The parliament’s decision to vote on the anti-honour-killing bill and an anti-rape bill, despite rising opposition, is an important and brave step. It seems that the government of Pakistan has finally woken up to the reality of violence and regressive elements against women in our society.
Earlier, the proposed laws — Criminal Laws Amendment Bill, 2015, and the Anti-Rape Laws (Criminal Laws Amendment) Bill, 2015 — had lapsed as they could not be passed by the National Assembly within the stipulated timeframe of 90 days
Pakistan lacks legal intervention when it comes to the protection of women. These bills are an acknowledgment of the need for such protection. Now, the state will serve an active role, voicing its condemnation of honour-killings and rape, instead of remaining silent, as it has for decades.
The unanimous support for the bill in the Senate was refreshing, reiterating equality and protection of all citizens and emphasising that the freedom and security of women cannot be compromised.
However, one can’t help but feel sceptical when it comes to the government. Will the bills get votes in Parliament’s joint session or will it continue to buy time via the bureaucratic process? Will the woman of the remote, rural areas be able to get justice if these laws are passed?
Further, there has been no talk of bringing about a change in the moral and social structures of our society, where men feel they are entitled to treat women as objects.
A legal ban, on its own, will not bring the change so many of us hope and pray for. The bills need to be understood, accepted and welcomed by those who they are aimed towards rather than serving as a mere legal formality. We need to have uncomfortable and difficult conversations and not simply rejoice at the passing of the bills.
It should be noted that, sociologically, law itself is not an end point. The reasons behind creation of a law and its implications, in practice, are more important as they address the matter of violence against women from its root.
We may ban honour-killings, but have we dealt with honour itself — the reason for which so many are killed in the first place.
Therefore, the idea is not only to have legislation, but to change mindsets. Does the bill criminalise violence or only make it more difficult or ‘challenging’ to commit acts of violence? Will a man not want to kill for honour anymore?
Do these laws address the root-cause behind violence towards women, or only act as a shield to enable women to become dependent again; to the system this time, instead of patriarchy?