Looking at the gender parity status of Pakistan, despite a volley of pro-women laws enacted in last four years (since the beginning of the current mandate of elected legislatures in 2013) her ranking in international gender indices has been sliding to the bottom. The Global Gender Gap Report 2016 of the World Economic Forum, Pakistan stood at embarrassing 143 out of 144 countries ranked. The only country that ranked below Pakistan was Yemen. All the South Asian countries were much above in ranking, with India at 87th, Bangladesh 72nd, Sri Lanka 100th, Nepal 110th, Maldives 115th and Bhutan at the 121st position. Even the war torn Middle Eastern countries like Syria performed slightly better than Pakistan with a place at 142 on the world ranking. Pakistan has been ranked as the second worst country in the world for gender equality for consecutive two years.
These rankings present a dismal picture of gender parity and women’s empowerment status in Pakistan. The escalating patriarchal practices of domestic violence and honour based crimes aside, Pakistan did show a promising trend of legislating for women. During 2016, there have been few noteworthy pro-women laws enacted by the federal legislature and the provincial assemblies, such as anti honour killing law, Hindu marriages registration law, anti-rape law, anti domestic violence law etc. All the legislative houses (national and sub-national) put together have enacted around twenty-eight pro-women laws since 2013. In some ways, these laws have proven significant first steps in furthering the gender parity.
The Anti Rape Bill, for example, has given legal cover to the admissibility and collection of the DNA evidence to prove the happening of rape despite fierce opposition from religious quarters. The caveat however has been the inadequate number and quality of forensic laboratories as far as the safe preservation of samples and undertaking of these tests with accuracy is concerned. The law makes some groundbreaking amendments to Pakistan Penal and Criminal Codes and Qanun-e-Shahadat Order. The law also makes the rape of minors or mentally / physically challenged people an offence liable to capital punishment or life imprisonment.
Similarly, the new law against the killings in the name of honour effectively amends the Penal Code so as to ensure the perpetrators are held to account. The judges have more discretion in the cases of honour-based killings who can now more widely explore the possibility of honour being the basis of a crime. The judge can now decide whether the principle of Fasad-fil-Arz (aggravated circumstances) has been attracted when the offences are carried out in the name of honour. Aggravated circumstances are defined by the law as ‘the past conduct of the offender and the crimes which are brutal in nature that they are outrageous to the public conscience’. This makes all the crimes committed in the name of honour, covered by the Fasad-fil-Arz principle. It has far-reaching impact, as it would be difficult for the perpetrators of honour crimes to hide behind compoundability of the usual offences like they do in case of first to third degree murders.
Another important law passed by the Punjab Assembly was Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act 2016. Although this law fell short of criminalizing the domestic violence in clear terms, it provides basic structures and forums to the victims of domestic violence for registration of complaints and punishment of the perpetrators when the offence is proven, after exhaustion of arbitration and mediation. The law also provides for the shelters as well as counseling and legal services for the victims of domestic violence.
This positive trend in terms of legislation began with introduction of women’s reserved seats at national, provincial and local governments levels in 2000. More than 40000 women became part of local governments as a result of the legislation that brought in 33% quota seats at all tiers of local governments in 2000. It was followed by introduction of17% quota for women at national and provincial levels of legislative houses. Things started changing at a steady pace after that, although slower than one would have wished.
In 2006, Women’s Protection Act brought amendments to the infamous Hudood Ordinances promulgated by the theocratic military dictator in 1979. With the transfer of power to the elected representatives under civilian democratic leadership from 2008 to 2013, the parliament enacted several progressive, pro-women legislations, which catalyzed groundbreaking changes in the relationship of women with the state.
Through Benazir Income support Program (BISP), a social safety net that ensured direct transfer of money from exchequer to the poorest of the poor, the state appeared to have initiated its direct relationship with women. By way of registering women for the social safety net, the state offered multiple services related to health and skills training for economic empowerment.
Women who had become part of the elected houses, consciously decided to join hands for collectively striving for the much needed gender parity. Seven pro-women laws were enacted within a span of five years. Come 2013 and the women had been able to assert their influence within their parties. After 28 pro-women legislations in the current tenure, no party can afford to be seen lagging behind on the women’s empowerment agenda. These achievements aside, political parties still remain heavily male dominated with decision-making mostly concentrated in male hands.
Despite the positive legislative trends in last few years, not only that there have been some discriminatory legislations (like Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill 2017 passed by the National Assembly, which outsources process of justice to the private citizens in the form of mediation panels aka jirgas & panchayets), but also, we saw massive opposition to pro-women laws from the religious segments and religio-political parties.
Bill to curb domestic violence, for example, still remains pending in National Assembly, while Punjab Assembly passed a comparatively toothless law against domestic violence, which was so blatantly opposed and criticized by the religious parties that the government had to backtrack even after the elected representatives, had passed the bill. Sindh is the only province whose law actually criminalizes domestic violence. Balochistan’s law deals with the issue without criminalizing and penalizing the perpetrators while Khyber Pakhtunkhwa deemed it necessary to send the bill for review to the religiously regressive unelected body, Council of Islamic Ideology. Needless to say that the bill still hangs somewhere between the Council and the Provincial Assembly.
Another important legislation that Sindh and National Assemblies have done is Hindu Marriages Bill. After decades of struggle by the rights activists and Hindu community, the bill against forced conversions was finally passed but in Sindh, only to be revoked hen religious parties protested on the part of the bill that prohibited the conversion before adulthood.
The key legislative measures that still remain pending include Domestic Violence Bill in Parliament and in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the Child Protection Bill, the Child Marriage Restraint Bill, Christian Marriage Bills and many others. A recent draft Shadow Report for UN’s CSW, prepared by the Alliance for Elimination of Violence against Women & Girls states, “overall, the laws which are pro-women and girls, first lack teeth, and next, enforcement, while a patriarchal, misogynist, discriminatory, obscurantist, anti-women and girls narrative and worldview is still inadequately countered, thereby hindering the empowerment of women and girls and their participation in the mainstream of national development”.
In nutshell, the recent gains made in terms of law-making aside, the state continues to fail in honoring its constitutional obligations to almost half of its citizens. The way it cows down to the pressure of orthodox theocratic minority and enters into an alliance with them against the women, poses one of the biggest impediments to the desired gender parity and women’s empowerment.