A MALE MPA`s remarks in the Sindh Assembly on Thursday demonstrated the kind of mindset that has prevented Pakistan from becoming a society that respects equal rights for women. In a welcome move, a resolution was moved by a female MPA calling for the formation of a committee to study the causes of domestic violence against women. In response, MPA Jam Tamachi, in what was reportedly a flippant tone, joked that men in urban areas suffer from mental torture inflicted on them by women. On hearing this, three women MPAs walked out, an understandable reaction given the seriousness of the topic.
According to the Aurat Foundation, 8,000 incidents of violence against women – including over 900 rapes and over 500 honour killings – were reported in newspapers in 2010. In a country where physical aggression against women is widespread, it is no laughing matter. The insensitive language used by the MPA, and the facetious nature of his comment, were emblematic of the regressive mentality that plagues this country where violence against women is hardly treated as a serious problem.
It is even more of a shame that this response came from a member of the PPP, the same party that was finally able to pass legislation against sexual harassment at the workplace. And even that law had faced its share of challenges: it was passed in 2010 after almost a decade of lobbying and after being delayed in 2009, when it was reportedly held up because the ruling party was unwilling to table it in the face of opposition from religious parties. One objection raised in the Senate, for example, was that only women dressed in an Islamic manner should have recourse to the law. As for the bill against domestic violence, which was first proposed in 2004, political intimidation by religious parties meant it wasn`t tabled in the Senate in time and will now have to be passed by a joint sitting of parliament. These examples serve to highlight how difficult it is to enact pro-women legislation in this country, and why any attempt to do so must be treated with the utmost seriousness.