I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Pakistan Press Foundation

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves

By: Syeda Fiza Batool Gilani

Sitting at a distance, oblivious to my presence or anyone approaching, she sat there staring into the distant nothingness. Her gazes though penetrating time, she was reliving joyous moments of her life spent before that fateful day when she refused her suitor’s advances and had to face the physical and emotional agony of being defaced forever.

Saira is an 18-year old acid attack victim, who has come out of an ordeal that would shake the core of many. She has endeavoured more than many men can in their entire lives. What would I say to her upon our meeting? I wondered to myself as I walked towards her. No measure of condolence, compassion or any compensation I or anyone can offer, could console her yet when I greeted her she replied in a humble but confident tone, a reflection of her radiant charm still visible through her smile.

She did not need any condolence or sympathy. With half of her face completely consumed by the acid, and almost no visible features on the left side of her face, her smile still radiated the worldly beauty she had once possessed. She had the strength to face the world, the very world where the barbarians responsible for her physical deformity roamed freely.

My meeting with Saira came just days before two very important bills, highlighting the protection and rights of women, were to be presented, on the floor of the National Assembly – The Acid Control and Crime Prevention (Amendment) bill and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011. Both of these bills, seeking unprecedented empowerment for the women, would give women a legal platform to raise their voices against injustice brought upon them by atrocities such as acid attacks, customary practices like badla-e-sulha, and depravation from their lawful inheritance.

The first bill, the Acid Control and Crime Prevention (Amendment), sought to amend Section 336 of the Pakistan Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860). This section states the punishment for itlaf-i-salahiyyat-i-udw (punishment for destroying/impairing the ability of an organ).

The advised amendments called for stricter punishments such as life imprisonment and fines of at least one million rupees. Additional amendments suggested within the bill demanded checks on sale, distribution and availability of these cheap and readily available acidic substances along with stating legal actions that ought to be taken in case of violation.

The second bill, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 focused on banning traditional practices like Vani and Swara, forced marriages, marrying women to the Quran and ensuring rights of inheritance. The amendments advised new additions to section 498. These additional amendments or sub-sections, criminalising the act, would ensure severe punishments like fines of up to one million rupees and sentence of up to 10 years to anyone forcing a woman into marrying without her consent, forcing her to marry the Quran or depriving her of her legal and lawful inheritance by whatsoever means.

After months of reviews and various attempts on the floor, 12 December 2011, marked the triumph for a long ongoing struggle, and finally these bills were unanimously approved. This documented a huge success for women’s rights in Pakistan. These were not mere words on pieces of paper put forth for humble consideration.

These are powers that will mark the beginning of change. These amendments have given voice and rights to so many deprived women. Women, who were bound by customs, dictated not by our religion but by tradition. Women, who had no choice but to abide by these laws based on human greed, rather than equality or humanity. These centuries old practices of Vani and Swara – marrying women to settle disputes – had left our women enslaved and our society crippled.

Our country is quite young in comparison to the nations we collaborate with as friendly allies and others we face as opposition. These nations, possessing wisdom of the ages, have all gone through political and social evolution to stand tall in the face of the global community. To come at par with these nations it is imperative that we should strengthen each member of the society, educate them and give them their basic legal rights and make them to become productive members of the community. The potential and contribution of women in this regard cannot and should not be ignored.

How can we, as a nation in times like today, survive let alone talk of progressing if the women in our society are taken as nothing more than a tradable commodity? Yes, we are mothers, sisters, daughters and wives. We are a symbol of compassion. But we are also Pakistanis and as Pakistanis we are pilots, lawyers, doctors, teachers and entrepreneurs and in many ways equal to men in the work areas.

Our compassion shall no longer be seen as our weakness. We shall no more be the fragile members of society. We now have the authority and legal platform to demand and claim what is rightly ours and voice our injustices. Those who looked down upon women and did as they pleased will now have to think twice before they act on an impulse to trespass our legal rights.

These legislative changes will ensure that evil doers like the ones that changed Saira’s life forever are brought to justice. We registered our protests on the floor of the parliament and our government granted us our rights, rights, which no previous governments could. But now it is up to us, as individuals and responsible citizens of the state, to uphold not only what is the law, but what is right. Treat women respectfully and equally not because we have to as dictated by the law, but because we do it in the firm belief that our religion and our constitution require us to do so.

I, like all the women of our country, wish to see my Shaheed leader’s strength in every woman of our nation. A dream she not only aspired, but went on to set a living example of, the dream of a nation emerging as a force on the face of the globe, where men and women both, contribute equally. In order for us to build ourselves as that force, that nation, we have to empower women on an individual level, empower them collectively in a community and jointly emerge as a nation.

Source: The News