Thursday, December 10 is Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. Today, we have three Stories for your viewing:
Women in Jail for Being Raped
Violence against women rooted in Afghan society
Mystery of the ‘Violence Against Women’ bills
Read the full story “The Afghan women jailed for being victims of rape”
Zirdana, right, with her son and Saliha, center, in Lashkar Gah Prison
. This story will make you cry out that Enough is Enough. Where’s the rights of Women?
On the day before HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, there’s two more stories below taken from Dawn.com on the status of women in Afghanistan and Pakistan that were first published last month. There’s much talk about if the United States leaves Afghanistan, the women will be put back under Taliban rule and have no rights except to stay in their homes and not bee seen. The first story deals with the status of women in Afghanistan under President Karazi’s rule, with support from the United States over the past 8 years. The second story deals with laws that were introduced and passed the House in Pakistan, but were held up in the Senate and did not become law due to the Council on Islamic Ideology issuing a statement criticising the bill on the ground that it ‘would fan unending family feuds and push up divorce rates’.
We are at war in Afghanistan and have drafted a Constitution for them that they passed into law. This is how women are being treated under our friends in the Karazi Government in Afghanistan. We are fighting to uphold this government and this society. Let a light be shined on them. Also, our “great ally” the Pakistan Government under President Zardari is no better when it comes to women’s rights. It is the culture of these Central Asian countries to have men rule all and women have babies and cook and clean and are under the rule of their husbands. That is the culture. We are including both stories as they appeared in Dawn.com. We are doing this so the reader can see it all without having to go to the source of the stories.
First, Violence against women rooted in Afghan society
KABUL: Violence against women is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghanistan, where they are becoming less active in public life eight years after the Taliban regime collapsed, the United Nations said Monday. The world body has spearheaded a 16-day campaign to eliminate violence against women, which is due to end on December 10, the anniversary of the universal declaration of human rights.
‘Violence targeting women and girls is widespread and deeply rooted in Afghan society. It is not adequately challenged and condemned by society and institutions,’ said Norah Niland, chief UN human rights officer in Afghanistan.’The space for women in public life is shrinking. The trend is negative,’ she told a Kabul news conference.Banned from public life under the iron fist of the Taliban regime from 1996 until the 2001 US-led invasion, women still struggle for their rights in the impoverished, deeply conservative and war-torn country.
‘No real peace and national development are possible without the elimination of violence against women,’ added Zia Moballegh, acting country director for the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.’Women who try to advocate for their rights in public life are being subject to violence and physical attacks,’ he said.
Insurgents destroy girls’ schools in Afghanistan and the Afghan parliament has yet to approve a draft law on violence against women.’Elimination of violence against women will not be possible without a national will and also the determination of men,’ Moballegh said.
UN official Niland highlighted the scourge of rape in Afghanistan.’Our field research finds that rape is under-reported and concealed, and a huge problem in Afghanistan. It affects all parts of the country, all communities and all social groups,’ she said. ‘Women risk rape in their homes, villages and detention facilities. Shame is quite often attached to rape victims, not perpetrators. Victims often find themselves prosecuted for the offence of adultery,’ Niland said. Adultery is punishable by jail in Afghanistan and there is no explicit provision in the 1976 Afghan penal code that criminalises rape. Only 12.6 per cent of women over the age of 15 can read and write, and 57 per cent of girls are married off under the legal age of 16, the UN says. The country’s maternal mortality rate is the second highest in the world, with nearly 25,000 deaths per year. Although the constitution stipulates that at least 25 per cent of lawmakers in parliament must be women, there is only one woman cabinet minister in the government, women’s minister Husn Bano Ghazanfar.
Second story by Zubeida Mustafa in Dawn.com Mystery of the ‘Violence Against Women’ bills This story deals with how Pakistan Government under President Zardari deals with women’s rights in their country.
Public memory is proverbially short. But the bills passed on women are too recent an event to be consigned to oblivion. Twice in the last four months the government’s attempts to enact pro-women legislation — one on domestic violence and the other on sexual harassment — have ended in a fiasco. From what some female legislators tell me it is not just the religious lobby, notorious for misogyny, that is to blame. More responsible are the parliamentarians with ‘rigid rightwing positions’ in the ruling party who secretly nurse anti-women sentiments. The bills enjoyed sufficient support to be passed in both houses, but were withheld. We still have many miles to go to counter the legacy of centuries-old patriarchy in our society.
