This got a little longer than I had intended (I promise I hadn’t originally planned for this to be this long!), so this is part 1 and click here for part 2. But just fyi, I’ll be writing books when I grow up, so consider this prep for all that. thx.
In February (2016), the Punjab province of Pakistan passed a bill that makes it easier for women to report physical, financial, and psychological abuse to the authorities. The bill’s called The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015. Basically, it “seeks to set up a women’s force at district level throughout the province, which would respond to women’s complaints of physical, financial or psychological abuse.” The way this will be done is that “a toll-free helpline (UAN number) will be launched to receive direct complaints. It also calls for the creation of protection centres and shelters homes, where conflicts and misunderstandings can be settled and help partners reach reconciliation.” The better part? “‘Violence’ itself has been redefined to mean any offence committed against the human body of the aggrieved person including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime.” Beautiful! Just beautiful!
So I don’t like that we’re all referring to it simply as the “anti-domestic violence bill” – it’s really a bill against violence against women in multiple forms. But since the part that’s troubling the religious clergy and many Pakistani men the most is that they can no longer beat up their wives in the privacy of their homes because the wife is now legally encouraged to take action against him, it’s fair to temporarily refer to it as the anti-domestic violence act.
BUT! “The law emphasises reconciliation between the parties, and as such it does not criminalise the offence at the outset. However, in the event of a breach of court orders with respect to the female’s right to protection, residence or financial wellbeing, the offending male can be punished with one to two years in jail, and a fine of between 200,000 to 500,000 rupees (£1,350-3,400; $1,900-4,800).”
Given my bitterness towards all things Pakistan (I have my–legitimate–reasons), I was shocked to see this. It’s unexpected, it’s very much unlike Pakistan to do something this progressive, and I’m still and always will be surprised that it even passed. Because Pakistan as a state makes minimal efforts to acknowledge the full, complete, unconditional humanity of women. I’m from there, I’ve lived there, I am unfortunately far too much more involved in all things Pakistan than I would like, I live with the consequences of being a Pakistani woman on a daily basis. And I don’t care that the Western bigot is going to respond to this with “hahahaha poor oppressed Pakistani woman.” No, man – go shove your bigotry up yours. I also don’t care that the privileged Pakistani woman is going to respond with “hey, I’m a Pakistani woman, and *I* don’t have that experience!” Clearly, I’m not talking about you. I especially don’t care that the Pakistani man is going to respond with the empty, meaningless “Hey! Not all men!” I’ve had enough of all this BS, and the number of fucks that I now give has finally decreased to a huge-ass zero.
Also, let’s be real here: The folks who came up with the bill, or the party called PML-N (Nawaz Sharif’s party. Sharif’s the current Prime Minister of Pakistan) “has long been seen as a right-of-centre party, often pandering to the religious lobby.”
But that’s not to say that women and women’s organizations in Pakistan aren’t doing anything about the shit that goes down there. That’s never true of any society or community; there’s *always* work that’s being done to fix the problem. My unconditional support goes out to every Pakistani woman anywhere in the world, every woman in Pakistan, who works hard to help end all sorts of unfair treatments of women anywhere but especially in their own homes.
Still, the bill makes me slightly more hopeful about Pakistan than before. May the bill be extended to other provinces soon as well, aameen, and may it actually prove effective.
I think this law is only a first step, however, in solving the problem of violence against women. Next steps include making sure that women are empowered financially and educationally to be able to feel like they can stand on their own feet “in case” their abusive husbands divorce them for reporting their abusive asses to the authorities. One of the most important reasons that women typically don’t feel confident standing up to an abusive husband is that they don’t have the means to stand up on their own feet if they don’t have a husband taking care of them. This may be a result of little or a lack of education that the woman never was encouraged or allowed to pursue. But even in cases where the wife is educated and has a job, the problem with abuse is that it can tear you apart completely, and you lose every sense of yourself that you have, every iota of dignity and self-respect you ever had. The abuser succeeds in manipulating you to think you deserve the abusive treatment you receive, that you’d be nothing without him, that no one would care about you if you left, that he’ll kill or otherwise harm you if you leave, and so on. This destroys a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. So it’s no surprise that most women in abusive relationships don’t ever leave.
