This time around the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has produced an exhaustive 163 point ‘model’ bill as its response to the Punjab Women’s Protection Bill passed earlier this year.
The Women’s Protection Bill came under fire from all corners — many women’s rights activists accused the bill of not doing enough, and in contrast, much of the religious right condemned it for daring to do too much, too fast.
At the time, the bill was touted as being ‘anti-men’ by several clerics in the media, prompting Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam’s (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman to un-ironically call for legislation that would now ‘protect the rights of husbands’.
Also read: Women's Protection Bill — A case of men's insecurities
One of those ‘rights’ includes battery, and it is this same clause in the current proposed model that is under heavy scrutiny.
The new recommendations propose that: “A husband may, when needed, lightly beat his wife”. The ‘wife-beating’ proposition, whether legal, rhetorical or hypothetical, has always followed religious discussions about women.
‘Maintainers’ of women
This isn’t news — there are countless debates concerned with decoding of religious texts to comprehend whether a husband is allowed to beat his wife, when, under what circumstances and how much.
The general consensus on the issue tends to go something like this: ‘It is discouraged/only very lightly/the Prophet (PBUH) himself never beat his wives’, etcetera.
There are never any fixed answers and everyone pretends to ignore the absurdity of still needing to have this discussion in the year 2016.
The Council has now classified the act under ‘when needed’; a need which the husband can presumably tweak to suit whatever situation, he feels, warrants a ‘light’ beating.
Proving yet again that the most central focus of women’s rights in Pakistan revolves around the ownership of women’s bodies.
However one phrases it, the underlying factor that separates feminist opinions from misogynist ones relates to women’s bodies — what they can and cannot wear; who can or cannot touch them, see them or speak to them; what they can and cannot do with them; where they can and cannot take them, etc.
The Council has long placed all of the answers to these questions in the ‘male’ column — husbands, fathers, sons and brothers are the natural ‘maintainers’ of women. The state — seeking to give women back their own bodies, or at least the right to own bodies that are not battered and bruised — upsets the status quo.
The CII’s ongoing obsession with focusing the bulk of its ‘recommendations’ on and around women is beginning to form a predictable pattern.
In the past, some of the Council’s directives have included:
The bulk of the new recommendations do not address the subject of ‘protection of women’ at all which is hardly surprising given that the CII often needs convincing that women in Pakistan are ever attacked.
Also read: CII’s unhealthy obsession
The way this rhetoric is framed often posits women either as aggressors or as subversive and therefore, deserving of violence.
How we motivate the CII
It is beyond time that we begin to question how our own actions are complicit in empowering the Council of Islamic Ideology.
This problem is not theirs, it is ours.
Many of us find ourselves in a perpetual loop of ‘offence taking’ at most of the actions of conservative religious elements in Pakistan.
Each time they posit something absurd, we all shake our heads and ‘wonder what this country is coming to’ — as if one has nothing to do with the other.
What we all need to recognise is that changes — whether they centre on women’s rights, transgender rights or civil rights in general, cannot occur in a vacuum. It is not as if the response of the CII is at all surprising, they are doing what they consider to be their calling.
The bigger cause for concern is that we all seem to have accepted that this is the CII's job.
That every time civil bodies, human rights groups or the government try to take a step forward, they will push us two steps back and we will fall in line.
Also read: CII — Pushing Pakistan back to the caves
The CII’s proposed recommendations include some positives, which is perhaps not as much of a credit to the Council’s sense of altruism, rather than due to the fact that there are clear religious injunctions that would make it impossible for the body to tweak them to their advantage.
These include the right to Khula, a ban on dowry and the fact that a woman cannot be killed for leaving Islam. However, the document also proposes banning co-education schooling and making breastfeeding compulsory.
At this point, we need to ask ourselves what Pakistan takes seriously?
What are our priorities? Let’s face it, priorities are not determined by legislation or by political rhetoric but by action. This leads us to the subject of what we preach, what we punish and what we police.
It takes us ages to agree on how to end police corruption, improve educational standards and whether or not to take on the Taliban.
However, a blasphemy ‘accusation’ without any evidence will be met with mob ‘justice’ even before it reaches court; rejected marriage proposals can be met with acid thrown on a woman’s face; women being beaten in their homes is a ‘right’ men will draft laws to ‘protect’ — and denouncing a law that protects women is something they will take to the streets to oppose.
This is where we currently stand.
There is no denying that our national priorities revolve around maintaining and perpetuating a cover of religiosity.
If we were truly concerned with being ‘pious’, helping orphans and caring for the poor would be part of our national docket far more than punishing alleged blasphemers.
In 2016, our cultural consciousness is still located along the bodies of women and councils like the CII ensure that it remains so.
This is not about being opposed to ‘Western ideas and influence’ as the CII would often have us believe because if that were the case, they would ban fast food, technology, English, Cricket and US visas.
We only have a problem with ‘Western’ ideas when they pertain to women. This is not an easy fact to accept but it is a simple one. If one accepts that our ‘culture’ is a component of appearance rather than art, language and identity, then it becomes easy to create a vector that controls culture.
Therefore, truly ‘Islamic’ countries are those where women are covered up and ‘liberal’ ones are those where they wear, go and do whatever they want.
Most people of sound mind recognise that Pakistan cannot progress without half of its population pulling its weight. It naturally follows that this half needs to be acknowledged and understood.
On some level, it is absurd that the bulk of this job rests with men. This is not to discredit the efforts of men who stand with women in their struggles but to acknowledge that the leaders of this struggle need to be women.
To expect men to take up the mantle on ‘behalf’ of women is naive, almost as naive as continuing to let a ‘council’ define Islam’s ‘ideology’ for us.
Do Pakistani men condemn or condone wife-beating? Watch the video: