In Pakistan there is a fierce debate raging between Muslim clerics and rights activists over the legislation needed to end violence against women.
The government in the eastern province of Punjab had proposed measures, such as forcing perpetrators of domestic violence to wear GPS tracking bracelets.
But conservative clerics have lashed out against the plan.
Asia Calling’s Naeem Sahoutara has the story.
Kavita Kumari has just entered the office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the city of Karachi.
The 20-year-old Hindu girl wants to take legal action against her ex-husband.
“I was married in 2008, but the behavior of husband and my in-laws was horrible. They used to beat me and they kept the dowry. Then they kicked me out of their house after just two and half months of marriage,” Kavita Kumari tells me.
Kumari took her complaints to the police, but they failed to take action against her husband.
Abdul Hai, a provincial coordinator at the human rights commission, which has long pushed for women’s rights in the country, outlines the dilemma.
“In our society women are denied their rights. This discrimination starts from birth, where a girl is controlled by her father, then her brothers, then her husband. In a society where corruption is in its worst form, implementing women’s rights becomes almost impossible.”
Violence against women is rampant in Pakistan. According to rights groups, four women were raped in the country every day in 2014.
While colonial era laws that criminalize the rape, murder and torture of women do exist, procedural changes have made it hard for victims to prosecute.
In a rape case for example, victims are expected to produce four eyewitnesses.
Abdul Hai blames the poor mechanisms.
“In our country, where women are 51 percent of the population, there is no special police force for them. There are special courts for banking, labor, excise and taxation. Then why not the speedy trial courts to end violence against the women?”
Yet in February this year, the government in eastern Punjab province introduced a comprehensive bill to protect women’s rights.
The Protection of Women against Violence Bill proposes the establishment of protection centers, or shelters, in each district for victims of domestic violence.
The bill also requires that couples separate for a period of time if domestic violence occurs, and that the perpetrators wear GPS tracking bracelets.
Punjab’s Law Minister Rana Sanaullah explains.
“Our resources must be used to protect. Protection centers will be set-up, although action will not be initiated against the men straight away. There will be mediation first, then reconciliation, then medical and legal help will be given. All this is meant to strengthen families.”
Opposition parties have also welcomed the bill.
Politicians like Nafeesa Shah, from the Pakistan Peoples Party, who completed her PhD on honor killings.
Shah says it’s important the bill recognizes that violence against women is often committed by the people closest to them.
“Up to 90 percent of crimes against women take place at home in which close relatives are involved. For example in murder cases the husband, father or brother is usually involved. On the basis of humanity we must see the ground realities. Where the family poses a threat the state must come forward for protection,” Shah states.
But religious leaders such as Moulana Fazlur Rehman – who heads the conservative political party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam – strongly opposes the new law.
“Punjab’s Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has offered to make some amendments to the law, but I told him that no amendment will be possible. The legislation is a major step against the holy Quran and the Sunnah,” maintains Moulana Fazlur Rehman.
Religious leaders have criticized the provisions that call for the separation of couples, and of asking men to wear GPS tracking bracelets.
It’s the reason why Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology rejected the proposed law last month.
The 20-member body advises the government on religious matters.
Instead, the council presented its own bill, which it says seeks to protect women in the context of sharia law.
Council chairperson Moulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani told me the proposed law was rejected because it is against the spirit of Pakistan’s Constitution, which clearly states that no law against Islam shall be made.
Yet in its bill the council stipulates that men can “lightly” beat their wives if they defy their orders, or refuse to have sex with them…
It has provoked massive outrage here, sparking a huge online campaign with the hashtag, #Trybeatingmelightly.
Rights activist, Marvi Sirmed, says the Punjab government’s proposed law should be implemented immediately.
“I congratulate Pakistan, the women and men who worked on this bill with us. This law has all those provisions of the kind of Islam that I’ve been taught that injustice will not be done to anyone, and if it is done then it will be addressed. So I don’t think it’s in contrary to Shariah. And if men feel ashamed of wearing GPS bracelets, then they must restrain from such acts of violence,” Sirmed said.
The government is wooing clerics to try and get them behind the new proposed bill.
But until that happens, women like Kavita Kumari will continue to struggle to seek justice.