Legislation to protect women in Pakistan has seen multifaceted aspects starting from the independence of Pakistan. Pakistani women were given suffrage with the independence of the country. Later on, Ayyub’s Family law ordinance (1961) proved to be a corner-stone for women empowerment. The Zia regime, however, restricted women rights through the promulgation of Hudood Ordinance which badly disrupted the equilibrium between men and women in the society. This caused an upsurge of discrimination which was widely remonstrated by women right activists across the country paving a way to the process of reconciliation and debate over women rights through lobbying. This momentum increased with Pakistan’s international commitments to protect women rights through legislation based on which some laws were introduced yet it took almost three decades.
Although the process of establishing a democratic and safe state for the women and the enforcement of human rights in its real sense still has a long way to go in Pakistan, women’s rights protection by legal reforms got a bloom in the year of 2006 by the enactment of Women Protection Law after 6 decades of independence. Protection of Women Act was the result of the continuous demand from national and International women organizations and commissions.
With the devolution of powers to provincial governments and formation of women development departments at provincial level, the room for women empowerment and protection of women rights increased at provincial level which witnessed remarkable bills were presented in different provincial houses for discussion. Unfortunately, some of them could not make it to the status of the law yet debate proved that women empowerment is the foundation of an empowered society.
The analysis is engendered on the basis of laws for the promotion and protection of women rights at national level from 2010-2020. Major purpose of this analysis is to not only highlight key legal covers for women empowerment and protection of women rights but also to understand the commitment of different governments for the steps taken for this purpose.
It will also highlight the role of different political parties in promotion of these laws for women empowerment in respective domains.
Legislation for Women Empowerment at Federal level (2010-2020) 1
|SN||Date Incorporated||Title of the law||Political Party in Power|
|Name of Movers of the Bill in Assembly||Political Affiliation at the time of moving bill|
|Tuesday, 9th March, 2010||The Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010||Pakistan People’s Party||Syed Yusuf Raza Gillani||Pakistan People’s Party|
|Thursday, 12th August, 2010||The Benazir Income Support Programme Act, 2010||Pakistan People’s Party||Dr. Zaheer Uddin Babar Awan||Pakistan People’s Party|
|Friday, 30th December, 2011||The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011||Pakistan People’s Party||Syed Mumtaz Alam Gillani||Pakistan People’s Party|
|Wednesday, 19th October, 2016||The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act, 2016 (Act XLIV of 2016)||Pakistan Muslim League (N)||Dr. Nafisa Shah||Pakistan People’s Party|
|Wednesday, 19th October, 2016||The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the Name or on pretext of Honour) (Act XLIII of 2016)||Pakistan Muslim League (N)||Dr. Nafisa Shah||Pakistan People’s Party|
|Friday, 17th March, 2017||The Hindu Marriage Act, 2017 (Act No.VII of 2017)||Pakistan Muslim League (N)||Mr. Parvez Rashid||Pakistan Muslim League (N)|
|Friday, 18th May, 2018||The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2018 (Act No.XIX of 2018)||Pakistan Muslim League (N)||Mr. Kamran Micheal||Pakistan Muslim League (N)|
The Protection of Women (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2006 is said to be the corner-stone of women empowerment which set base for other specific laws related to protection of women in different conditions. This, on the one hand, repealed discriminatory laws against women and also structured penalties for the criminals against crimes related to women. After this amendment in the constitution, the space for advocacy and lobbying for women rights increased providing a level playing field for women related laws.
After this law, many efforts were done to introduce new laws in different fields’ for example domestic abuse in Punjab yet the discussion did not carry out any results in other provinces.
Although the provinces have been given the authorities after devolution for the legislation according to the need, yet not much has been done with respect to women empowerment and pro-women legislation. Usually, the bills presented in the house are taken out because of more opposition than favor. Cultural and religious restrictions are found to be some key reasons due to which legislation on women rights are prolonged in different houses. However, with the continuous pressure from international community, international commitments to promote women’s rights in the country and reporting obligations attached to it, Pakistan took key steps for the enactment of women empowerment laws in one way or the other.
The Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010
After years’ long struggle for the enactment of Sexual Harassment at Workplace law, this came into force on 9th March 2010 under the rule of Pakistan People’s Party.
