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September 14, 2003 

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Discriminatory laws adding to women woes

The presence of discriminatory laws of Pakistan has been contributing to the continuous deterioration of the status of women. This has been observed in the first draft of Gender Reform Action Plans (GRAPs) prepared by the Ministry of Women Development, Social Welfare and Special Education with the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADP). The first draft of GRAPs, unveiled only recently, emphasises to translate national and international commitments into concrete policy, administrative and budgetary actions for women emancipation in the country.

These laws are Hudood Ordinance 1979 (offence of Zina, offence of Qazaf, execution of punishment of whipping ordinance), the Qanoon-i-Shahadat Order 1984 and Qisas & Diyat Ordinance (Section 306 C) 1991.

The document observed that all these discriminatory laws should be repealed including review and amendments in laws with special relevance to women such as Child Marriages Restraint Act 1929, Dowry and Bridal Gifts Act 1976, Family Courts Act 1964, Guardians and Wards Act 1880, Labour Laws of Pakistan, Majority Act 1875, Muslim Family Law Ordinance 1961, Muslim Marriage Act 1939, Muslim Personal Laws of Shia and Sunnis, Penal Code of Pakistan.

Referring to the Constitution (1973), Article 25 in the chapter on fundamental rights of citizens, it observed that all citizens were equal before the law and entitled protection of law and there was no discrimination on the basis of sex alone. It further added that nothing in the article should prevent the state from making any special provision for the protection of women and children. While laying down the principles of policy, the Constitution goes on to declare in Article 34 that steps shall be taken to ensure full participation of women in all spheres of life. However, GRAPs argued that when enforced, the provisions against discrimination contained in the 1973 Constitution became insignificant with respect to other laws and interpretations.

Therefore, deterioration in the status of women has been steadied by the increasing supremacy of customary, tribal and feudal laws and practices; erosion of legal status of women over the years; the rise of parallel and illegal systems of awarding punishment to women; increasing violence against women; and feminisation of poverty.

It maintained that currently, different aspects of women lives were regulated by Indo-British laws, traditions and customary laws, religious injunctions and the so-called Shariah Laws (instituted by General Ziaul Haq). Even though these laws apply to the population at large, however, it is women population in particular that bears the brunt of the negative interpretations of these laws.

Under the heading of the supporting actions, GRAPs was of the view that all personal status laws should be reformed to ensure equality of status, as well as women's financial security and rights in accordance with current socio-economic realities, to expedite the process of justice in family courts. It also recommended the Council of Islamic Ideology to assess the impact of their recommendation on women, besides removal of all the discriminatory provisions in Pakistan Penal Code in line with the recommendations of the approved report of the commission on inquiry on women 1997.

Source: FACE (Foundation for the Advancement of Community Education).


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