Gender equality and women empowerment in Pakistan
Women in Pakistan face serious challenges in their efforts to achieve gender equality as a result of anti-women customary norms. In recent past, a pro-women legislation with combine efforts of different stakeholders has led to a positive change. Women’s ability to acquire and take advantage of their legal rights depends on their ability to access legal information, advice and representation. For example, women experiencing violence need advice on how she can protect herself from violence. As violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of women’s inequality, the ability to access free or low cost legal aid, is particularly important for women who are more likely to experience economic disadvantage and be less likely to be able to pay for legal advice.
Barriers to Gender Equality for women in Pakistan
Barriers to women’s access to justice in Pakistan are numerous. First of all, lawyers are responsible for handling, processing and demonstrating verdicts on cases but are often overwhelmed with the words of the clauses and laws and they are usually accused for giving biased verdicts especially in women cases. The second most important hinderance the women face while seeking justice is the absence of a conducive environment in the judicial hierarchy. Furthermore, Bar councils and courts are mostly dominated by men most of whom carry with them a set of stereotypes, biases and particular mind set. The assistance from lawyers becomes less gender sensitized and as a result women are accepting status quo and prefer not to access courts because of their fear of being further humiliating. One of the possible reasons is an adequate knowledge of a “gender approach to law” and gender equality of these gatekeepers and stakeholders. If the lawyers are well versed with the gender concepts in the process of justice then there are high chances of reduction in biased verdicts and smooth facilitation to women towards justice in the country. While ensuring that women have access to justice is a key thread running through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the lawyers are also very important for ensuring implementation of pro-women laws as lawyers have the opportunity to interpret and apply the provision under the laws and thus send a powerful message to society that discrimination against women cannot be tolerated. The capacity building of all important stakeholder is also required in providing fair, improved and accountable system for seeking justice from the judiciary and gender equality.
In D.G. Khan, normally the women of the area are involved in litigation at the courts of legal system in solving their following disputes:-
(i) Deprivation from inheritance;
(ii) Guardianship cases;
(iii) Family litigation;
(vi) Criminal cases (gender based violence)
The Pro Women Laws.
The pro-women laws at federal and provincial level are numerous. The Muslim Laws Family Ordinance 1961 was one of the first laws for the protection of women which mandated registration of nikahnama in order to protect the rights of women. This law also mandates permission from the Arbitration Council after seeking consent of first wife or existing wives in order to contract another marriage. Another pro-women feature of the Family Courts Amendments Ordinance 2002 provides women litigants by amending section 7 of the Muslim Family Courts Act 1964 that a plaint for dissolution of marriage may contain all claims relating to dowry, maintenance, dower, personal property and belongings of wife, custody of children and visitation rights of parents to meet their children. Some major important amendments were also made in 2015 through Punjab Muslim Family Laws Amendment by amending section 6 of the Muslim Laws Family Ordinance to increase punishment in case of polygamy to imprisonment extending to one year and a fine of Rs.500,000/-. Another pro-women law stipulates that upon dissolution of marriage through Khula the Court may direct the wife to surrender up to fifty percent of her deferred dower or up to twenty-five percent of her admitted prompt dower to the husband.
The protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 was another celebrated verdict that provided much needed relief to rape survivors. That Act introduced new offences in Pakistan Penal Code for protection of women seeking access to justice. Furthermore, through an amendment relating to offence f rape was introduced in 2016 which as has an important impact on the offence of rape by reforming procedural and evidentiary issues related to the trial of rape offences. That Act stipulates punishment for hampering investigation of rape cases and death or life imprisonment for raping a minor or a person with mental or physical ability. The Act also mandates collection of DNA samples within proper timeframe and penalises disclosure of the identity of rape victim without proper consent. The Acid and Burn Crime Criminal Amendment in 2011 amends the offence of ‘Hurt’ cases of PPC to include section 336A and B defining ‘hut caused by corrosive substance’ and stipulates harsher punishment for this crime with fourteen years to life imprisonment. The Anti-Women Practices Criminal Amendment in 2011 criminalizes and stipulates harsh punishment for cultural practices including ‘giving a female in marriage or otherwise in badla-e-sulh, wanni or swara’, ‘depriving women for inheriting property’, ‘forced marriage’ and ‘marriage with the Holy Quran’. These offences have been made non-compoundable ensuring that the offences do not allow loopholes for compromise between the parties.
Justice for Women in Pakistan and Gender Equality.
