The passage of the Women’s Protection Bill by the National Assembly is undoubtedly a major positive step forward in this country’s history and it is heartening to see the government make use of this momentum to push some other much-needed legislation to improve the lives of Pakistani women. Legislation is to be introduced in the next session of parliament targeting six particular areas of concern. These are related to ensuring that women get their rightful share at inheritance; ensuring that the abhorrent custom of ‘marrying’ girls off to the Holy Quran is stopped; that men are not allowed to divorce women merely by saying the word ‘talaq’ three times in quick succession; and that the cruel ‘traditions’ of swara and wani (child marriage and marrying off young girls into a rival clan as a way of settling tribal feuds), karo-kari and ‘watta satta’ (where young girls are married off in pairs to brothers) are outlawed.
It has to be said that for once one can unequivocally and without any qualification say that parliament will be passing some excellent legislation. The ruling party has said that it will take the views of all parties and stakeholders with regard to this new legislation. This is good though one can hardly understand why anyone would oppose any legislation that seeks to reverse or check the abhorrent misogynistic customs found in our society. That, though, does not necessarily rule out opposition from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal given its behaviour during the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill and its consequent decision to resign from the National Assembly in early December. That said, the alliance of six religious parties will find it hard to not support this new legislation because it is more or less universally believed that no religion sanctions cruel customs like swara, watta satta and karo kari. As for the new laws, they should be passed sooner than later so that the momentum created by the passage of the Women’s Protection Bill can be used as a driving force to offer, finally, some hope and respite to the women of this country, who may now see themselves released from the shackles that have been holding them back since the days of General Zia’s infamous rule. Of course, one should bear in mind that while laws can change, the harder part sometimes is to change centuries-old attitudes and mindsets. Nevertheless, having the law on one’s side does help and that is why the proposed legislation is very welcome.