Like other countries the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is in focus in Pakistan. This international campaign starts from Nov 25, which is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and ends on Dec 10, the International Human Rights Day.

During this campaign, the federal and provincial governments for the last many years continued to make commitments for taking steps to eradicate violence against women in the society. Successive governments mostly focused on legislation for addressing different aspects related to the gender-based violence.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government has been dragging its feet on enactment of some important proposed laws for the last many years. Despite making commitments so far the provincial government fails to enact laws related to domestic violence, child marriages and acid and burn crimes control.

While rest of the three provinces have already enacted laws on domestic violence, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa no such law could be enacted though deliberations have been held for around a decade over the KP Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill. Similarly, during last many years the provincial government has been planning to replace the colonial-era Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 with a provincial law, but the plan could not be materialised so far.

Moreover, there is no exclusive and comprehensive law to deal with offences related to acid and burn crimes. Over five years have passed since deliberations started on a draft bill, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Comprehensive Acid and Burn Crime Bill, by different stakeholders, including KP Commission on Status of Women, civil society members and government departments, but the law could not be enacted so far.

From time to time the federal and provincial governments have been introducing laws related to gender-based violence.

In early 2005, then government enacted the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act (Act No 1 of 2005) to check the inhuman customary practices of honour killing, swara and vani. Through that law, various amendments were made in the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The said amendments for the first time provided definition of honour-related crimes in the PPC, which states: “Offence committed in the name or on the pretext of honour means an offence committed in the name or on the pretext of karo kari, siyah kari or similar other customs or practices.”

The inhuman practice of giving females to rival groups in marriages for settling blood feuds was also declared a penal offence punishable with up to 10 years rigorous imprisonment.

Later, the Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006, was enacted on Nov 30, 2006. Through that law, changes were made in the Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979, and adultery and fornication were turned into non-cognisable offences. Now, under the law a complaint has to be filed before the concerned court which has to decide to initiate proceedings in the case if sufficient evidence is available.

Two other laws were passed in 2010 to check harassment of women in public and at workplace. The first law, Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2010, was passed by the Parliament and given assent by the President on Jan 30, 2010. The amendments made harassment at workplace a penal offence punishable with up to three years imprisonment or with fine of up to Rs500,000.

Later the same year, the first exclusive law on the issue was enacted. The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, received the assent of the President of Pakistan on March 9, 2010. The law provides for appointment of ombudsperson on both federal and provincial levels.

It is now binding that each organisation shall constitute an inquiry committee within 30 days of the enactment of the law to enquire into complaints of harassment. The schedule of the Act provides a “Code of Conduct for protection against harassment of women at workplace,” which includes guidelines for behaviour of all employees to ensure a work environment free of harassment and intimidation.

A few months ago, women rights activist Rukhshanda Naz was appointed as the first provincial anti-harassment ombudsperson in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Recently, she stated that she had issued letters to around 1,100 public and private sector organisations in the province, asking them to notify the inquiry committees and display the code of conduct in their offices.

At a recent programme, she stated that from Jan 2020 she would start taking action against the organisations which had not constituted the committees under the law.

Moreover, to prevent certain anti-women practices another law, Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011, was introduced in Dec 2011. This law introduced certain amendments in the PPC and CrPC, providing for punishment for depriving women of their share of hereditary property, etc. The law is also aimed at checking the practices of swara and vani.

The government three years ago passed Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act 2016, through which more amendments were made in PPC and CrPC to prevent honour-related offences.

A major development in year 2000 was the setting up of the National Commission on the Status of Women under the NCSW Ordinance 2000. Subsequently, the said ordinance was replaced with the NCSW Act 2012 in which a more elaborate mechanism has now been provided for appointment of the chairperson and members of the commission.

Similarly, in KP the provincial commission was set up in 2010, taking lead over other provinces. Later, in 2016 the KP Commission on the Status of Women Act was passed, which replaced the earlier law of 2010.

Interestingly, in connection with the 16 Days of Activism in 2017, then KP government, headed by chief minister Pervez Khattak, had announced formation of district committees on status of women in 23 of the districts. However, the said committees could not be notified so far. Legal experts believe that laws aimed at checking gender-based violence needed to be properly implemented so as to get desired results.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019