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LAHORE: The Women’s Action Forum has expressed concern about the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill 2016 (ADR) -- passed by the National Assembly on Feb 5 -- and declared it questionable not only by terms on which it is premised but also because of low application of mind and an alarming lack of seriousness that has gone into its making.

In a letter to Senate Chairman Raza Rabbani, the WAF -- a civil society organization -- said: “The Women’s Action Forum is deeply concerned about the ADR.

The bill is ostensibly designed to ensure speedy justice through ‘arbitration, mediation, conciliation, neutral evaluation and dispute resolution’ and at the same time to ‘supplement the tradition legal system’.

Says implications of ‘panchayat, jirga’ system not taken into account

The non-seriousness is evidenced by the fact that only 27 lawmakers (8pc) of the full House were present at the outset of the session and a mere 18 (5pc) at the time of its adjournment. Out of those present, only 7 members debated the bill for 1 hour and five minutes before it was passed unanimously by the House,” said the letter signed by WAF’s Samina Rahman and Neelam Hussain.

It says that low application of mind is testified by the fact that in proposing to give a legal cover to the ‘panchayat’ or ‘jirga’ system, the National Assembly has not reflected on implications of the bill or taken into account that (i) the feudal-cultural norms of Punjab and Sindh and the tribal norms of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, provide little room for a woman being heard in a jirga -- leave alone any weight being given to her voice, (ii) the fact that jirga decisions are based not on law but on traditional and customary practices, notorious for being anti-women, that are systematically upheld and enacted.

These decisions reinforce violence against women of all ages, young boys and powerless men; they do not provide justice to them.

“The bill fails to take into account the ground realities of Pakistan’s society where (i) women are economically and socially dependent on men and lack independent agency, (ii) where there are parts of the country, such as Fata, where even the numerical strength of the female population is unknown due to tribal notions of male honour against naming women to strangers (Pakistan Census, 1998 on Fata)”

The letter says that the negative implications of this bill are not limited to women alone. The induction of the government appointed ‘neutrals’ comprising bureaucrats, technocrats and others, blurs the boundaries between the judicial and executive arms of the state and undermines the independence of judiciary.

In passing this bill the National Assembly has once again bartered women’s right to life, safety, security, autonomy, agency and dignity to political expediency and a few minutes of specious amity between warring parties.

“WAF is strongly opposed to this bill and urges you Mr chairman and other members of the Senate to reject this bill and by so doing maintain the dignity and integrity of your House,” the letter demands.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2017