In accessing justice for women is litigation costs other than fee of lawyers is a huge issue especially regarding inheritance. The stamp costs are high when it comes to property rights of women and therefore can be the first hurdle in filing a suit for inheritance or property. In this regard, Punjab is the only province that has a scheme under the Punjab Women Empowerment Package 212 which mandates that women litigants in inheritance lawsuits for rural or urban property are exempted from stamp duty ensuring property and inheritance rights of women involving in litigations seeking property derived from their inheritance. Gender sensitization and capacity building of Bar Associations and lawyers provides further issue. Women are generally more comfortable with female lawyers and this is a serious issue regarding affecting representation of women rights involved in litigations. The other most important barrier is lack of awareness, knowledge and information amongst lawyers about the new laws. Gender sensitivity and pro-women approach to issues of violence against women are virtually absent. The role of police, doctors and police cannot be ignored. These institutions/stakeholders are charged with the primary duties of collecting evidence and building up the case. There are particular minds set and stereotypes while dealing the cases against women and in this situation sometimes women have to file an additional process to compel the police even to registration of FIR causing unnecessary cost and time consumed for the already grieved woman litigant. The arbitrary powers of these stakeholders warrant an accountability mechanism, efficacious in nature to ensure that police powers are kept in check and free from bias and prejudice when investigating cases pertaining to women’s rights.
Pakistan is ranked 121st by the UNDP on the Gender Inequality Index due to women’s unequal access to resources and entitlement to rights in the country. This needs to be changed. Women are completely absent from the state structures and decision-making bodies that could introduce such structural changes to safeguard women, so the following are the recommendations:-
- Reforms of the criminal justice system with a view to achieve gender sensitivity, especially for women survivors of violence and gender equality.
- The aforementioned discriminatory provisions in the law should be harmonized with Pakistan’s international commitments.
- Utilization of the mechanism of the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) to recruit new lawyers to provide pro bono services in return for an honorarium for each case they represent.
- Ensuring the law passed by the Parliament also have a government implementation strategy to ensure that the intended rights in the laws are guaranteed.
- Institutionalization and capacity building on alternative dispute resolutions, like mediation and arbitration, to decrease the backlog of cases in the courts.
- Pro bono services and legal aid should be institutionalized in all District Bar Associations for client’s access to justice.
- Capacity building of the judiciary to ensure gender sensitivity and a sense of gender power disparity when disposing of cases with regards to women.
- Provincial Governments of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan should appoint an Ombudsmen under the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Work Place Act 2010, to provide grievance redressal mechanisms to complainants of sexual harassment.
- The Punjab Government should institute an implementation strategy for efficacious implementation of the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016, and uphold the ‘measures for implementation’ provision of the law.
- The Balochistan Government should notify Protection Committees under the Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2014 for efficacious implementation and grievance redressal of survivors of domestic violence.
- The Sindh Government should notify Protection Committees according to the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2013 to provide grievance redressal to survivors of domestic violence.
- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government should establish Child Protection Units in all Pakhtunkhwa Child Protection and Welfare Act 2010.
- The Sindh Child Protection Authority should Child Protection Units for each local area as defined under the Sindh Child Protection Authority Act 2011.
- Respective Provincial Governments should ensure that laws passed by the Provincial Assemblies should also have a government implementation strategy so that the intended rights in the laws are guaranteed.
- Criminal Justice Reforms, including police reforms, should be under taken by respective provincial government. Implementation of Police Order 1934 for investigations should also be ensured.
- Provincial Governments should introduce a system of online FIRs for easy access for complaints regarding gender equality.
- Women police stations and recruitment of women police should be ensured in all provinces by respective Provincial Governments.
- Provincial Governments should promulgate and institute mechanism to provide psycho-social support to torture victims.
- Civil society organizations should synergize to eradicate gender based violence as well as gender equality and adopt a holistic approach for women’s empowerment.
- Development initiatives by Civil Society Organization (CSOs) should from a nexus with previous initiatives and ensure continuity and sustainability in order to bring change.
- Partnerships with government should be strengthened by CSOs to further the human rights agenda.
- CSOs should synergize efforts with the government and judiciary on implementation of pro-women laws.
- CSOs should prove expertise and resources to further a common agenda of women’s rights.
- The Federal Government should ensure capacity building of the prosecution branch to deal with gender equality cases of violence against women through survivor-centric communication skills.
- Provincial governments should develop a policy framework to address and rectify the power and resource imbalances between public prosecutors and defence lawyers.
- Provincial Governments should institute an accountability mechanism for medico-legal officers, especially in cases of their negligence or tampering with evidence in line with the Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offence Relating to Rape) Act 2016.
- Provincial Governments should ensure the capacity building of prosecutors to deal with cases of violence against women, and understanding the impact of legal trial decisions on survivors of violence.
- Provincial Governments should ensure capacity building and training of prosecutors on evidence based prosecution and providing efficient service for grievance redressal for women survivors of violence.
- Provincial Governments should ensure provision of medical equipment like rape-kits, at police stations and medico-legal officers to ensure proper collection of evidence for a trial.
- Provincial government should build the capacity of medico-legal officers regarding gender sensitive support and survivor-centric communication skills to deal with cases of gender based violence.
- Provincial governments should recruit female medico-legal offices and forensic experts to deal with cases of gender based violence.
- Provincial governments should institute necessary reforms regarding Investigating Offices and the police for gender sensitive and equality grievance redressal of complaint or survivors of violence.