Yesterday's developments offer a sliver of hope where preventing violence against women is concerned.

A parliamentary committee reached a consensus on the long-pending anti-honour killing and anti-rape bills that will shortly be submitted to a joint session of parliament for voting.

The renewed prospect of such legislation being enacted, mentioned by Maryam Nawaz in an interview less than a week after the shocking murder of Qandeel Baloch, is a welcome step.

The PML-N faces mounting pressure — both domestic and international — to address the lacunae in the law pertaining to honour killing that makes it difficult for perpetrators to be punished.

In fact, with activists, legislators and the media relentlessly highlighting atrocities against women and demanding justice for the hundreds of women and girls who die at the hands of family members every year in Pakistan, it is surprising the ruling party has waited so long to reform the law.

Perhaps Qandeel’s death has proven to be the catalyst for the government to act.

It was March when the prime minister had pledged amendments to the law so that perpetrators of honour killings could no longer be ‘forgiven’ by family members, thereby making the offence a non-compoundable one.

However, when the Anti-Honour Killing Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill and the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill — tabled by a PPP senator in 2014 and passed by the Senate in 2015 — were presented in a joint parliamentary session that same month, elements from the religious lobby objected, saying they were contrary to Islamic injunctions.

Since then there has been no headway, at least until this point. Pandering to the right-wing over an issue of utmost gravity must now end and the impunity associated with the crime done away with.

When more than 500 women are killed each year by family members over perceived transgressions of ‘honour’, the state must urgently send the message that those who are guilty of such murders merit the severest punishment and lengthy jail terms.

As the Supreme Court Bar Association fact-finding mission investigating the suspicious death in June of 19-year-old Maria Sadaqat stated, “the accused finds much sympathy … in the criminal justice system.”

The legislature must not only pass both draft bills on schedule but closely monitor their implementation, including ensuring watertight investigation of crimes against women so that justice is done.

The criminal justice system must dispense punishment that is commensurate with the crime.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2016

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