter for women,” she added.

At the moment the government is waiting but is definitely not pressurised by the mullahmovement.

“The mullahs are just trying to gain political traction and probably want concessions in other areas. This debate is totally unnecessary. They are further ruining their own image by standing by the beater, not by the beaten,” she emphasised.

Civil society thinks the act is still weaker than that of Sindh and Balochistan.

Fearing to sound like the mullahs in their criticism, civil society activists have avoided talking about the flaws in the Act. The Act is very much welcomed and needed for the women of Punjab but at the same time, it is not perfect.

In 2013 the Sindh government passed its law, The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013 and in 2014 Balochistan passed The Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention And Protection) Act No. 7 of 2014, both of which criminalise the act of violence against women. The Punjab act is more about deterrence.

“It is touching people’s privacy on an intimate level and state’s interference won’t be much appreciated,” said Sahera Bano, a consultant working with the Aurat Foundation.

“It is a good start but I feel it is a step forward and two steps back; they did make the act but didn’t criminalise the violence,” said Nighat Dad, a lawyer and founder of Digital Rights Foundations.

Her reservations regarding the law related to its technical aspects, which she feels should be handled once the mullah pressure subsides.

“The introduction of GPS tracker would have some repercussions which we aren’t ready for. When a new system is brought in it should have some foundation,” she said, explaining that the new technology is something never used before in Pakistan under the law and the system itself needs to be protected for various reasons.

“The norm around social surveillance could become very common. Already the market is full of cheap software with which partners keep an eye on each other,” she added. The new GPS band could be used for far worse things; hence a protection mechanism should be built to protect the privacy of each citizen.

“The definition of cyber crime isn’t clear, so women don’t know how they can be harassed even that needs to be cleared before the implementation of law,” said Dad.

Among other things, the act needs more awareness campaigns; the debate needs to be addressed. It also needs to be simplified for the layman to comprehend.

Right wing’s powerlessness

“The public is the biggest asset and strength. If Pakistanis wanted to be governed by Islam alone, we would have already had an Islamic ruling party. But the people have chosen democracy and moderate Islam,” said Sahera Bano.

“Fazul Rehman’s threats are powerless until the public wants them to be. Plus this is just a publicity stunt.”

“I think they can’t do anything, it is up to the government now to show them who is actually in control,” said Nighat Dad.

Originally Published in Pakistan Today

The article was quoted in the Friday Times Blog