AFTER seemingly glacial progress towards legislation dealing with violence against women, Punjab has surprised many by enacting, in some respects, perhaps the most comprehensive legislation passed on the issue thus far by the provinces — excluding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which has yet to do so.
The Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015 defines violence to include domestic violence, sexual violence, psychological and emotional abuse, economic abuse, stalking and cyber crime, as well as abetment of such acts.
Although it has been criticised for not criminalising domestic violence, the legislation nevertheless has the capacity to facilitate victims from the initial reporting stage to resolution of the dispute.
Some of the stipulated measures include a dedicated toll-free number to lodge complaints, protection officers to inform defendants of complaints against them, protection centres, shelter homes and expedited court proceedings.
Moreover, the legislation makes provision for practical hurdles, such as sanctioning alleged perpetrators of violence if they offer resistance to protection officers. It also takes into account the cultural realities that make women dependent upon their spouses in various aspects.
For example, under this law an aggrieved woman cannot be forced out of the house.
It is thus with good reason the passage of this law has been generally welcomed by progressive segments of society, and excoriated by those on the right. Moreover, as the country’s most populous province where the vast majority of crimes against women occur, Punjab is well placed to spur the momentum for change.
Not only should KP expedite the enactment of its own women protection law, but Sindh and Balochistan must ensure that the mechanisms for implementation — still woefully lacking — are put in place without further delay in order to give teeth to the legislation they passed in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
However, and this brings us to the larger issue, this apathy is symptomatic of the deep-seated misogyny prevalent in Pakistan — which is often, and disingenuously, couched in the language of religion.
This social conditioning condones gender-based violence almost as a male prerogative, and for which women themselves are held responsible by virtue of their appearance or behaviour.
Changing mindsets is always a challenge but not an insurmountable one. The media — particularly the entertainment industry — can play an important role here. It is high time that the ideal of feminine virtue ceases to be a woman who stoically endures mistreatment at the hands of men, without a murmur of complaint.
Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2016