The Rejection of the Domestic Violence Bill and Women’s Safety
“As a woman, do you feel safe in Pakistan?”
I have asked 25 women this question, and 92% of them answered that they do not. The most upsetting revelation from this poll is that it is not a revelation at all. It is not surprising in the least. But that is just a small poll. Zia Ahmed Awan, the founder of Madadgaar Helpline, reported in 2017 that 93% of women in Pakistan experience sexual violence in their lifetime. The Pakistani NGO, White Ribbon, revealed that between 2004 and 2016, 4734 women were victims of sexual violence, 5500 were kidnapped, and 15,000 were victims of honour crimes. They also reported 51,241 cases of violence against women between 2011 and 2017; these are only the number of women reported; it is safe to assume the number is far more significant as many are swept under the rug. Even though the number of women victims of such abuse is gut-wrenchingly large, the same cannot be said for the number of convictions. 2.5% of abusers from reported cases are convicted by courts, a slap in the face for any woman to hear. Now either 97.5% of women are lying about being abused and harassed, or the justice system is broken. When statistics like these exist, it is amazing how many still believe women make a big deal out of the injustice they face just for being women.
In 2020, Shireen Mazari, the Pakistani Minister of Human Rights, wrote the Domestic Violence Bill. This statute took women’s side in a country that is known for being a danger towards them. The bill highlighted abuse against vulnerable people such as the elderly, children, and, most importantly, women. Domestic abuse against women has only skyrocketed since the pandemic started. They have no choice but to stay at home with minimal time outside; many have lost their financial stability means, which makes them vulnerable; it is a trying time for women living in unfortunate situations. It is time to implement such a bill into the Constitution so that the women of Pakistan can have the law on their side.
The bill states that domestic violence “shall mean all acts of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse committed by a respondent against women, children, vulnerable persons, or any other person with whom the respondent is or has been in a domestic relationship that causes fear, physical or psychological harm to the aggrieved person.” It gives examples of emotional, psychological, and verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and economic abuse such as:
- “bringing false allegation upon the character of a female member or any member of the shared household.”
- “a repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy causing repeated invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity and security.”
- “any conduct of a sexual nature that abuses, humiliates. degrades or otherwise violates the dignity of the vulnerable person or any other person.”
- “intentional deprivation of economic or financial resources or prohibition or restriction to continue access to such resources to which aggrieved person is entitled to under any law or custom for the time being in force.”
The Domestic Violence Bill is well written and would have been an asset to Pakistani women, especially those who are of the lower class since it seems as though every force in the world is working against them. The bill is comprehensive and includes more people than just women; it would have made things better for children, the elderly, servants, and, contrary to popular belief, men. However, many have raised concerns about this bill, and Imran Khan has now sent it to the Council of Islamic Ideology to review it. Many are worried the bill has un-Islamic points that would go against the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 227 states that “all existing laws shall be brought in conformity with the Injunctions of Islam as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah” and “no law shall be enacted which is repugnant to such Injunctions.”
To be clear, the Senate of Pakistan had already approved this bill, but Imran Khan was still concerned it might be un-Islamic and sent it to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Meaning a woman wrote a bill to help women, the bill was passed by a senate with women on it, but a man had concerns and sent it to a council that only consists of men. Interestingly, the government fears this bill goes against article 227 when the one right after it, article 228, states that at least one woman has to be appointed to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Yet, it only consists of 12 men. It seems following the Constitution is only mandatory to prevent the women of Pakistan from being safe.
Many argue that the clothes women wear nowadays is giving a bad reputation to Islam, and maybe it is. It’s a good thing that calling a bill that intends to end domestic violence is being called anti-Islamic; surely that won’t give the impression that Islam approves violence against women. Many Pakistani men have taken to Twitter to use the hashtag #domesticviolencebill_rejected as they believe it will bring disaster to the country. It is outstanding to see how much support women have.
Since the prime minister sent the bill to the Council for review, at least five women have already been murdered in domestic abuse cases; the number is most likely much higher as many cases are never reported. The most infamous case is Noor Mukadam, daughter of Ambassador, Shaukat Mukadam; Zahir Jaffer, a privileged son of wealthy parents gruesomely murdered Noor by beheading her. Even though he brutally murdered Noor, he is still being handled with respect in this case as people refer to him as “Zahir Saab”. We then have Naseem Bibi, a mother who was raped and murdered by a monster named Wajid Ali, along with her 14-month-old son. He slashed her neck because she tried to defend herself from his sexual assault. The next victim was Bushra, wife of Muhammad Raza Ali. Her husband has been abusive for years; Bushra couldn’t leave the household as she had no other means of survival. Unfortunately, she had no means of life with that man as he took hers away by a bullet and injured his two children, Saima and Danyal Ali. These are only a few of the cases that have happened in July. News like this causes a lot of conversation to occur amongst the country’s citizens; from one side, the dialogue is “Why didn’t she leave him? Why did she meet him? Why was she in that place at that time?”. The other questions that take place are, “Am I next? Will my daughters be safe? Are my friends okay? Will we ever be safe anywhere?”
Women have been victims of abuse everywhere, in the streets, on the road, in a bazaar, at a mosque, in school, during Hajj, and even in their own homes. It’s absurd for people to say, “if she didn’t want to be a victim, she should’ve stayed home” If only home were a guaranteed haven.
It is no secret that women are physically weaker than men that they have fewer privileges, and their status is lower than men’s. It is why women need men to help in this fight. Women would have never been granted the right to vote in North America if it wasn’t for men helping them in the movement. Women would still be sold for a dowry or buried at birth if it wasn’t for the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), a man who stopped such inhumane actions. Men have an essential part to play in the rights, safety, and security of women. It is time for them to stand by the other gender and help end such atrocities. The first step is to bring the Domestic Violence Bill into place to protect the women who need it the most.