LEGISLATION is only as effective in so far as it is implemented. On that score, women’s rights legislation in Pakistan has not fulfilled its potential despite the passage of several years. National Women’s Day on Feb 8 saw a number of rights organisations calling for pro-women laws to be implemented in letter and spirit. It is a very pertinent demand, for legislation is but the first step in the long battle for gender equality; without enforcement it merely languishes on the statute books, gathering dust. Take, for example, the sexual harassment law that stipulates the formation of a three-member committee, including one woman, in public and private organisation to take up complaints falling in this category. Far too often, however, those who encounter unwelcome advances from male colleagues have nowhere to turn because such committees have never been set up by their employers. The women’s only options are to either suffer in silence or seek employment elsewhere. The third option, which is to go public, is the most daunting for all but the very resilient.

During the PPP government’s tenure at the centre from 2008 till 2013, a slew of pro-women laws were passed. These aimed to address sexual harassment, as well as curb regressive practices such as depriving women of their inheritance, forcing them into marriage to settle disputes, etc. Since then, legislation against domestic violence has also been enacted in many parts of the country, most recently in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The following years saw several laws being improved upon, such as that in 2016 which closed the loophole allowing the families of honour killing victims to ‘forgive’ the perpetrator who was often one of their own kith and kin. The crime now carries a mandatory prison sentence; forgiveness can only be sought to the extent of a death sentence being set aside. All this is well and good; what is needed now are the mechanisms such as women protection committees, shelter homes, etc to bring the law to life.

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2021

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