Pakistan province passes historic women’s bill

Women sell bangles at a stall outside a shrine in Rahim Yar Khan in the southern Punjab province in a 2013 file photo.

Women sell bangles at a stall outside a shrine in Rahim Yar Khan in the southern Punjab province in a 2013 file photo.

Lawmakers in Pakistan’s largest province on Wednesday gave unprecedented protection to female victims of violence, in a bid to stem a rising tide of gender-related abuse in a country ranked as the world’s third most dangerous place for women.

The bill redefines “violence” to include “any offense committed against a woman including abetment of an offense, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or a cybercrime.”

Muslim-majority Pakistan, home to roughly 190 million people, sees thousands of cases of violence against women every year, from rape and acid attacks to sexual assault, kidnappings and so-called “honor killings.”

“The instances of violence against women have been on the increase, primarily because the existing legal system does not effectively address the menace and violence by some is perpetrated with impunity,” said the text of the legislation passed by the Punjab assembly.

In 2013, more than 5,800 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab alone, the province where Wednesday’s law was passed, according to the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights advocacy group.

Those cases represented 74 percent of the national total that year, the latest for which data is available.

The new law establishes district-level panels to investigate reports of abuse, and mandates the use of GPS bracelets to keep track of offenders.

It also sets punishments of up to a year in jail for violators of court orders related to domestic violence, with that period rising to two years for repeat offenders.

Rights groups welcomed the law, but warned that its implementation remained a concern.

“The change in law would only make a difference if there is effective enforcement and the legislature continues to engage with the issue and ensures oversight,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Domestic abuse, economic discrimination and acid attacks make Pakistan the world’s third most dangerous country in the world for women, a 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll showed.

Abdul Qahar Rashid, spokesman for Punjab’s provincial assembly, told AFP that the bill, which was passed unanimously, must be signed by the provincial governor before it becomes law.

Activists Thursday hailed the passing of the historic bill.

Zohra Yusuf, head of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), welcomed the bill and expressed the hope that efficient enforcement will help protect women and ensure that offenders do not escape justice.

“These are all much-needed measures that deserve praise but it is important to remember that cosmetic and purely procedural changes have not had an impact in the past,” she said.


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