The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has once again decided to dampen the celebration of empowerment in the country — this time by claiming that the Punjab government’s Women Protection Act is against the law and that some clauses are not in compliance with the Shariah.
The council has also decided that the Punjab Assembly could be convicted for treason for passing this bill without seeking consent with the council first.
How and why they came to this conclusion shouldn’t be a surprise given the council’s history when it comes to objecting anything progressive happening in this country.
Take a look: Sherani’s remarks
The Women’s Protection Act, passed by the Punjab Assembly, gives women legal protection against various forms of violence, along with the establishment of an abuse hotline, as well as women’s shelters.
In most parts of the developed world, these facilities have long been established, and abuse against women is a crime. In Pakistan, this abuse is rampant but mostly hidden under the veil of honour and fear.
Now, instead of receiving updates on how this new bill is being established and how efficient it is in terms of providing justice to the thousands of suffering women of Pakistan, we will first be focusing on how the mighty council feels about it with absurd statements on how it doesn’t fit in with the ideology of Pakistan.
Forget the Metro Bus projects and the mass underpass revolution of Punjab — today, this law is what the Punjab Assembly should be congratulated and celebrated for.
The next defining moment will not be when the government and the courts actually get down to work but instead, when they reject the forces standing in the way of implementing this bill.
Along with the CII’s tragic response to the bill, Chief of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam Fazl (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman has called for a law to “protect the rights of husbands” in the country.
Joining the angry men is also Mohammad Aslam Khaki, a Supreme Court lawyer and professor of Islamic law, who has challenged different provisions of the law and has in a petition to the Federal Shariat Court claimed that the law did not contain any mechanism for filing a complaint against a woman for causing mental and psychological trauma to her husband.
For someone on the outside, hearing these statements would make it seem they are manifesting various insecurities of certain men as opposed to being based on religious principles.
Certain religion leaders have claimed that this law will make men insecure — but they stop short of saying that those rendered insecure by it would be the same kind of men whose honour lies in killing their daughters or bartering them over a social feud.
See: Murder, not honour
So the question is, why do there still exist bodies and platforms which use religion as a tool to stifle society and women?
Why, under the pretext of religion, does one think it's okay for men who abuse women to walk free?
Why, in 2016, we are still wondering if empowering women and saving them from abuse is tantamount to going against the teachings of religion?
Why are we giving so much space in our papers and on our televisions to men who believe this law will do nothing but increase divorce rates in the country?
The same men who worry about divorce rates but do not care about the nine-year-old in Rahim Yar Khan who was almost married off last week in order to settle a family dispute.
Pakistan may be the first Islamic country to have elected a woman prime minister but it ranked 144 out of 145 countries surveyed — the second worst — in the 2015 World Economic Forum Gender Equality Index.
Social taboos don’t allow these women to speak up and fear of reprisal causes them to continue being victims to abuse. It is about time they are encouraged to seek justice and relief.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has been defending the law claiming that these initiatives are in line with the vision of the Quaid-i-Azam.
And he is right — for when Maulana Mohammad Khan Sherani, the council chairperson claims that:
“Pakistan was established on the basis of the two-nation theory and Islam is the religion of the country…”
Perhaps he forgets who stood by the country's founding father till the very end: A woman.
A woman who probably wouldn’t have thought twice about empowering all other women in the country. It is time the government does the same.
Because if on matters such as rape and violence, the government bows down to the right, it will be taking 10 steps back for each step taken forward.