ISLAMABAD, Sept 28: Although a woman supervises Pakistan’s banking sector as the central bank governor, a premier commercial bank of the country, according to one of its senior officials, cannot accept women as witnesses in what a prominent lawyer and senator described on Sunday as a “gender-based discrimination” violating the Constitution and Islamic injunctions.

The Allied Bank’s regional head for credit administration department in Islamabad said this was being done under “court instructions” and “government of Pakistan rules”.

“Witnesses of ladies are not acceptable (sic),” said a memo from the official to a bank branch in Islamabad in connection with a credit facility against Defence Savings Certificates that was finalised on Saturday after the applicant was made to substitute a promissory note signed by two male witnesses for one that bore signatures of as many women, while several other papers needed for the arrangement were all signed by male witnesses.

This correspondent, who was shown the memo as an applicant for the facility, asked the bank official, Mr Saeed Akhtar, by telephone whether he was sure women could not stand as witnesses in such case. He replied: “Yes surely. I am doing this for 20 years.”

The official did not specify any law or a prudential regulation banning women from being witnesses but said this was being done lawfully although women held senior positions in the banking sector, whose supervisory State Bank of Pakistan is currently headed by its first woman governor Shamshad Akhtar.

“This is clear-cut violation of the injunctions of the holy Quran laid down in the dictum of God which says that ladies can testify competently under all heads and in all courts and obligations,” PPP Senator Babar Awan told Dawn when asked about the legal position on the issue, which he said could be raised in parliament.

He said that even under the controversial Qanun-i-Shahadat of 1984 enforced by then-military ruler General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, “men and women are equally competent to give evidence and stand as witnesses. In everyday judicial practice, women are appearing as competent witnesses and their testimony and depositions are being relied upon throughout the country as well as globally.”

Mr Awan also noted that under Article 25 of the Constitution, gender-based discrimination violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by Pakistan’s supreme law and said: “Therefore, saying that women are not competent witnesses is not only a derogation of the injunctions of Islam but also contemptuous of the constitutional and judicial system of the country.”

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