Whether Pro- Women Laws are being Implemented in Pakistan?

Pakistan, since its being has enacted laws to safeguard women. However, laws alone don’t guarantee full protection of women rights, especially when such laws operate within the backdrop of a patriarchal social hierarchy and weak rule of law. But they are important to set legal norms and obligations for a state to honour and fulfil. Undoubtedly, Pakistani society is no different to any patriarchal society where women are kept in derogatory position. Though there are several pro-women laws in Pakistan but lack of implementation remains an issue at macro-level.

Although, Pakistan has given international politics the first executive head of an Islamic state, Benazir Bhutto and other notable women politicians like; Hina Rabbani Khar, Maryam Nawaz, Sherry Rehman and Krishna Kohli. On the contrary, there have been instances like Mukhtaran Mai, Malala Yousafzai and Qandeel Baloch, who have suffered at the hands of violent perpetrators mainly due to social and political reasons.

Pakistan is an Islamic state but unfortunately religion only exists in theory not in practice. Islam as a religion has provided ample rights to women for establishing themselves as a vital part of the society, it provides equal status to women, she has an independent personality, which cannot be subjugated. Most significantly, Islam not only gives basic equality to women, but also equal legal rights. She may adopt all lawful business practices to manage her own livelihood and she is also entitled to inherit property.

However, the true essence of the religion has been compromised, which is evident in Pakistan. Regrettably over a period of time this aspect of equality has been replaced with gender discrimination and inequality, even severe form of violence, which is rampant in Pakistan. One can say that the problem is more cultural than religious.

I will briefly mention some of the laws which have been adopted by Pakistan to safeguard women:

  • Muslim Family Laws Ordinance, 1961, includes laws relating to divorce, polygamy and maintenance, states that a wife can seek legal remedies if the husband fails to maintain his wife adequately.
  • Dowry and Bridal Gifts Restriction Act 1976, restricts the amount of bridal gifts and dowry to 5000 rupees, also states that all property given as a present shall vest in the bride only and failure to comply with the rules of the act shall be punished with imprisonment. (Though the concept of Dowry does not exist in Islam. It is a purely cultural phenomenon)
  • Criminal Law Amendment Act 2004, this act addressed the loopholes in the Pakistan Penal code to prevent crimes committed in the name of Honor.
  • Protection of Women Act 2006, revised the Hudood Ordinance.

(The Hudood Ordinances, criminalised adultery and non-marital consensual sex, it also made a rape victim liable to prosecution for adultery if she cannot produce four male witnesses to the assault, The new Women’s Protection Bill brings rape under the Pakistan Penal Code, which is based on criminal law, not Sharia (Islamic law). The Bill removes the right of police to detain people suspected of having sex outside of marriage, instead requiring a formal accusation in court. Under the changes, adultery and non-marital consensual sex is still an offence but now judges would be allowed to try rape cases in criminal rather than Islamic courts. That does away with the need for the four witnesses and allows convictions to be made on the basis of forensic and circumstantial evidence.)

  • Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, enables women to complain for any harassment faced at their workplace and the act defines harassment as not only physical but also includes verbal and written communication or physical conduct of a sexual nature.
  • Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act 2011, this law prohibits several oppressive and discriminatory customs practised towards women. Customary practices which are criminalized under this act include, giving a female in marriage or otherwise in badla-e sulh, wanni or swara, depriving women from inheriting property and forced marriages.
  • Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011, regulates the manufacturing and supplying of acid and states that the perpetrator shall be imprisoned for a term which may extend to the whole of their life and monetary compensation for the victim.
  • Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection Act 2010, seeks to prevent violence against any person with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt criminal trials for suspected abusers.
  • Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015, this act declares abusive language, physical violence, cybercrimes, emotional and psychological abuse a crime and also created a toll-free universal access number (UAN) to receive complaints. However, this act was only passed by the provincial assembly of Punjab so it remains good law in Punjab only.
  • The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Marriage Functions Act 2018, this bill makes the claiming of dowry a punishable offence and provides that anyone demanding dowry can be punished with imprisonment for a term not exceeding two months and a fine not less than 300,000 rupees.
  • Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Bill 2019, under this law women in farming, fisheries and livestock will not only receive cash for their work, equal to that received by male workers, but will also participate in decision-making.
  • Women’s Property Rights Bill 2020, under this law a woman deprived of her property can file a complaint and get her matter resolved within 60 days

Despite the passing of several women centric laws, why are the circumstances of Pakistani women so disgraceful and discriminatory?

Here lies the real predicament. Regardless of whether it is the military regime or the democratically formed government, both have neglected to address the root of the issue, which is women’s education. It is the pest of illiteracy and obliviousness that has prevented Pakistan from progressing, especially with regards to women.

Low female literacy rate is one of the main causes of women’s deprivation of rights and violence as experienced by them. This situation has led to the social and economic dependence of women which in turn ensures male domination in society.

It is a fact that in the Pakistani society, the flag of the decision making is within a man’s hand. Women’s dependence on her husband socially and economically leads her to tolerate any harassment or abuse towards her. In such a despair atmosphere women feel insecure and vacant and consider themselves to be insufficient without the presence of males.

While the departments of state should be responsible for the execution of existing laws and providing a secure environment, women too need to decolonise themselves from man-made restrictions and patriarchal suppression. This can only be achieved if women are aware of their rights and are empowered to make just demands. It’s not the state they have to battle with but the unenlightened reasoning of Pakistani men.

Well, if I summarise the whole thing in nutshell, it can be said precisely that the despite the fact that there are several statutes promulgated from time to time in order to safeguard interest of women of Pakistan, however they have not achieved the desirable results due to ineffective implementation on the same.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Law Recorder Pakistan.


By: Roja Ahuja

Author is a lawyer. She graduated from Queen Mary University, London and currently pursuing her LLM legal practice course from BPP Law School, London.

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