Pakistan passes bill to protect women’s rights

Last week, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed a bill which will punish those who force women into marriages or deny them inheritance. Folks who engage in these practices would face both steep fines, up to $12,00 in some cases, as well as potential jail time.

Importantly, this bill criminalizes some of the anti-woman practices that deny women financial independence and limit their social and financial mobility. As you’ll see in the video, this bill has a long way to go yet and it’s reliance on the courts and criminalization of men poses some challenges. But at a time when it might feel as though misogyny is the order of the day in many places around the world, knowing this bill passed UNANIMOUSLY through Pakistan’s National Assembly is encouraging.

Transcript after the jump.

After years of abuse, Maha no longer lives in fear. At the age of 15 she was forced by her parents to marry a man 40 years her senior. With no friends or family to turn to, she came to this women’s shelter in Lahore for help.  [She says,]“I used to be so scared, when I came here I became confident because I was given legal advice that helped me secure a divorce. And they also helped me find work.”

It is for women and girls like Maha that campaigners have called for the so-called Anti-Women’s Practices Bill which was passed unanimously passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday.

According to the bill, anyone convicted of forcing a woman into marriage will be sentenced for 3-10 years or pay a fine of nearly $6,000 dollars. Those who force a woman to marry the Qur’an, an act aimed at preventing women from leaving the home or receiving inheritance, will face a sentence of 3-7 years or pay a fine of nearly $6,000. And finally, anyone who deprives a woman of her inheritance will receive no less than 5 years in jail and a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail. They must also pay a fine of up to $12,000.

Rights activists have hailed the passage of the bill as a huge step forward for women in Pakistan.”This is an extremely important step [said, Shatah Quizilbash, women's rights activist in Pakistan] but of course there are hurdles because it still has to go through the upper House and it’s approval. But the fact that the National Assembly has a consensus, it has a moral value”

Still there are questions as to how the law will be enforced given the prevailing attitudes among many men here. “Men feel that woman does not own property. That’s the general feeling, [said another women's rights activst ]. You know I wouldn’t say they are part of Islam, these laws, but there will be tough resistance.” The passing of this bill is no doubt a huge step forward for women’s rights in Pakistan, but a lot more needs to be done to ensure that this legislation is more than just words on paper but an actual law that is effective.

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