Pakistan was created for its citizen to be free of discrimination and deprivation they had suffered in the past. Citizens included women, and it was stated that they should stand side by side with men as their companions in all spheres of life. This sentiment was reflected in the constitutional proposals subsequently made. So it is important to know the status of women in Pakistani law or what the law has to offer to women in Pakistan.
In practice however the promise of equality has not only been ignored, but it has also been blatantly violated. In 1995, nearly a half-century after the creation of Pakistan, the National Report for the Fourth UN World Conference for Women had to admit that women continue to suffer in the face of oppressive patriarchal structures, rigid Orthodox norms, and stifling socio-cultural customs and traditions.
Adherence to the status quo, political inertia, and lack of social will have continued women’s historical burden. Legal empowerment of women in Pakistan can only be ensured through the creation of a forward-looking and strong civil society that propels the State to bring positive changes in the constitutional, statutory and customary laws.
Women’s Situation in Pakistan
Studies on women and the state have shown that the State is not a gender-neutral entity Political dispensation at the State level can either reinforce female subordination or support female autonomy.
The changing attitude of the Pakistan State towards women ranges from half-hearted policy measures at best, to inaction and outright discrimination by the enactment of retrogressive law, particularly during the military regime of 1977-88.
The constitution of Pakistan recognizes the principle of equality of all citizens and the right to equal protection of the law. It specifically prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and makes provision for measures of affirmative action by the State.
However, the constitution is silent on critical issues, such as women’s reproductive rights, as well as rights to development or the environment, which are equally relevant for women.
The coexistence of multiple legal systems provides different options for settling contentious issues concerning women’s rights and usually least favorable to women is implemented.
Even the application of Muslim laws is uneven for instance; the lack of protection under statutory law, of women’s religious right to choose a spouse, and the absence of punitive actions for not giving women their share of the inheritance.
Law Hindering the Women’s Development in Society
The law regarding sexual crimes against women heavily favors men. The Zina ordinance confuses rape with adultery and places female victims of the former as well as that accused of the latter at particular risk.
If the court is unable to establish rape, and the woman becomes pregnant, her pregnancy is interpreted as evidence of her compliance in all illegal acts and, therefore, she is to be punished. Large numbers of women in prisons have been falsely and maliciously prosecuted under this law for exercising their legal rights to freedom of choice of marriage.
The law of Evidence (1984) states that the value of the women’s testimony should be considered only half of a man’s even in criminal matters. The Pakistan Citizenship Act (1951) guarantees citizenship by descent only through the father. There is a discrepancy in the minimum age of marriage for girls at sixteen, and for boys at eighteen. Women do not have an equal right to divorce.
The right of divorce given to women through delegation (Tafweez) though permissible in Islam, the attitude of the majority has led to its disuse. Furthermore, the procedures for women seeking divorce are quite complex.
The Muslim family Law Ordinance (1961) brought important reforms by making marriage registration mandatory, introducing a standardized marriage contract form, and laying down a procedure for divorce. However, it did not offer a fair post-divorce settlement.
Pakistan Law Commission has recently taken up this issue and some reform has been recommended which still needs to be implemented by the Government. There is no legislation on domestic violence and honor killing.
These are treated at par with other forms of violence. Cases of violence against women often go unpunished like acid-throwing and stove burning.
Laws Protecting Women’s Rights in Pakistan
The following Laws are enacted to Protecting Women’s Rights in Pakistan
- The Guardians and Wards Act, 1890
- The Foreign Marriage Act, 1903
- Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929
- The Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act, 1939
- The Muslim Families Laws Ordinance, 1961
- West Pakistan Rules under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961
- West Pakistan Family Court Act, 1964
- West Pakistan Family Court Rules, 1965
- Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Act, 1976
- Dowry and Bridal Gifts (Restriction) Rules, 1976
- The Hudood Ordinance, 1979
- Qanun-i-Shahadat Order, 1984 (Law of Evidence)
- The Pakistan Citizenship Act, of 1951 partially amended in 2001
- Amendments in Family Courts Act for Khula, etc, in 2002
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004 (on honour crimes)
- Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006
- Criminal Laws (Amendment) Act, 2010 (on Sexual Harassment)
- Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010
- Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2011
- The Acid Control and Acid Crimes Prevention Act, 2010
- The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011
- (Complete) National Policy on Ending Violence Against Women & Girls
Ray of Hope
Here are seven legislations aimed at protecting Pakistani women. With the passage of time, due to various internal and external factors, our governments have started thinking about protecting the rights of women.
This ray of hope may bring a positive change. The following seven legislations are a big move in this direction.
- Protection of Women Act-2006, Anti-Rape Bill-2014
- Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014
- Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010
- Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2012
- Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011
- The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2010 (on sexual harassment)
- Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2011
Although there is a gradual and increasing acknowledgment of women’s autonomy as a development issue, empirical indicators show that women continue to have a lower quality of life, are disempowered, and face inequality of opportunities in all areas of development, relative to men.
In global and South Asian terms, Pakistani men do not fare well either, as the HDI devised by the UNDP clearly affirms. However, women fare even worse. Discriminatory laws and customs play a crucial role in preserving the status quo.
Serious efforts on the part of the State need to be undertaken to change the situation. The state’s commitment to bringing a positive change in society could be gauged by its gender-sensitive policy initiative and laws enactment processes.
The presence of a strong civil society organization could not only monitor initiatives taken by the State but can also keep pressure on the State apparatuses to bring these changes at their earliest instead of delaying them in the name of other priority issues.
Empowerment of women would require a holistic approach in which all sections of society cooperate and the state play its constitutional role. The burden must be shared by the political parties, media, and ulemas as each one of these sections has failed to give the issue of women’s rights the critical importance it deserves.
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