THE fate suffered by 18-year-old Zeenat Rafiq burnt to death by her own mother for marrying a man of her choice is starkly reflective of our misogynistic societal attitudes.

Without the slightest remorse, her mother justified Zeenat’s murder as punishment for ‘dishonouring’ the family, her siblings even refusing her body for burial.

On Thursday, PPP senators taking note of the killing — the third reported case of a young woman burnt to death in the past three months — urgently demanded that the government fast-track amendments to the Anti-Honour Killings Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2014, to make ‘honour’ crimes non-compoundable offences.

It was in the Senate that the anti-honour killings bill had been tabled by former PPP senator Sughra Imam in March 2015.

Then unanimously passed, JUI-F members had shown support. But the bill lapsed before the National Assembly could pass it.

In March 2016, ironically, the same JUI-F representatives rejected the amended bill demanding that clauses allowing aggrieved parties to forgive perpetrators be retained.

In its current form, the bill allows impunity for killers — family members often forgive perpetrators, even forcing prosecutors to drop the most watertight case.

The PML-N government must stop burying its head in the sand and push through an amended bill in a joint parliamentary session.

In February, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took on the mantle of rights champion, pledging amendments to address loopholes. He must be told that the latest killing is a reminder that delays can prove fatal.

It is unacceptable when women’s rights are bartered for political compliancy — several pro-women bills are put into cold storage at the behest of religious parties.

When parliamentary consensus is at the cost of regressive ‘advice’ from anti-women lobbies such as the Council of Islamic Ideology, the government should resist attempts at outmanoeuvring.

It does not need to be fearful of displeasing the religious lobby; the government does not require their numbers to pass an amended bill through a joint session.

And if incapable of instituting legislative and protective mechanisms, the government should finance the women’s ministry and the National Commission on the Status of Women and task them with drawing up mechanisms on gender equality.

Surely NCSW recommendations would be more women-friendly and useful than unsolicited pronouncements by the CII that is armed with Rs100m for its anti-women project.

Like it or not, democratic progress depends on how the state empowers its women.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2016

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