MISOGYNISTIC cultural practices are often so deeply entrenched that the state must make a more proactive effort to eradicate them. Last week, the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice passed up such an opportunity when it rejected a constitutional amendment bill seeking to declare women’s inheritance a fundamental right. The bill, moved by PML-N’s Sadia Abbasi, proposed the insertion of Article 24A in the Constitution stating that no woman would be deprived of her share in inheritance. Ms Abbasi contended that while Islamic law entitled women to inherit movable and immovable properties, it had become routine practice for families to deny them this right. Railways Minister Azam Swati however pointed out that such an amendment was needless given that laws pertaining to women’s inheritance were already on the statute books. Unfortunately, the latter view prevailed when the matter was put to a vote.
There is a vast disconnect between what the law says and what actually happens in the name of culture and tradition. The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2011, among other provisions, added Section 498A to the Penal Code to criminalise the act of depriving women of their right to inheritance. Anyone found guilty of this crime is liable to imprisonment of between five to 10 years and/or a Rs1m fine. However, those connected with grassroots Pakistan and the lived experience of many women — and not only among the lower socioeconomic classes — know how often men subject their mothers, sisters and daughters to emotional blackmail, and worse, and compel them to forgo their share of inheritance. Sometimes the ugly reality behind closed doors emerges in the public domain. Not long ago, a video surfaced on social media of women being savagely beaten by male relatives allegedly for demanding their share in the family property. For countless such women, the state must send an unequivocal message that women’s right to inheritance is not a luxury conferred by men, but a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Published in Dawn, November 8th, 2021