It was a great day for Aurat Foundation. Not only because 8 March was International Women’s Day but also because the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed long-awaited legislation against domestic violence. In its dying days, the Assembly adopted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill 2013. This much needed legislation, defines domestic violence as:
- Gender related, physical, emotional, verbal, psychological abuse
- Pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct
- Insult, ridicule, threat to cause physical pain, malicious prosecution and threat of violence
- Obsessive possessiveness or jealousy undermining the privacy, liberty, integrity and security of the victim
- Baseless accusations
- Citing barrenness of a spouse for the purpose of marrying again
- Willful or negligent abandonment of the aggrieved person
The bill, which shall finally become an act bearing the force of the law once it receives the Governor’s assent, stipulates that anyone indulging in violence against vulnerable sections of society, women in particular, would be liable to be sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of Rs. 20,000. These are not punishments commensurate with some extreme forms of violence perpetrated on women and vulnerable persons but nonetheless the bill is a great breakthrough in our struggle.
Several pro-women or women-friendly laws – dealing with harassment at the workplace, sexual harassment, anti-women practices and acid throwing – have been passed by the Federal Parliament during the last decade: see posts here and here. Many of these began as private members bills and owed much of their success to the women’s caucus created by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Fehmida Mirza. But domestic violence seemed to elude the law makers because many male members privately believe – and even publicly stated – that they had the right to punish and chastise the women of their households.
Aurat Foundation worked relentlessly for the passage of this legislation against domestic violence by the Sindh Assembly in collaboration with jurists, lawyers and human rights activists. They were supported by the women legislators of the Sindh Assembly. Aurat Foundation regularly releases data on violence against women and also organised awareness raising seminars on this issue. (Our work in respect of women’s issues in Pakistan features regularly in government documents in the West; see, for example, the British Home Secretary’s Operational Guidance Note on Pakistan, which may need to be updated after bill receives the Sindh governor’s assent, to her immigration officials. Equally, our work is also cited in cases which are communicated to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg; see K.A. AND OTHERS v. THE UNITED KINGDOM – 63008/11 – HECOM  ECHR 1696. And the U.S. State Department also relies on our efforts in its human rights reports.)
The young lawyers representing Aurat Foundation, Maleeha Zia Lari and Rubina Brohi, discussed and debated the legislative provisions clause by clause and led by Mahnaz Rahman, resident director of Aurat Foundation in Karachi, Shireen Ejaz, Farida Tahir and others tirelessly lobbied with the Sindh lawmakers for more than five years. They all entered the stern environment of the Sindh Secretariat to literally win the hearts and minds of the members of the bureaucracy. It was patient and sustained team work. The effort and contribution of Aurat Foundation was acknowledged from the floor of the House by the lawmakers when the provincial legislation was tabled and passed yesterday. The Sindh Assembly also unanimously passed two resolutions moved by the treasury benches and the opposition to pay tribute to the ‘dynamic women’ of Pakistan.
International Women’s Day was marked by Aurat Foundation as a day of solidarity jointly with other civil society organisations by holding a seminar in the Arts Council. The country is still stunned by the carnage in Abbas Town, so we dedicated the seminar and the day to the victims of terrorism in Abbas Town. A rally was then taken out from the Arts Council by the members of all the civil society organisations participating in the seminar to the Karachi Press Club, the meeting point and venue of protestors and advocates of lost and continuing public causes.
Dr Masuma Hasan is the President of the Board of Governors, Aurat Foundation, Pakistan.