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Zohra Yusuf, Chairperson, HRCP, on the need to bridge the gap between high sounding objectives expressed in legislation and the ground reality faced by ordinary women. 


First the good news. Since March 8 last year, several pro-women laws have been passed by Parliament, with little or no opposition.

The bad news? 2011 beat the previous year’s record when it came to violence against women.

These apparent contradictions are present in many developing countries where women, born into privilege, are catapulted not only into the legislature but also the highest office of the land. Meanwhile, the deeply entrenched patriarchal system continues to violate their basic rights in some of the worst ways imaginable.

In 2010, the Penal Code was amended to make sexual harassment at the workplace an offence. The appointment of an Ombudsman gave several women courage to lodge complaints and get redress. Last year brought in two more significant pieces of legislation: one to increase the punishment for acid attacks and the other banning those customary practices that adversely affect women’s rights, such as denial of inheritance or ‘marrying’ off a woman to the Holy Quran. If implemented, this legislation should bring about a revolutionary change in Pakistan’s tribal and feudal societies.

Tribal and feudal practices have long treated women as personal property. The rise in crimes against women is indicative of the immense challenge the passage of laws faces. The Aurat Foundation records 8,539 cases of violence against women in 2011; FIRs were registered in 6,745 cases. Since these figures are based on media reports, the reality could be far uglier. While the rise in numbers from 2010 is not dramatic, the comparative figures given for the past several years indicate a steady increase.

2012 started on a positive note. The long-pending legislation to set up an autonomous National Commission on Women was passed by both houses without a glitch. However, the real challenge is to bridge the gap between high sounding objectives expressed in legislation and the ground reality faced by ordinary women.

– Zohra Yusuf

The writer is Chairperson, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).

First published in the Adbuzzzz Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 4, 2012

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