In Pakistan, women are given respect, security and liberty that considering ways to ‘control’ them should sound normal. Women here haven’t been raped, burnt alive, slaughtered, killed in the name of honour, splashed with acid, or divorced for not bringing dowry or bearing a child. No woman here has been stared at, stalked or faced child marriage. It is a lie that Pakistan is the third most dangerous country in the world for women. Right? Wrong. For a majority of Pakistani women, living life as they please, on their terms is a challenge. What makes it worse is when some on the fringe suggest that women should be beaten, even lightly. Beating is beating. Period.
Last week, Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology, said that men should be allowed to lightly beat their wives- a suggestion made in a women’s protection bill draft. This happened after the council rejected Punjab’s Protection of Women against Violence Act 2015-law that would make it easier for female victims of domestic violence to report abuse-terming it un-Islamic. The 20-member body advises government on religious aspects of law and society – but its recommendations are not binding.
Explaining the controversial draft, chairman of the Council Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani said that the proposal (on beating women) shouldn’t be linked violence. If the husband wants his wife “to mend her ways,” he “should first advise her”. The cleric has given tips on how to gently beat a wife. “Hit her with light things like a handkerchief, a hat or turban, but do not hit her on the face or private parts. And the beating should not cause any kind of physical damage or scratches. Resort to light stuff, nothing serious.” But will the cleric explain who will be the judge when a man beats his wife? Who will judge if it was light or heavy? And will the culprit get away with some light beating?
In addition, it also seeks to ban women from several aspectss of community life. Co-education won’t be a choice for females after primary school. They will not be allowed to nurse male patients in hospital unless it is their husband, son, brother or father.
Pakistan ranks as one of the world’s worst countries for female employment and education. Some 1,100 women were killed in the name of honour in 2015, according to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The commission says that 900 women suffered sexual violence and nearly 800 attempted suicide. It is sad that 150-400 sexual assaults are reported in Pakistan every year. Women living in villages where Jirgas (council of tribal elders) decide their fate are in even bogger danger. It’s already hard on women. To suggest some light beating will only complicate their lives further.
The reality is this. Some of the nearly 19 million population of Pakistan will read what the council has said. They will focus on the words ‘beating wives’ and conclude that some beating, ‘light’ or ‘heavy’ is permissible. Many women have suffered at the hands of violent husbands. They blame themselves for not living up to the expectations of their spouses. Moreover, parents teach daughters that the husbands’ home is the final destination. They cannot return to their parents. Violence against women is ignored and it is considered the parents’ duty to ‘discipline’ the daughter and the husband’s right to ensure she obeys him
Islamic teachings are balanced, not biased. Both men and women have responsibilities towards each other. Couples are required to show respect and not indulge in marital violence.
The male-dominated council appears keen to control women with these recommendations. Earlier, the council’s directives included excluding DNA as primary evidence in rape cases; ensuring women cannot object to their husbands remarrying and endorsing under-age marriage. Many choose not to speak up. Those women who do face criticism, abuse and assault. It is ironic that laws that are meant to protect women remain paralysed.
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