Good News: New Law on Domestic Violence

Posted on April 29, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, Politics, Society, Women
34 Comments
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Art photography from AbroAdil Najam

Following up on our post last week about a man beating up his wife with his children watching (earlier post here), it is heartening to find that the government is contemplating a new law on domestic violence – The Protection Against Domestic Violence of Women and Children (PADVWC) Act.

The tragedy is that this will nearly certainly become controversial, and for all the wrong reasons.

There will be those who will oppose it simply because they oppose the government and therefore believe that anything that the government does – even when it is clearly the right thing – should be opposed. Such pettiness does not deserve response, even if it is rampant. It is not just immature but dangerous to oppose that which we believe to be good just because we believe that those pushing it are not.

Some will feel uncomfortable with the discussion because it might sully the ‘image’ of the country. I, for one, have never understood this argument. The way to salvage our ‘image problem’ is not to ignore and keep silent about systemic societal problems, it is to do something about these problems. Which is what this law does.

Others will turn this into a debate about Islam. I hope this does not happen. For those of us who believe that Islam provides dignity and rights to women, let us demonstrate that we do too.

The most pedantic arguments will be about how domestic violence can also happens to men. Yes, it can. Not as often as to women and children, especially in our society, but, yes, it does. If that really is the big issue, then lets add it to the draft law rather than use it to oppose the protection of women and children against domestic violence.

Finally, of course, there is the perennial and useless argument that this happens everywhere. Of course, it does. So what? If USA has hundreds of thousands of cases of domestic violence (and it does), does that mean that, therefore, it is OK (or desirable) for us to have as many too. Why must our behavior be patterned on the worst trends available in the world. Why should we not aspire to be better? The reason I think this is good news is that this is not a case of someone from the outside telling us how we are wrong or what we should do; this is a case of we ourselves saying that what is wrong is wrong – irrespective of whether it happens elsewhere or not – and we will not only speak out against it, we will actually do something about it.

I think the editorial in The News (April 29) got it right:

Art photography from AbroReports that the government may be planning to introduce legislation to outlaw domestic violence against women are most encouraging and a sign that policymakers have finally realised that certain legislative initiatives need to be taken to redress the discrimination meted out to women in this country. In fact, a draft proposal of the law also seeks to protect children against domestic violence, which is also a very positive step given the wide – but often underreported and ignored – prevalence of abuse of minors in the country. Under the planned revolutionary law, domestic violence – which is more common than we as a society may be willing to admit – will be brought under the ambit of the law. A victim of domestic violence will be able to report its occurrence to a magistrate.

According to a leaked copy of the document containing the planned legislation, the term ‘domestic violence’ will include all types of violence and abuse committed against a woman within her home by her husband or other family members. The term ‘abuse’ includes physical, sexual and/or psychological aspects, according to the draft. The act itself of domestic violence includes “any wilful conduct which (a) (i) is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman out of the house or to commit suicide or to injure herself; (ii) causes injury or danger to the life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or (b) involves (i) harassment which causes distress to a woman and includes, (ii) any act which compels the woman to have sexual intercourse against her wishes with either with the husband or any of his relatives or with any other person; (iii) any act which is unbecoming of the dignity of the woman; or (iv) any other act of omission and commission which is likely to cause mental torture or mental agony”.

Of course, there are bound to be many opponents of such legislation. Some will say that this will adversely affect the family, without really realising or ever acknowledging the pernicious effects that unchecked domestic violence has on a woman in particular and her children in general. There will also be the cynics who will equate this legislation with yet another attempt by a government mindlessly pursuing, in their view at least, an agenda imposed by the west. These cynics, too, ignore the fact that such laws are good in themselves for the country because it was about time that someone came to the aid of the silently suffering victims of domestic violence. And, of course, there will be some who will — in poor taste, one may add — demand similar laws for men. All that one may say to those making such demands is that such a stance only tends to trivialise the matter and actually reinforces the view that women are not taken seriously by most people. There is also the view that disputes between husband and wife should be resolved internally. However, experience has sometimes shown that in the kind of patriarchal structure that dominates a conservative society like ours, it is often the woman who ends up compromising and having to swallow the proverbial bitter pill (this is often done by telling her that she needs to do this for the sake of her family, children and so on) while the husband gets away scot-free with no penalty for his actions. This law will help fill that gap and like abroad will make wife-beaters think twice before committing acts of violence.