The legislation was done with a purpose to create a safe working environment for women, which is free of harassment, abuse and intimidation with a view toward fulfillment of their right to work with dignity enabling higher productivity and better quality of life at work. Harassment is one of the biggest hurdles faced by working women preventing many who want to work to get themselves and their families out of poverty 2. This Act meant to open the path for women to participate more fully in the development of the country at all levels. Building on the principles of equal opportunity for men and women and their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination as stipulated in the Constitution, the act enables women to participate freely in the economic stream of the country. Complying with the ILO standards and empowerment of women, the government, through the enactment of this law, showed its commitment to the women rights and providing an opportunity for women to grow in safe working environment which is free of harassment and intimidation. The act does not only adhere to the Human Rights Declaration, the United Nation’s Convention for Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women but also complies to the ILO’s convention 100 and 111 on workers’ rights. This Act requires all public and private organizations to adopt an internal Code of Conduct and a complain/appeals mechanism aimed at establishing a safe working environment, free of intimidation and abuse, for all working women. It shall also establish an Ombudsman at Federal and provincial levels. 3
The Women in Distress and Detention Fund (Amendment) Act, 2011
Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act was passed by the Parliament of Pakistan in 1996. Its rules were framed in 1999 and in 2011, the Act was amended to make it operation under the Ministry of Human Rights. The Fund established under WDDF Act provides financial and legal assistance to women in distress and detention. This fund allows up to Rs. 10,000 for legal aid, bail and other support to the following categories of deserving women. This also includes women in detention (under trial, convicted or in Darul Aman) for books, payment of stipend or women assigned teaching jobs. It also provides funds to women in cases of extreme hardship for purposes of rehabilitation. Disable Women suffering from serious ailments including mental ailment or who are in distress and need medical aid. The other categories defined for women under this law are burn cases, distressed women and their minor children in need of shelter, women seriously maltreated by their husbands, similar cases of grave distress.
A Board of Governors and Provincial Committees manage the fund with the help of a Secretariat of WDDF in the Ministry of Human Rights. The act was amended in 2018 for its Section 6, sub-section 1 from clause (i) to (viii) defining the administrative procedures as well as inclusion of women in certain categories of Administrative Division.
The Benazir Income Support Programme Act, 2010
The Benazir Income Support Programme Act was enacted to establish the unconditional cash transfer programme and regulate its affairs and matters; the law defined the measures, beneficiaries and processes which will be taken to uplift the status of the poorest households of the country. The broader objective of the program is to meet the redistributive goals of the country by providing a minimum income support package to the chronically poor and those who are more likely to be affected negatively by future economic shocks. The short term objective of the programme was to cushion the adverse impacts of the food, fuel and financial crisis on the poor. The law sheds light on how the program was to be established, objectives and purpose of the establishment of program and how the program will be governed. While the law is precisely related to the functions, it also provides the general guidelines for the eligibility to be a beneficiary of the program and the methods with which the funds will be disbursed.
Benazir Income Support Program is one of the largest unconditional cash transfer program with which hundreds and thousands of poor families are benefitted every year for the economic uplift. The most important aspect of the program is to save women and children from the economic shocks by providing the minimum income support package.
The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences Relating to Rape) Act, 2016 (Act XLIV of 2016)
With the enactment of The Protection of Women (Criminal Law Amendment) Act, 2006, key legal reforms were made to protect women from abuse and provide legal measures to support women in the time of distress. However, the criminal procedures related to rape were overly exploited by the relevant institutions and authorities. Rigorous lobbying continued to amend the law with a perspective to make it more engaging and helpful for the victims while announcing sentences/penalties for the people who would want to exploit the process due to any reason. This led to the Criminal Law (Amendment) for Offences relating to rape in 2016 with strict penalties for the people who may interrupt the process of investigation in any manner. The amendment in the law also supports the rape victim through a thorough legal cover and protection.
The Hindu Marriage Act, 2017 (Act No.VII of 2017)
On 9th March, 2017 the Hindu Marriage Bill was passed by Pakistan’s parliament. Being the largest minor population of Pakistan, it was a great reform for the Hindu Community and it was in favor of their interest as they can now register their marriage and get a legal validation to their marriage. The bill was officially termed as Hindu Marriage Act, 2017 after being signed by the then President Mamnoon Hussain. This act is implemented with the basic motive to safeguard the women who were being violated, one of the members in the committee stated that “the Ministry of Human Rights also took the initiative to protect the rights of the minorities after obtaining a no-objection certificate from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. It acts as a milestone as it empowers the Hindu woman and also helps the Hindu husband and wife to have a record of the documents for the purpose of validation of the marriage in the eyes of law. It is of utmost importance because it provides for the terms in which one can enter into the marriage, it also states about the judicial proceedings for divorce and for the grounds of divorce on which one can seek divorce.
The analysis of laws above shows a transparent picture of the democratic state of governments in which certain governments took keen interest in the enactment of legislation for securing better position of the country in international regime. The data of the Acts passed in last 10 years shows that Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has remained significantly involved in moving the pro-women legislation bills in the respective houses for the legislation on women-rights even as an opposition party. Apart from the start of this women rights movement in 2006, significant laws and amendments have come into force since then which eventually provided women with more liberties, secured them of any maltreatment and dangers which limit women to thrive in any field for their growth, and ensured women the social space without any discrimination.
- The information on Movers of the Bill in Assembly is taken from the National Assembly through a Request to Information (RTI) under Right of Access to Information Act 2017.