Then there’s social stigma against divorced women in the Pakistani society. (The latest reminder of this is that people are against the bill because it’ll lead to higher divorce rates! So let’s let men continue beating up wives and making sure that women can’t do anything about it.) I know more than plenty of women who themselves are the breadwinners of the family (the husbands either don’t want to work or can’t find jobs) and the husbands are abusive, BUT they’re not leaving because they’re afraid of being classified as divorcees. This mindset has to change, and I’m sure it will one day, but it’ll take time. Do I personally believe divorce is the best thing ever? It depends: If you have only two options–an abusive marriage and divorce–then, yes, divorce is the way to go. I also generally believe in a person’s comfort and safety and peace, so if a person isn’t happy in a marriage for whatever reason, I do believe they have option and right to leave. Since we LOVE to invoke Islam in all our dealings because we’re such righteous creatures, let’s remind ourselves that we have hadith reports in which women would come to the Prophet (pbuh) saying they weren’t happy with their husbands (some of them used the unattractive physical features of their husbands; others didn’t like the way the husband treated them; others were just generally unhappy), and the Prophet would tell them to return their mahr and they’re divorced. Then a whole bunch of history happened, and now it’s practically impossible to get a divorce in many Muslim communities.
Pakistan’s religious parties’ reaction.
Very simply put: The religious parties, the men who Pakistanis generally think are the “scholars” of Islam, are absolutely against the bill. In fact, a bunch of them got together this week to threaten the government to revoke the bill by March 27th. Or else. They’ll protest it publicly and shit will go down.
Apparently, homeboys think the bill is against the “spirit of Islam.”
And that it will result in men’s insecurities.
Tell me again, O’ mullahs, how Islam gave women all the rights we could possibly want and so we don’t need feminism.
I wanna have some fun responding to some of the popular, predictable claims in opposition to the bill, but before that, lemme just point out the obvious.
Many people have already pointed out the profound hypocrisy of Pakistan’s religious parties for not once ever having stood against the violence that women face in the country, or declaring it un-Islamic, but they couldn’t be quicker in condemning a bill that can potentially protect women against domestic violence. I mean, look at this:
Kill a woman, rape a woman & the religious parties r silent! Pass a bill that protects them & they threaten 2 take 2 the streets! #pakistan
— Sharmeen Obaid (@sharmeenochinoy) March 16, 2016
That’s not to say that all Pakistanis stand against the bill, of course. Because, 1) Yes, #NotAllPakistanis (#rollingeyes here, yo), and 2) I’m not going to give a pat on the back to those supporting it because that’s supposed to be a given. EVERYONE should be supporting the bill – and not because they want to hear a “Awww, that’s so manly of you!” or “Aww, thank you so much for standing up for us!” No, fuck that mindset.
Just think, peoples. Patriarchy’s hold on us is so strong that we have successfully convinced ourselves and each other that a woman standing up to an abusive man causes the “destruction” of her family, BUT a man beating up his wife is not at all a potential threat to his family. Women make the best target of oppression in a patriarchy. It’s far easier to control and suppress her than it is to solve the crimes that patriarchy allows men to get away with. We tell women it’s their fault for being raped (because they exist and they make their exist known, because they were walking outside, because they weren’t dressed appropriately, because they flirted with the man who raped them, because they were drunk, because their cleavage was showing, because they were naked — NONE of these gives a man the right to rape anyone). Instead of making sure that men who rape go punished, instead of teaching men to respect women and women’s spaces and to learn to take no for an answer and to stop thinking they are so important and desirable that any woman who talks to them or flirts with them wants to have sex with them or that even if she wants sex, the moment she starts expressing lack of interest in sex, you stop.
I’ll continue this tomorrow so this doesn’t get too long.
– violence against women isn’t a Pakistan-only issue (because, you know, people need this reminder)
– my response to the individual concerns against the bill