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October 14, 2015

Pakistan needs policy, legislation against dowry-related abuses

Lahore

October 14, 2015

Islamabad
Gender experts, human rights activists and youth leaders demanded the government to formulate public policy and legislation against dowry related abuses to contribute effectively towards eliminating violence against women and girls in the country.
The demand was voiced at a public policy dialogue entitled ‘What Pakistan Needs to do to Address Dowry – Related Violence?’ organised by a voluntary network Fight Against Dowry Advocacy Network (FADAN) in collaboration with Agehi Resource Center and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Pakistan on Tuesday.
The participants suggested the government to announce National Day against Dowry besides adding information related to this evil in the syllabus to create awareness among general public. They agreed that due attention has not been paid so far to this very grave and striking human rights and women rights issue at the policy level and shared social and political determinants of the issues of dowry and related abuses. Some women participants shared the bitter experience of dowry violence in their families.
In her briefing on this issue, founding Chair FADAN and eminent campaigner on dowry related violence Dr Rakhshanda Parveen said that while dowry is practiced in the world, dowry-related violence is most prevalent in South Asia, in the nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The most common forms of dowry-related violence are battering, marital rape, acid throwing, wife burning, and other forms of violence. Perpetrators may also use methods of starvation, deprivation of clothing, evictions, and false imprisonment as a method of extortion. They often use violence disguised as suicides or accidents, such as stove or kerosene disasters, to burn or kill women for failing to meet dowry demands.
The main objective of the dialogue was to built consensus on the need of public policy on dowry that could lead to a socially responsible mass media communication and endorsed the

need of a strong anti-dowry legislation that should provide a definition for dowry-related violence while clearly separating Bridal gifts and necessary personal items from conventional dowry.
It was suggested that the thrust should be on creating positive supportive structures that will gear the value preference of society towards dowryless marriages. Drafters should define the scope of prohibited acts within a domestic violence framework, taking into account the dynamics of dowry-related violence. The human rights activist called upon lawmakers to clearly include violence and harassment related to dowry demands in a definition of domestic violence. Chairman of NHRC Justice (r) Ali Nawaz Chohan, delivered the speech as chief guest while member NHRC Balochistan Fazeela Alyani shared the opening remarks and member NHRC Shafique Chaudhry concluded the session ensuring complete support of the Commission.
Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen gave a detailed presentation on dowry related violence. She appreciated the governance action of the Punjab chief minister on enforcing the law against lavish weddings in Punjab, and his strict orders that marriage halls are to be closed by the decreed time while underscoring the marginalisation of dowry related violence in mainstream activism and advocacy and apathy of mainstream media towards the issue of dowry violence.
According to her research and global understanding, dowry is a multi-faceted deep-rooted gender issue with social, economic and health consequences. She pointed out that in Pakistan, in spite of a consensus on disliking the practice, only a few have the courage to disown it. President Rawalpindi Bar Association Suleman Shiekh said that the legislation such as “Bridal Dowry Act 1965” provides protection against this evil but the issue is that of its implementation.
Member Islamabad Bar Association Shoaib Shaheen said that media can play an important role in spreading awareness on this issue. He said that all expenses related to marriages are correlated with dowry. He said that dowry is basically an issue of middle class.
Munazza Yaqub from International Islamic University stressed to educate and aware girls as most of the time, they also pressurize their parents for expensive dowry items. Dr Riffat Haq from Allama Iqbal Open University urged for comprehensive research on this issue at all levels.
The participants criticized media for spreading the culture of expensive marriages through morning shows. Rabeea Hadi from Aurat Foundation urged PEMRA to take action against all such programs.