Two laws — rather would-be laws — that were placed in the National Assembly received a lot of acclaim and were adopted without a dissenting vote. The media and human rights activists were thrilled. The excitement was premature.
The bills proved to be stillborn. Each had a different story behind it. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2009, which in its statement of objective spoke of ‘zero tolerance for violence against women’, was adopted by the National Assembly on Aug 4. It was widely hailed as for the first time in Pakistan domestic violence was sought to be criminalised.
Providing for punishment for violators through quick court trials, the bill devised a protection mechanism of officers and committees to provide redress to the aggrieved woman. Its significance also lay in its unprecedented sweep. It defined emotional blackmail and economic abuse, apart from the use of physical force, as domestic violence.
The next step was for the Senate to pass the bill before it was placed before the president for his signature to become law. But before that happened the mood changed. The Council of Islamic Ideology fired the first shot. It issued a statement criticising the bill on the ground that it ‘would fan unending family feuds and push up divorce rates’.
This stunned the people. It amounted to condoning violence. The CII came under severe attack. That should have been enough to give the government heart to pilot the bill through the Senate where it would have had easy sailing. But the ruling party chose not to. Now the three-month mandatory period has lapsed within which the Senate is required to adopt a bill passed by the Assembly. We are back to square one. The mediation committee set up to produce a consensus on the bill might meet the same fate as committees do in Pakistan. Gone with the wind!
In a country, where according to Amnesty’s estimate 70 per cent of the women experience domestic violence, and many more are victims of verbal assaults is it surprising that there are far too many wife-beaters around to look with favour on a bill that has the potential of having them dispatched to prison for a year?
The first bill on domestic violence in Pakistan was introduced by PPP MNA, Sherry Rehman, in 2004 but that was not taken up at all. The second took a year to pass through the committee stages, only to meet an unfortunate end.
The second is a more intriguing story of the set of two bills that were widely hailed as a step to free women from the insecurities they face when they step out of their homes. They were the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2009 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2009.
The first was the substantive bill that provides a mechanism to be created by employers to investigate complaints by female workers who bring charges of sexual harassment against male colleagues/bosses.
The second bill that introduced changes in the PPC and CCP to strengthen the laws was the subsidiary instrument to give teeth to existing laws on what is euphemistically called ‘eve teasing’. The two bills were to be introduced and adopted together, as was logical.
But strangely this was not done. Instead the second bill that was the less important was tabled and adopted, while the substantive bill was not put up at all. No official explanation has been given for this anomaly.
Bushra Gohar, the chairperson of the National Assembly’s standing committee on women’s development, confirms that both the bills were on the order of the day on the first day of the Assembly’s session in November. They could not be taken up because of the opposition’s demand that the NRO be debated. As per rules legislative business was deferred to the following day.
To Gohar’s surprise only the amendment bill was placed on the order of the day for Nov 4. Although she commends it as ‘a good step forward’, she also expresses her disappointment at the failure of the government to bring up the main bill.
Assurances by the president, the prime minister and the speaker that the bill would be taken up in the same session have come to naught. The Assembly was later adjourned.
So we are left speculating why this happened. While holding ‘some male MNAs from south Punjab’ responsible — they said it would be ‘misused’ — Gohar believes the prime minister was seeking ‘to appease the JUI-F leader’ whose support was needed on the NRO.
For the Domestic Violence Bill, opposition from Maulana Sheerani, a member of the CCI and the Senate, unnerved the PPP that was trying to mobilise support for the Kerry-Lugar Bill.
It is as plain that political expediency won the day.
According to Gohar ‘enough political will has yet to be mustered to take even a small step towards women’s protection and rights’. Moreover, she is angry that a ‘handful can hold the entire Assembly hostage when it comes to progressive legislation on women’. She reminds us how easily women’s issues are compromised to appease a few.
This is a painful reminder today which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. [you can contact the reporter here:firstname.lastname@example.org]
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