(Posted below are selected reports and commentary on the mass mobilisation by religious leaders in Pakistan opposed to the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act ]
Pakistan religious leaders slam women’s protection acthttp://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/03/religious-leaders-slam-women-protection-act-pakistan-160303160705361.html
Standing up to the clerics
by Ghazi Salahuddin
When they sat together on a Mansoora table in Lahore on Tuesday, the religious leaders of Pakistan had women on their mind. They deliberated on the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act and demanded that the law be withdrawn before March 27; otherwise, they would launch a nation-wide movement against the government.
Times have certainly changed, but there are intimations of the massive agitation that was mounted against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977. The Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) movement was largely religiously motivated. Its slogan was the establishment of the Nizam-e-Mustafa, though political parties were also a part of the nine-party alliance.
And the irony is that Nawaz Sharif, though he had not yet emerged on the political horizon in 1977, would spiritually have belonged to that Islamist group. After all, his was the most prominent face in another Islamist alliance (an electoral one this time) that was formed in 1988 to confront Z A Bhutto’s daughter Benazir. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) also had nine parties. Throughout his political career, Nawaz Sharif has basked in the glory of conservative, even Islamist politics.
Now, however, the religious parties have ganged up against their former ally. Is this an omen of some kind, indicating a shift in the ideological alignments of our political parties? Can we hope that the veto power that clerics had held over our politics is about to be curtailed?
We need to look carefully at this emerging confrontation between the government and a united front of the religious groups in the context of the ongoing campaign against terrorism and extremism. This means that we can safely set aside an analogy between the PNA movement and the present stirrings. No mainstream political party is marching with the clerics and the establishment has obviously not nudged them into this defiance.
While the immediate provocation is the ‘un-Islamic’ law on women’s rights, it is instructive to scan the joint declaration that was approved by around 30 religious outfits. There has been some discussion lately about a shift in the government’s ideological sense of direction. First, the prime minister invoked a ‘liberal’ vision of Pakistan. Then, Mumtaz Qadri was executed. There have been some other signs of this shift.
The declaration said that “the religious leadership stands united to safeguard Namoos-e-Risalat and the Muslim family system”. It is interesting that these religious parties are not ashamed to insist that the measures taken by the government that they deem to be secular and liberal in nature “are a revolt against the constitution and betrayal of the founding fathers of the country”.
Imagine in your mind the sight of the leaders that represent the entire spectrum of our religious constituency and ask yourselves if they could be the successors of the founding fathers of Pakistan. This, in a way, is a more sinister usurpation of what they call the ideology of Pakistan than any military intervention or imposition of martial law. This is one measure of how we, in a collective sense, relate to our history. This confusion has left us wandering in the wilderness.
According to published reports, Jamaat-e-Islami chief Sirajul Haq, who presided over the meeting, said that “the women protection law is an attack on the Muslim family system and the rulers have been tasked to break it”. He argued that along with such measures as the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the law was part of an international agenda and proved that the West had unleashed a cultural attack on the Muslim world.
There is no denying that Pakistani society is very vulnerable to religions passions. Even when the Islamists are unable to win an electoral majority, their capacity to mobilise the streets on an emotional issue is considerable. Besides, this power becomes larger than what it actually is when the government loses its nerve or when some high functionaries play a collaborative role. That is how a Lal Masjid becomes possible.
Have things changed since the Army Public School in Peshawar to an extent that the government can take on the clerics this time? The very reasons that the religious alliance has given for its exasperation are justification for not moving back. And if this is the resolve of the authorities, they should be grateful to the religious leaders for getting together and setting the stage for a decisive encounter.
But we cannot be sure that Nawaz Sharif’s administration would be able to muster the courage of its convictions. It is difficult to visualise a change of heart of such proportions in a short time. The PML-N, after all, has always been a right of centre, conservative party, and its affiliations with the militants in southern Punjab have been widely suspected.
So, why did Nawaz Sharif step out of this shadow in November last year to perceive Pakistan’s future in a ‘liberal’ and democratic dispensation? Why was he so enthusiastic in applauding the Oscar awarded to Sharmeen Obaild-Chinoy’s short documentary on honour killing, when the Islamists were condemning it as a Western conspiracy to damage Pakistan’s image? How did he find the courage to execute Mumtaz Qadri? And how was the landmark women’s rights law possible in Punjab?
