Pakistani religious body: Law criminalizing violence against women 'un-Islamic'

The new law gives unprecedented legal protection to women from domestic, psychological and sexual violence, and calls for the creation of a toll-free abuse reporting hotline and the establishment of women's shelters.

K.M. Chaudary/AP/File
Pakistani women rally to condemn violence against women, in Lahore, Pakistan.

Pakistan's largest province of Punjab unanimously passed a new law that criminalizes violence against women, last week.

The new law gives unprecedented legal protection to women from domestic, psychological and sexual violence, and calls for the creation of a toll-free abuse-reporting hotline and the establishment of women's shelters.

But the Council of Islamic Ideology – the powerful Pakistani religious body that advises the government on the compatibility of laws with Islam – is not pleased, calling the measure "un-Islamic," and contending that it conflicts with the Muslim holy book, the Quran, as well as Pakistan's constitution, Reuters reported.

“It is unacceptable,” council chairman Muhammad Khan Sherani said at a press conference in Islamabad Thursday, according to The Washington Post. “The law seems to have the objective of pushing women out of the home, and increase their problems.”

The 54-year-old council is known for its controversial decisions, including a ruling establishing that DNA cannot be used as primary evidence in rape cases, and a decision to back a law that requires women alleging rape to get four male testifiers before a case is heard.

But such measures have been introduced in Pakistan before, and continually failed to end violence against women. A 1976 legislation passed to eradicate dowry and bridal gifts, for instance, hasn’t protected women from being killed over inadequate dowries, the News International, the largest English language newspaper in Pakistan reports.

Pakistan, with 2,000 reported such deaths per year, has the highest rate of dowry death at 2.45 per 100,000 women, according to the News International. Though such deaths are common in other countries, including India, Bangladesh, and Iran. In India, 8,391 dowry deaths were reported in 2010, 1.4 deaths per 100,000 women.

Yet the reality for women in Pakistan isn’t that different from several countries in the world, which have laws that haven’t succeeded in protecting them. The push to end violence against women has made some progress in the last few decades, according to UN Women. One hundred and twenty five countries have laws against sexual harassment, 119 have laws against domestic violence, but only 52 countries have laws on marital rape.

In 2013, the World Bank published a review revealing that globally, “the most common form of violence women experience is from an intimate partner. Almost one-third of all women who have been in an intimate relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence. Indeed, intimate partners commit as many as 38 percent of all murders of women."

In the United States, 1,615 females were murdered by males in single victim/single offender incidents in 2013, at a rate of 1.09 per 100,000 nationwide.

According to the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, “61 percent of Asian women report experiencing physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime.” The number is higher compared to whites (21.3 percent), African Americans (26.3 percent), Hispanics of any race (21.2 percent), people of mixed race (27 percent), and American Indians and Alaskan Natives (30.7 percent), and Asians and Pacific Islanders (12.8 percent) numbers reported in a national study.

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