By Shazia Shaheen
While unpacking the fervent resistance by religious leaders and political elite against the recently passed Women’s Protection Bill, one need to understand the well thought intentions behind this unacceptability and complete denial. Keeping aside women’s agenda and rights of most marginalised constituency of the country, the purpose of this uproar is not as simple as it is deliberated at many forums, including press communiqués, joint press conferences and establishment of grand alliance against the law.
The opponents of the law are neither concerned of family values nor just innocently making hue and cry, but are shrewdly exploiting the democratic terrain in the name of religion to uphold their supremacy coupled with deep-rooted patriarchy. The contenders are not mindful of Islamic or un-Islamic clauses of the protection. They fear defeat; the foremost wedge of their constituency will be sliced very soon in the name of whom they have been securing their ranks in Pakistan’s most powerful institution, the parliament, since the dawn of the country.
The present regime’s attempts to establish a more progressive outlook of the country is frightening them of their forthcoming overthrow. The enlightening prospects of the nation are intimidating them, thus putting aside their faith-based differences. They are joining hands together to best maintain their status quo while bargaining on women’s agenda. Deep entrenched patriarchy combined with religious branding is not letting them absorb an awakening era of progressive discourse, which of course does not serve the interests of the masters.
The vehement debate around the law is increasing insecurity among those who have been exploiting and mistreating women for centuries. The 'clerics' have never uttered a word against other odds and ordeals taking place across the country. Just wondering, had they ever stood united to pass a resolution or underscored in joint press statements when innocent souls in Kasur were sexually assaulted and their blue prints were vended in streets, leaving families and children in life-long misery.
The 'leaders' of the country maintained usual silence when the nose of a woman was chopped after she was brutally assaulted by her husband in Vehari, a remote district of south Punjab. The 'guards' of family values remained silent when a five-year-old minor was gang-raped in Lahore and the rapists were never arrested. What kind of family values are being cherished and guarded by our leaders when women are burnt alive by their in-laws or husbands because of dowry, giving birth to girls or not fulfilling the unjustified demands of husbands? Why so much uproar on women's protection because they will reject such abusive, maltreated conjugal relationships?
The politics of convenience is not startling the opponents that they are griling the democratic constituent legislature, who have sworn prior to sitting in the parliament that they will abide by the very founding values of the state and safeguard the people whom they are representing. The threat call to an elected legislature to repeal or invoke the law could be dealt as a “high treason” case. The ‘heaven preachers’ putting women in hell have even trashed the recent precedent set by themselves. They were all on the same page only a year ago.
The prevailing politics of comfort and continued maltreatment of women while undermining the progression of the country have pushed Pakistan to the extent where it is ranked as the third most dangerous country for women to live in. According to a recent report published by the law and order wing of the Special Monitoring Unit (SMU) Punjab, every day at least six women are murdered or face a murder attempt; at least eight women are raped, another 11 are assaulted and 32 are abducted for various reasons.
The first ever Punjab Gender Parity Report 2016 revealed 6,505 cases of violence - 2,720 rape and gang rape, 666 murder, 588 beating, 173 honour killings and 22 acid attack cases - against women were registered in 2015 alone. However, only one per cent or 81 perpetrators were convicted. This important report also traced a consistent rise in cases of violence against women in the last four years - with rape, murder and honour killings taking the top spot.
In this alarming context and deplorable status of women in Punjab, instead of appreciating the democratic institutions for promulgating this long-awaited women-friendly law, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has disqualified the law, challenged the writ of state and threatened the elected government by establishing a grand alliance against their own constituency, which they fear.
Shazia Shaheen is a human rights defender and a senior programme specialist at Strengthening Participatory Organisation.