It seems rational to believe that this is a new game plan, devised in collaboration with the military establishment. The logic for this shift has been present for a long time. It would be a national tragedy if these initiatives were abandoned prematurely. Incidentally, the religious leaders also expressed their concern that the rulers were keen to improve ties with India. There has been some good news on that front too, and this process should also be protected.
The fact that the law to protect women against violence has become the rallying point for all factions of Islamists and radicals, as well as moderates, is understandable. They resist the emancipation of women with full force. They know that the education of little girls and the freedom of women will effectively obliterate their kingdom of fear and obscurantism. It is for this reason that they so venomously disparage Western values and ideas. One reason for Islamophobia in Western countries, apart from violent extremism, is the status of women in Muslim countries.
I read an article about a prominent French intellectual, Alain Finkielkraut, in The New York Times who argues that Islam and the French society are incompatible. He is obviously an anti-Muslim rightist. But I think that he has a point when he says that the main problem is the oppression of women in Muslim culture. “We’ve got to help the Muslims resolve this question”, he said. In Pakistan, we should not need anyone’s help to liberate our women.
The writer is a staff member.
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Editorial: Fantastical fears
The degree of frenzy stirred up by the Protection of Women Law passed unanimously by the Punjab Assembly last month is unexpected and rather alarming. Under pressure from religious parties, the Punjab government has stopped the notification of the law while its top brass contemplates what to do. What is unclear is whether the religious right has the political power to force the government into changing the law. The claims of religious parties, led by the JUI-F and the Jamaat-e-Islami, are widely exaggerated. The law has been labelled an ‘attack on the Muslim family system’, a promotion of ‘Western immorality’, an attempt at ‘secularising’ Pakistan and an attack on the ‘rights of men’. The Punjab Protection of Women Law aims to protect women against domestic abuse and harassment in public spaces. Both are systemic issues prevalent in Pakistani society. This is as such not different from other laws passed to protect women against physical harm at both the federal and provincial levels. The Protection of Women Bill of 2006 is an example, with religious parties apparently un-threatened by the Musharraf-era legislation which amended Hudood Ordinance provisions. Even the most narrow-minded of critics of the recent law have shied away from arguing that husbands have a right to beat their wives or that men have a right to harass women.
So the question is: if it is acknowledged that these practices are not desired in society, then why are the religious parties protesting a law that aims to put an end to them? The answer is simple: political expediency. The religious parties appear to have decided to construct an issue out of a non-issue simply to gain political mileage. One must remember that the law to regulate marriage in the Ayub Khan period was also opposed while religious parties attempted to thwart the rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP by using the rhetoric of a ‘threat to Islam’. The fact is that the law to protect women poses no threat to Islam. There appears to be nothing in the law that is either un-Islamic or violates cultural practices. After all, no culture and no religion – especially not Islam – sanctions violence of any kind against women. It seems the religious right is trying to remain relevant to the country’s politics by raising the slogan that somehow Islam is in danger because of this law. In a post-NAP Pakistan, religious parties have not been able to raise support in favour of their usual causes. That the execution of Mumtaz Qadri and passage of the women’s protection law are being condemned in the same line of argument suggests that our religious parties are trying to counter their own irrelevance to the politics of Pakistan. The Punjab government deserves praise for tabling the law and defending it as well. It must not give in to these demands. Otherwise, it will open itself to being held hostage over and over again. It would be unfortunate if a measure aimed at safeguarding a large proportion of the population had to be altered on the basis of whims expressed by the right wing.
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Activists come out against religious parties’ furore over pro-women law
Often seen to have taken hard stances against each other, mainstream religious parties and scholars belonging to all schools of thought appear to be standing in unison against the pro-women bill recently passed by the Punjab Assembly. However, voices condemning the scholars’ demand to withdraw the ‘un-Islamic’ Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act-2015, by March 27, have also been raised as civil society activists on Wednesday gathered outside the Karachi Press Club and urged the Punjab government not to succumb to the parties’ pressure.
