03/09/2016, 19.43
PAKISTAN
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Punjab: activists want to see women’s protection bill enacted

by Kamran Chaudhry

The provincial assembly is cracking down on violence against women. Under new legislation, husbands can be punished for their violence. However, the law has not yet been enacted. For a Catholic mother, “husbands will have to be more careful because neighbours can call the police.” For a Muslim widow, the law “can only make matters worse. Our in-laws never forget.”

Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s main women’s groups have expressed concern with the delay in the enactment of the Protection of Women against Violence Act passed by the Punjab Provincial Assembly last month.

"Domestic violence targets women of all faiths. But the problems of marginalised women from religious minorities are usually neglected,” said lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani, a Muslim. “Their situation is very worrisome," she added.

Ms Jilani spoke yesterday on the sidelines of a conference held at the Lahore Press Club for International Women's Day.

The Women Action Forum, the conference main organiser, as well as a number of Church-based women organisations have welcomed the new law.

The new legislation declares domestic violence an offence for the first time in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, but it also criminalises abusive language, stalking and cybercrimes against women.

However, the Act has been with criticism from prominent religious leaders, who object to the punishment provisions, which involve installing a GPS tracker on violent husbands and even banishing them from home for 48 hours. 

The Council of Islamic Ideology, a religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam, has already declared the women's protection bill as un-Islamic.

"Instead of being troubled by the new bill, both conservative politicians and clerics should avoid an insulting attitude and poking fun,” Jilani said.

“The Council members should also think of issues like poverty and stop deciding about the length of veils for women or approving child marriages. Besides, two provinces, led by Muslim legislators, have already passed better laws for women", she explained.

AsiaNews asked two women, one Catholic and one Muslim, to give their views about the law.

Based on their observations, they conclude that violence against women is not a problem that affects only husbands, but touches the whole of society.

Iram Sardar, a Catholic mother of two, said International Women’s Day is necessary for women empowerment. Married ten years ago, she views the celebration as an event that “makes us feel we exist”. Now “women can file a complaint, and husbands will have to be more careful because neighbours can call the police.”

Conversely, Nargis Shabir, a Muslim widow, is more critical of the new law. Speaking to AsiaNews, she said that from what she read on posters, the law “can harm our established family system. Going to police or to court can only make matters worse. Our in-laws never forget.”

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