The PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa continues its struggle to put through a bill on Domestic Violence Against Women (Protection and Prevention). The bill intends to provide victims of domestic violence with assistance, set up a helpline they could use, offer them access to help and shelter and take other similar measures to safeguard them. It was first tabled in 2016 and had before this first been presented to the Council on Islamic Ideology in a move to allay concerns raised by groups, including the Jamaat-e-Islami which was a partner of the government. The matter was not pursued by the provincial government after this. Now, the KP government has put forward an amended version of the bill, which was on Monday immediately met with opposition from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal coalition, whose leaders say that they first need to ensure the bill does not violate any religious sanction. PTI leaders have given their assurance that any concerns will be tackled.
This mainly points to a failure to create sufficient awareness about the need for a law on domestic violence and the need to protect vulnerable people from injury or other harm. Legislation for this purpose exists in both Punjab and Sindh. While there can be no religious approval for an act which hurts an individual who is weak or vulnerable in any way, a broader effort is needed to persuade people – including legislators from all political parties – that such a law is not equivalent to meddling in household affairs.
It should be noted that cases of domestic violence are only rarely reported, especially in areas outside major urban centres. Traditional practices, which have no place in religion, such as ‘honour killing’ or ‘swara’ or ‘vaani’, have been defended on the grounds that they are protected by Islam. This is a gross misreading of a religion which gives enormous respect and protection to women. The PTI government and groups supporting the rights of women in KP need to campaign harder to spread this message and end the controversy that has repeatedly prevented the law against domestic violence from moving forward. This must be a part of the strategy of the government if it is truly determined to turn its bill into law and make the province a safer place for all who live within it.