Pakistani society is still quite far from being one where women are treated as valued equals by men, where laws and attitudes both see them as equal to men, and where they are considered more than private property or something close to decoration pieces. Women in Pakistan, by and large, tend to be in a very peripheral position vis-à-vis men, often with little or no say in matters that directly concern and affect them. Of course, this is not to say that there haven’t been exceptions but it would be fair to say that generally speaking they are neither really seen nor heard. Also, merely having one-third seats reserved for them — albeit a good step in that it at least allows them space to come forward — hasn’t brought about any real attitudinal changes in society in general. It is in this context that such a law, which for the first time makes domestic violence against a woman a crime, needs to be supported for prompt parliamentary approval.

But the real issue is that we remain very very uncomfortable talking about this issue (as do many other societies, including those in the West). Parochial and chauvinistic ideas have been instilled deep – not only amongst men but, as often happens, within women too. To catch a glimpse of this attitude see this disgusting photograph (from Jang) of where, during a meeting of Karachi’s City Council, the Nazim of Baldia Town UC8 is attacking a woman from the opposition bench with a belt. Violence against women is obviously not limited to the chardiwari.

The deeply ingrained biases and chauvinism is very evident in a news story in Daily Times (29 April) which reported views of various ‘ordinary’ people on the subject. Note, for example, the convoluted logic of ‘Saad, an accountant’:

“Women are too emotional,� objected Saad, an accountant. “A man may just be exhausted from a day at work and get angry over something. His wife may just misread that as harassment and put their marriage in jeopardy. Such problems should stay within the family and not be encouraged to be broadcasted to the entire world through court. If matters get out of control, they can always be sorted out by extended family members.�

Saad’s wife, luckily, has much more sense and gets it exactly right:

Saad’s wife, however, didn’t agree. “Just because a man is tired doesn’t mean he has the right to fight with his wife,� she reasoned. “This law will make men aware that they don’t have the freedom to mistreat their wives just because they are in a bad mood.�

Another person who gets it right, is ‘Bano, a sweeper’… if only our Babu Saabs could see it for what it is as clearly as Bano:

But just like the Daily Times (April 29) story I think the final word should go to ‘Tasneem, a teacher at a local madrassa,’ who also gets it exactly right:

Tameem, a teacher at a local madrassa, says that the law does not defy Islamic law in any way. “I know that there will be a terrific outburst against this law,� she conceded. “People will declare that it is against Islam. But in our society, women are tortured behind closed doors their entire lives. They are unable to seek help from the maulvis in mosques because even these people don’t understand Islam properly. Usually, they are just told to bear with their husbands and in-laws and no steps are taken to protect them. God does not sanction the mistreatment of women anywhere in Islam. This law will protect women but it needs to be more specific so that women know exactly what stands as harassment and what does not. Otherwise, it may result in unnecessary tensions at home.�

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34 responses to “Good News: New Law on Domestic Violence”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    This post and the 33 comments are over a press release. An alleged leaked copy of an alleged draft of a law.

    This is what is wrong with Pakistan, Pakistani media, blogs, etal.

    No one has read it, understood what is in it but everyone is sipping koolaide and going gaga!

    An opinion is not the law and law is most certainly not an opinion.

    The subject it self is worthy for discussion by itself and could have been discussed without the press release. And I agree, we need to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly.

  2. hafsa h says:

    hello.
    i am a Pakistani student at Pennsylvania State University in America. i am working on a proposal for a non profit organization in Pakistan that deals with domectic violence. In my proposal i want to propose different laws and ways to implement the ones we have in pakistan that combat domestic violence. i would really appreciate any help i can get. we all know that the system is corrupt and the police can not help the girls. what do you all recommend. we can have laws that protect the women after they become victims. should we look at the police systems and protocals or even education in pakistan? should we adapt laws made by the United Nations?
    again any help would be appreciated.

  3. peggy barron says:

    Hi my daughter just got up enough courgage to leave her husband after beating on her for 9 yrs. We need stiffer penalties for these men. And we need laws that give grandparents the right to step in and take their grandchildren out these situations. If anybody knows how to start these laws please let me know. thank you

  4. na says:

    Many law can be created to protect women in Pakistan, however the problem is unlikely to be solved as the whole of the criminal justice system of Pakistan is corrupted, from police officers accepting bribes and judge using their almost unlimited discretion to feed their biasness towards women, the effect of this law is unlikely to make a significant change to woman. Similar to the long standing constitution which granted equal right to men and women but women were still discriminated against, why because of the system. The law has changed but the system has not.

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