- Pakistan -- Thursday, December 14 2006 -- Zeeqaa'd 22 , 1427 A.H
A ray of hope
Report on an analytical discussion on Women Protection Bill and its repercussions on the Pakistani women at a seminar Representatives of a wide spectrum of NGOs, ranging from burka-clad rightists to moderate liberals, participated in a cerebral discussion on the controversial Women Protection Bill (WPB) at a meeting called by the Karachi Women’s Peace Committee (KWPC). Subsequently, they passed a resolution strongly supporting the Bill as a first step towards ending the problems which women faced due to the Hudood Ordinances.
With Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi and lawyer Rashida Patel detailing the structure and framework of the Bill, its highlights were convincingly presented by the Aurat Foundation’s director, Anees Haroon who also sharply rebutted the arguments against it offered vociferously by members of some religious NGOs.
Stating at the outset that women can protect themselves only through their own efforts, Nargis Rehman, founder and Chairperson of KWPC, invited the large gathering of activists to debate the issue. Since the Bill has created a schism in the country, the meeting aimed to bring people together and convey to the government, on behalf of the women’s NGOs and civil society, their joint views embodied in the resolutions they passed.
Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, who as former head of the National Commission on the Status of Women had boldly highlighted the innumerable injustices women faced, particularly General Zia’s Hudood Ordinances, said categorically that it not only took away women’s rights but also minorities’ rights, and hence violated the constitution.
She stated that under the Hudood Ordinances, 80-85 per cent of rape victims were booked for adultery or zina and imprisoned. Thirteen members of the Supreme Court wanted the Hudood Ordinances repealed; only two wanted it amended.
In the Bill, only zina and qazaf have been amended via a democratic procedure, as these are man-made laws. The remaining two passages have been left untouched, including the one concerning women’s evidence. The section on adultery has been retained and could be used against girls who marry against their guardian’s wishes, Justice (retd) Rizvi clarified, even though Islam grants females over the age of 16 the right to marry according to their own choice.
Dr Shamim Zainuddin, Director of the Orangi Pilot Project on Health, delivered a fiery oration. Declaring that the law was not in line with the Quran and Sunnah, she stressed that it had caused great grief, particularly to the poor women. She described the Bill as a ray of light in the surrounding darkness. She also warned that implementing it would be a big problem.
Dr Zainuddin was followed on the rostrum by Humera Qureshi, President of the Working Women’s Organisation. She not only questioned that the Bill was in line with Islam, but also attempted to negate the earlier speakers’ standpoints and called the Bill ‘a stab in the back of all NGOs’. “We don’t agree with this Bill,” she concluded.
In the Bill, only zina and qazaf have been amended via a democratic procedure, as these are man-made laws. The remaining two passages have been left untouched, including the one concerning women’s evidence
Stating that there is no priesthood in Islam, Aurat Foundation’s Anees Haroon voiced the views of all thinking people when she announced, “I don’t need a maulvi to reach God.” Her logical and rational arguments against the controversial law under which she said women have suffered greatly, won loud applause. One by one, she countered the religious lobby’s arguments against the WPB, and clarified that their support for the law was erroneous and ill founded.
Haroon was followed by Simi Kamal, a member of the NCSW, who emphasised that it has taken Pakistan 27 years to amend the damaging law only because the people and the government listen not to their own Islamic Ideology Council but to a small, vocal group of maulvis who raise pointless objections to all meaningful improvements in women’s status.
She blamed tribal and traditional rules and customs (widely used to suppress women) for helping to reduce half the country’s population to second class citizens. Insisting that the law needs to be repealed, she nevertheless welcomed it as a first step. Kamal also wants the focus to shift to other larger crimes such as honour killings, forced marriages and marriage to the Quran etc.
Rehana Afroze tried to offer an opposing view towards the WPB. “The government should reform the police and prevent them from exploiting imprisoned women. It is wrong to criticise the Hudood Ordinances for the shortcomings of the police,” she said.
Laila Sarfaraz, President of APWA, congratulated the government for passing the WPB and hoped that it would also repeal the Hudood Ordinances. She pointed out certain loopholes in the Bill, such as its failure to deal with the age of marriage, or instances of gang rape etc.
Rashida Patel, senior lawyer and President of Pakistan Women Lawyers’ Association (PAWLA), pointed out that far from serving to bring down sexual crimes, the Hudood Ordinances, promulgated in 1979, significantly helped raise the instances of violence against women.
She mentioned some of the benefits of the WPB. For example, while hadd continues for zina, it has been moved back to the Pakistan Penal Code. However, hadd will no longer apply to rape; a fact for which she expressed relief as this would help to reduce the number of rape cases considerably.
Patel also highlighted one of the main failings of the Hudood Ordinances. Rape under this pernicious ordinance was converted into adultery and it was the victim who ended up in jail. Hardly any men were ever convicted for committing this monstrous crime against women. Police usually tended to treat women jailed under the Ordinances as prostitutes, she observed.
“I feel very sad when I see women, even educated ones, protest against the Women’s Protection Bill. They are letting political and other extraneous reasons affect their judgment.” The WPB, as she explained very lucidly, is really a very positive step for Pakistani women. The experienced lawyer clarified that, unlike the Ordinances, under which thousands of rape victims were jailed for adultery, under the WPB only men can be convicted for rape.
With Nargis Rehman actively promoting harmony among the women proclaiming sharply divergent views, the question and answer period which started on a heated note, ended in a friendly manner. The welcome tea that followed helped to further cement the linkages of sisterhood.— Naushaba Burney