The protest was organised under the banner of Joint Action Committee (JAC) – a coalition including organisations such as the Human Rights Organisation of Pakistan, Urban Resource Centre, Peoples’ Labour Bureau, Aurat Foundation, Pakistan Medical Association, Pakistan Institute for Labour Education and Research and others.
The JAC, welcoming the Punjab government’s step, called for implementing the bill in letter and spirit. A representative of the National Organisation for Working Communities, Farhat Parveen, said, “In a country where ‘honour’ killings and acid attack remain common, the passage of the bill in Punjab is a good omen and must be appreciated.”
The Sindh government had already passed a law pertaining to providing protection to women from domestic violence in 2013 but was yet to implement it, she added. “We strongly condemn the religious parties which have not only been mocking a serious bill protecting women from violence but also using the issue to pressure the government to gain personal benefits,” opined vice chairperson of HRCP’s Sindh chapter, Asaid Iqbal Butt.
The protestors also called for the legislation to be taken as a bench mark by the federal government as well as other provincial governments while also criticised the religious parties’ practice of doing politics in the name of women.
Representatives of over 35 religious parties on the call of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) had, on Tuesday, gathered in Lahore to warn the Punjab government of launching a mass protest movement if the bill was not withdrawn by March 27.
This bill introduces, for the first time, an in-built implementation mechanism through the establishing centres in all districts for victims, court orders pertaining to provision of residence, protection as well as monetary compensation and introduction of GPS tracked electronic bracelets-anklets for perpetrators.
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Who gave these religious scholars the right to speak on behalf of women?
by Shamila Ghyas
People who have never raised their voice for child brides, for raped women, for the women who killed themselves due to a lack of justice, are in no position to have a say over women rights
A lot has been said about the Women’s Protection Act of Punjab and one would have thought the topic would have been done and dusted by now. The Act consists of 31 clauses which provide a proper system for complaint registration as well as penalties for offenders.
Women being protected from all forms of violence, what could be wrong in that?
Apparently, a lot.
All the religious parties in Pakistan have demanded that the government withdraw the bill. On the one hand, they term it un-Islamic while on the other, they say Islam does not allow violence on women. So if there is no violence allowed then why be against something that goes even further and protects the woman?
Maulana Fazlur Rehman even went far enough to say the law has poison in it. He said that many of the clauses contradict Sunnah. This still very much counters their statement saying Islam does not allow violence against women.
Mufti Naeem commented earlier that the law is not needed since just a mere 1% of women go through domestic violence. Does he know how many women exist in Pakistan and what a huge number, the (supposed) 1% he is dismissing actually amounts to? If the number of women abused does not reach 10,000,000 the violence should be swept under the carpet and be ignored? And let’s not even get to the cases which go unreported and unrecorded.
A lot of the complaints revolve around the man who assaults his wife being told to leave the home instead of the woman. He is also required to wear a GPS so his movements can be tracked.
They say that is an insult to the dignity of a man to leave and to wear such a thing.
I think it would rather be a humongous insult to the man’s dignity IF he assaults his wife. But then that is just me and not the Maulanas teaching us about dignified behavior.
There can be no arguments in favor of a man being allowed to assault and beat his wife or women in general. None.
A man who does not intend on beating his wife would not have any problems with the bill. It does not affect him or his wife or his family. He should welcome it, for the people who do this will be the ones punished, not him.
As for marriages breaking up, should a woman who is regularly beaten by her husband stay in such an abusive marriage in the first place?
And no, since people will bring up children, they are equally affected by such marriages as are by broken ones. Perhaps even more.
If the wife is so desperate and has nowhere to go, or is pushed down by the social stigma of “what will people say” and “bringing shame to the family,” the poor woman will probably not even report the violence to the police in the first place – leaving her marriage quite ‘intact.’
There will be women who will abuse the law too; but even that has been taken into consideration. There is a fine as well as jail time in place.
And putting all that aside, people who have never raised their voice for a raped woman, for the woman who killed herself due to lack of justice, are in no position to have a say over women rights.
They never showed this much uproar for when an 11-year-old child was married off to a 50-yea-old man and died a week later due to internal injuries.
They conveniently turned deaf and dumb when a man threw acid on the face of a woman who said no to marrying him.
