Archive | April, 2016

Counter-narrative

22 Apr

 

A differentially-abled, twenty two year-old woman was allegedly raped by a hospital worker in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at PIMS. This heinous crime was not committed in a public hospital in rural Sindh or southern Punjab – it took place in the federal capital. Before moving on to the substance of this piece, it is pertinent to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that the victim’s medical tests had been conducted almost immediately.

Further, Dr. Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, Minister for the Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) has already established a three-member committee to look into the occurrence. Fazal Mola, Administrator PIMS, confirmed that the crime had indeed occurred at PIMS. While one may view this appreciation with scepticism, the reason it is pertinent to highlight the same is because redressal of violations cannot take place in an environment hostile to the victim. While follow-up remains most important, the manner in which this complaint is being dealt with demonstrates a shift in attitude, resulting in heinous crimes, such as this, being taken more seriously than before. Or at least, so it seems at face value.

It is no secret that women in this country fight every day to survive. Living in Islamabad, it is no wonder one takes safety for granted – but women across the rest of this country must fight their battles every day. Whether the battle is one for the right to education or the right to marry someone of her own choosing, women in this country are vulnerable to all kinds of abuse and violence. What makes the situation of women even worse is the issue of ‘double vulnerability’, i.e. when a woman is also disabled, or when she belongs to a minority group, or both, etc.

It is clearly necessary to ensure that those in need of strictly designed protections are given exactly that. In 2014, the Aurat Foundation reported that more than 7,010 cases of violence against women had been recorded that year. In fact, the Aurat Foundation’s Violence against Women (VAW) report demonstrated that in the first six months of 2015, 2926 cases of violence had been reported. If one was to assess the progress of Pakistan, these statistics would demonstrate that whatever little progress has been achieved is neither indicative of a long-term solution nor can it accurately be termed ‘progress’.

The fact remains that we are often fooled by the glare from shiny legislative initiatives and grand commissions with wide-ranging powers mandated on paper. Meanwhile, misogynist politicians attempt to weaken the baby steps being taken by other provinces, completely exploiting the 18th Amendment. Imran Khan’s decision to submit KP’s women’s protection bill to the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), a step not required under the Constitution or any other law of the land, is not just a move one can or should brush aside. It is a defining feature of politics in this country: men will only stand up for women’s rights when they do not fear backlash from the religious right. But the more important question here is: what was the reaction of women across the country to the aforementioned? If women themselves cannot stand up, then I’m afraid no legislation can ever safeguard our rights and liberties.

Since Imran Khan’s politics of hypocrisy is mainly confined to KPK for the time being, let us turn towards federal initiative and apathy of the other provinces. We can have a hundred more women’s protection bills in all the provinces, but till we amend or repeal existing laws that perpetuate inequality and discrimination, the former will have little to no positive effect on the situation of women. Let us take a quick glance at the legislative landscape.

The Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 remains in place, with Sindh being the only province where the minimum age has been raised to eighteen, through the Child Marriages Restraint Act (2014). Disparity between the federation and the provinces, and between the provinces themselves, ensures that the overall protection afforded to young girls remains weak and inconsistent. Moreover, mere passage of legislation will not counter the firmly embedded societal notions regarding the acceptability of child brides. It is not enough for laws to be promulgated – prior to enactment, the respective government must take it upon itself to launch social campaigns, promoting a counter-narrative to challenge the misinterpretation of religion by right-wingers.

In fact, it seems that the federal government and various provincial governments have, through their recent attempts at legislative innovation, created a far more complicated situation than understood by the rest of us. The Qisas and Diyat ordinance is not only still intact but is readily enforceable – and no one is talking about repealing it. The ordinance permits a victim’s heir to receive compensation from the killer in exchange for pardon of the crime. Considering that many instances of rape, domestic violence and all instances of ‘honour killing’ occur within the family itself, granting the victim’s family the right to pardon a killer defeats the purpose of any and all legislation trying to prevent the occurrence of such crimes.

As aforementioned, redressal of violations cannot occur in an environment hostile to the victim. Thus, while one appreciates the attempts at creating a protective environment for female victims of heinous crimes, there is no reason why we should not be fighting to ensure that these crimes are not implicitly sanctioned by the State itself. The basis of discrimination, rooted in prejudiced societal attitudes and reflected in legislation, must be shattered. Indeed, in order to do so, one requires stringent laws and monitoring commissions – but surely, none of these can succeed without the development of a comprehensive counter-narrative.

 

 

 

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