The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act makes it illegal for women to be forced into marriage, for them to be used as barter or in cases of settling family disputes and for women to be deprived of an inheritance. Minimum punishments for such practices are outlined by this landmark ruling, which has been hailed by many in the country as a sign the political establishment is serious about fighting social injustice.
Such a law cannot come too soon for women in Pakistan, who face multiple threats to their wellbeing, including serious violence. In the worst cases, women are murdered through practices such as honour killings. Only this week, three brothers in the east of the country have been arrested for killing their sister. The men told officials in the Punjab province that they decapitated their sister and buried her in their back yard because she had ‘dishonoured’ the family by having an affair with a man in their village. Such violent actions against women are still all too common in Pakistan, where according to the United Nations Population Fund, an estimated 5,000 women lose their lives in ‘honour killings’ each year.
Even without the threat of violence, Pakistani women frequently face discrimination, such as receiving their rights to property and land. Following the passing of the new law, anyone denying a woman her rightful inheritance could be jailed for up to 10 years or made to pay a fine of one million rupees (over 11,500 dollars). Enforced marriages will also carry a sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment, as well as a fine of 500,000 rupees (around 5,770 dollars).
Women and girls in Pakistan are also denied rights to healthcare and education. Even where families want to take advantage of such services for their daughters, girls can face huge obstacles. For example, girls schools are being targeted by Pakistan’s Taliban movement. This week, Reuters reports on a school in Swabi (around 75km northwest of Islamabad), which has been reduced to rubble after it was bombed by the Taliban. However, though families in the community are understandably frightened by this act, girls have continued to attend their lessons, sitting in a courtyard outside to listen to their teacher. One 8-year old told the news agency, she will continue her learning because “I want to be a doctor and help people”. In response to the attack, a teacher at the school said “Pakistan can’t develop if its women do not learn”.
Though it has taken three years for the new bill to be passed, the legislation will hopefully strengthen the resolve of its people to act against all forms of discrimination against girls and women. Pakistan’s Prime Minister welcomed the bill and pledged his support for its implementation.