They secretly smiled at the brother who killed his sister because he saw her talking to a boy he did not like.
What gives them the right to have a say in this when they have been quiet all along regarding every other atrocity that has taken place against women? Who makes them the experts? Just because they are scholars?
Here, they are openly going against a law that is there to protect women. What is the point of such scholars when they are only encouraging violence with their stance?
“Islam does not allow violence against women and we shall support every law that backs this up.” THIS is what they should be saying.
THIS! No ifs and buts. There are no gray areas here.
Think about the times when families pressurize daughters-in-law to get dowry from their respective families and this continues well into the marriage too. How many cases are there of families abusing them (daughters-in-law) to the point they actually die?
Are we just supposed to express our grief when we read about such cases by shaking our heads and then moving on the to the next news? Is it not better to prevent such things from taking place entirely?
Won’t the woman have been better off had the family/husband been punished before it got to the point where she didn’t exist anymore? What about the children she left behind then? Suddenly, nobody is thinking of them anymore.
Every single person who wants the Women’s Protection Act in Punjab to be withdrawn is nothing more than a person with a severe inferiority complex who doesn’t want to be punished by law when he beats, rapes, abuses, harasses, throws acid on women, etc.
They come equipped with a mentality that man is superior to a woman and thus holds power over her. That includes the right to hit her when he wishes to.
This also goes for the women who agree to be violated against and think it as being completely acceptable behavior. There are many women out there who support the weak, spineless characters who abuse and use religion to further their own agenda.
If you are against the Act, it simply means you are saying it is okay to beat and rape women.
Shamila Ghyas is an author who writes for Khabaristan Times and other publications.
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Mullahs on the warpath
by Maheen Usmani
Perhaps nothing unites our clerics more than women’s issues.
The Council of Islamic Ideology deliberates on burning issues like underage marriage (the younger the better), can a woman object to her husband’s second, third and fourth marriages (no), can DNA be used as primary evidence in rape cases (of course not…duh), the interpretation of veil for women, is co-education kosher (no, such an unhealthy practice for society), should female judges be obliged to wear niqab (naturally, yes).
Nowadays, the clerics have a new rallying cry.
Mullahs — who seal their lips and eyes when women are raped, assaulted, burnt, murdered, humiliated, thrown out of houses, used as barter or traded to compensate for “insults” to ghairatmand (so-called honourable) men — are finally up in arms.
What has got their goat this time?
The Punjab Assembly has taken the unforgivable step of passing the Women’s Protection Act, which seeks to give legal protection to women from domestic, psychological and sexual violence.
How ridiculous is that, shout the clerics. This is “an un-Islamic law!” they thunder from their pulpits.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman and his coterie are so incensed that they are racing to hold rallies to protest such a draconian move which will grant protection to women from their oppressors.
How can this happen in Pakistan, they scream.
Yes, they are the very same people who have decided that they are the stakeholders of a country whose very existence they not only campaigned against and denounced but whose founder they termed “Kafir-e-Azam.”
Now they have positioned themselves as the standard bearers of Pakistan and its ideology. In fact, they are corrupting its ideology to suit their ends.
And the supine, pathetic so-called silent majority has let them.
Examine: It took my mother 30 years to walk out of an abusive marriage and an ’honest’ infidelity
In Punjab, violence is a way of life in many homes.
Recently, I met a woman from the province who worked as a maid and was widowed at an early age and had struggled to raise her kids.
One day when I said, “How sad that your husband died so young…” she interrupted me with a wave of her hand.
“Baji, no, no, I am not sorry. He used to hit me so much. At least now no one can raise a hand to me. It’s difficult yes, but now, I live life on my own terms.”
Surprised that this spirited tall woman had once been battered, I asked: “But why did you take it? Why did you not tell him to stop?”
“Because Baji, that is the way our men are, They beat us and we get beaten. That is our life.”
And this is exactly the kind of mindset the mullahs in Pakistan want to perpetuate: powerless women getting abused endlessly and accepting it as their due.
Maheen Usmani is a freelance journalist. She has reported on varied subjects ranging from socio-political issues to sports, travel, culture and counter terrorism.