Changing Rape Laws in Pakistan

Posted on September 10, 2006
Filed Under >Ali Eateraz, Law & Justice, Religion, Women
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Guest Post by Ali Eteraz

The women’s protection bill of Pakistan — which will dramatically alter the rape laws of Pakistan — has a chance of being passed this coming Monday. The bill is an attempt to reform the draconian rape laws of Pakistan from 1979, passed by then dictator Zia ul Haq under the auspices of the religious establishment (part of the hudood ordinance).

The laws require that for a woman to make an allegation of rape she must produce four male witnesses. If she is unable to put forth the witnesses she herself is liable for adultery (and can be imprisoned or put to death for adultery). Absurd. In one case, a blind girl, Safia Bibi, who had been raped was convicted on charges of adultery because she could not identify her attacker.

This has been a contentious issue in Pakistan (see my commentary on it here). I have been in correspondence with individuals who are involved in the Women’s Protection Bill. While on one hand they have had to contend with the religious establishment, they have also ran into opposition by some liberal groups, and international NGO’s like Human Rights Watch, who find the proposed amendments inadequate.

What the reformists are trying to explain, however, is that while total repeal of the bill would be wonderful, politics is a process, and that means taking whatever progress that can be gotten right now. While concerns about the fact that the bill is being pushed through by a dictator (Musharraf) are valid, they are unfair in light of the tremendous abuses that will be alleviated if this bill is passed. In the short term, the reformists — and those backing the bill — need our support. Later, more progress can be made.

In an op-ed that appeared in The Daily Times today (10 September, 2006) Feisal Naqvi points out:

…the response from women’s groups to the proposed Women’s Protection Act has either been hostile or at best, tepid. Instead of supporting the bill, women’s groups have only reiterated their demand for the complete repeal of the Hudood Ordinance. What these groups forget is that politics is the art of ‘the possible’. The Women’s Protection Act may not be perfect but it will certainly bring relief to millions of oppressed women. In any event, the fight for repeal can always be carried on later.

The reformists need to be recognized for the good they have achieved despite the enormous difficulties, and not to be criticized for what they have failed to achieve. The full article by Feisal Naqvi in The Daily Times is worth a read because it clearly explains what the issues are and how they are being dealt with in the new law. It concludes:

If all goes according to the government’s plan, much of what is undesirable in the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 (to give the law its full name) will be quietly gutted through the proposed Protection of Women’s Act… The proposed law marks the absolute limit of what is possible in terms of today’s political climate. More importantly, the Protection of Women’s Act is not a whitewash job: instead, it addresses and fixes the major sources of women’s oppression under the Hudood Ordinance.

The best thing to do right now is to support the efforts of the reformists and later carry their torch further. It would be a terrible tragedy if after decades of efforts the amendments were tabled due to inadequate support by progressives. Well intentioned people around the world need to express their support. (For more see: ‘The Right To Own Women’ and Women’s Protection Bill Cheat Sheet). [Also see earlier ATP Poll on related issue].

Ali Eteraz describes himself as “a continental philosopher, essayist, novelist, student of Islamic arts, philosophy, jurisprudence and a practitioner of global nomadism” and blogs under this pseudonym at Eteraz, where you will find much on this and related subjects.

67 responses to “Changing Rape Laws in Pakistan”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    Actually, nothing has made me more sad, than following up on this.

  2. Watan Aziz says:

    Pardon the hurried post, it should be “defies decency”.

    Actually, nothing has made me more sad, then following up on this.

    This is real shame. A former husband can drag his former wife into the zina court!

    I really do not know what can be worse than this. Please folks. Help change this. This cannot stand.

    Women are weak in most societies. Weakest in Pakistan.

    This should not stand.

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