LARKANA: Speakers at a seminar titled ‘Provincial policy dialogue on early marriages and domestic violence’ called for establishing committees at district level to ensure implementation of laws protecting women’s rights and curbing underage marriages.
They were of the concerted view that the laws protecting women’s rights did exist but were rarely implemented.
The seminar was held under the auspices of a non-governmental organisation, Shirkatgah, at a local hotel on Tuesday.
A large number of women from all walks of life attended the seminar.
Amar Sindhu, a leader of the Women Action Forum (WAF), said that although a change was being witnessed in the culture, where women were killed (for honour or other invalid reasons), it seemed as if men still possessed the licence to kill their female family members.
Larkana’s City ASP Tauqeer Naeem, sharing the crime data with the seminar participants, said that over the past seven months alone 28 women had been killed in the city. Most of the cases related to karo-kari (so-called honour killings) and four related to domestic violence, he added.
He observed that one of the main factors behind many cases of violence against women appeared to be ‘watta-satta’ (an arrangement under which a man is marries a woman only if her brother/son marries the man’s close family member).
Under this arrangement, he said, most underage marriages were held.
The police officer, on the basis of the cases he came across during his posting in the city, disclosed that “between 90 and 95 per cent marriages are held without a Nikahnama being signed or registered”.
He stressed the need for ensuring formal education in society to create awareness of demerits of underage marriages and impact of violence against women on families and relationships.
Four women committed suicide in the city over the past few months due to violence against them by their husbands, he told the audience, and said police personnel should also be sensitised on how to deal fairly with cases of violence against women.
Regarding the state of women empowerment in society, the ASP said that remnants of the 5,000-year-old civilisation of Moenjodaro showed that women in that era remained in the forefront in all walks of life. The present-day society, he observed, was a male-dominated one where the process of women empowerment was very slow.
“Culture is changing, but jirgas (tribal courts) presided over by feudal lords, lawmakers and other influential people are frequently held at circuit houses and bungalows of tribal chieftains. More often, the rulings are influenced by them and women are losers,” she said.
She also referred to the recent incidents of gang rape in Rasoolabad, Khipro, Johi and some other areas, and said feudal lords appeared undeterred by civil society’s protests over the illegal jirgas and struggle against injustices with the womenfolk.
The struggle should now move ahead, i.e. from justice in individual cases to the cause of collective change, she stressed.
“A collective change is possible only when ‘big houses’ are shaken by the voice of a larger number of women [legislators],” she said.
Calling for the abolishment of the jirga system, she criticised the role of state institutions that was helping the system to flourish.
Shirkatgah director Gulnaz Tabassum observed that women, constituting more than 50 per cent of the country’s population, had meagre representation in elected houses, courts and all major sectors. “That’s why decisions come against women,” she said.
She was of the view that male members dominating households and institutions had the mindset of going against women.
She held obsolete traditions and customs rooted deeply in culture responsible for killing of and violence against women.
Other participants, including district social welfare officer Dr Amir Abro, PML-F divisional chief Wahab Pandrani, Khalid Chandio, Ms Hameeda, Hajira Selro, Rubina Chandio and Safia Abbasi, expressed their dismay over the non- implementation of the laws protecting women.
They proposed insertion of the column of ‘age’ in the Nikahnama form to remove any doubt about the bride’s being adult. The supported the idea that education was key to the required change in the system and root out all inhuman, unfair and illegal customs and traditions.
Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2014