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Pakistan: Conservative nuts of the Council of Islamic Ideology and their recipe to cage women - Who will bring their house down ?

29 May 2016

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Some features of women protection bill proposed by the Council of Islamic Ideology (Pakistan):
  1. Husband is allowed to ’lightly’ beat wife
  2. No dancing, singing and arts for women
  3. No co-education after primary
  4. Abortion = murder after 120 days of pregnancy
  5. A female nurse cannot attend to a male patient
  6. Women will not be included in reception of foreign dignitaries
  7. Women officials will not be allowed to go with ’namehram’ officers on foreign tours
  8. Despite wearing a hijab, men and women cannot openly interact with each other
  9. Women are not allowed to work in public service messages and advertisements

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see cartoon by Zahoor in Dawn on 19 March 2016

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[selected commentary from The Pakistan Press]

Daily Times - 29 May 2016

Editorial : CII’s anti-women proposals

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) seems to be working in an overdrive to make its presence felt. The council has issued fatwas and given proposals, mainly targeting women on the issue of DNA testing in rape cases, child marriages and polygamy among others. Recent among these, though not binding on the government, is a proposed ‘model’ of the women protection bill passed by the Punjab government a few months ago, which CII and other Islamic parties had firmly rejected declaring it “un-Islamic.” The ‘highlight’ of amendments proposed by the body is it that it recommends allowing a husband to beat his wife ‘gently if she needs to be disciplined’, in addition to prohibition on mixing of genders in schools, hospitals and offices. Much of the CII’s opposition to existing domestic violence legislation has been the assertion that domestic violence does not exist in Pakistan, and therefore does not need to be legislated against. The CII claims that the bill it has proposed protects all rights given to them under Shariah. The proposed bill is to be deliberated in provincial assemblies. Salient points from the proposed bill address property, marriage, motherhood, crimes and violence against women, and apostasy; and it even ventures into instruments of state ‘acceptable’ for a woman to be involved in.

Civil society, intelligensia, and human rights activists have rightly rejected the bill as being unconstitutional. The provisions of the proposed bill violate fundamental human rights and is against international laws and treaties signed by Pakistan. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) condemned these recommendations, calling for the council of “zealots’ to be disbanded. Furthermore, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah also said that the proposals of CII are not binding and can only be accepted after a debate in the house.

Although some of the proposals regarding honour killings, forced conversions, right to own and bequeath property, criminalisation of contracting marriages for vani and with Quran, are a departure from the hardened stance of clerics, provisions regarding domestic violence and segregation of women in public places is a cause of concern. The word ‘gently’ has not been defined expressly either. Similarly, there is no punishment outlined if a husband beats his wife, exceeding ‘gentle limits’. The CII’s bill highlights woman as the culprit party in all issues stated in the draft as compared to the clauses in the Women Protection Bill, which focuses on victims of domestic violence. The CII bill only describes modes of punishments husbands are permitted to impose on their wives if they do not comply with their responsibilities under shariah.

There is a need to evolve laws with changing times, as a law cannot be rigid, or etched in stone. Similarly, while quoting a verse from the Holy Quran, if the context and setting are not taken into account it isolates and distort the words in a way that distorts or falsifies the original meaning. The only time when a light violence is permitted is when a husband finds out that his spouse has committed adultery. Furthermore, since the CII rulings are not binding on the legislative assemblies, the constitutional status of the council is perplexing. Civil society has urged for abolishing the council as the purpose for which it had been created was achieved a long time ago. It is high time provincial as well as federal governments took responsibility to have proper laws and guidelines regarding these issues without succumbing to any pressure by forces that distort religion to keep their power on the malleable public. Domestic violence is a major problem, and government cannot stay in denial like members of CII who repudiate the existence of any kind of domestic violence in Pakistan.

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Newsweek Pakistan - 27 May 2016

Light Wife-bashing

The Council of Islamic Ideology’s proposals violate Pakistan’s Constitution.

Chairman of the Council for Islamic Ideology, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sheerani, has announced the council’s own bill for the protection of women after rejecting the Punjab government’s Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2015, terming it un-Islamic. It says that a husband can “lightly” beat up his wife if she is disobedient. It doesn’t say who will adjudicate this “disobedience” if not the husband himself.

Sheerani’s bill—which the council plans to forward to the Punjab Assembly where it will likely be ignored or rejected outright—has shocked many, including some religious leaders. Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari reacted by saying that the clerics responsible for the council’s bill should be subjected to permissible “light beating.” Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, who supported the passage of the Protection of Women against Violence Act, rhetorically asked who would be on hand to decide if the beating is light and added “if someone strikes the head of a cleric with 20 shoes, will it be light beating?” Human-rights lawyer Asma Jahangir said the wife is not a slave that she can be beaten up.

Of course, there is more “protection” in the bill: no entertainment such as theater and cinema where men and women mix; no state functions where women go around shaking hands with men, etc. There is the problematic issue, too, of women “covering” themselves or becoming prime ministers of the country. By inference, if she is not allowed to meet men, no Pakistani woman can be head of the government while shut up at home, possibly being beaten “lightly” by her husband.

The fact is that allowing the husband to beat up his wife, lightly or otherwise, goes against the Constitution, which forbids any “discrimination” on the basis of sex or religion. How can a man legitimize violence against a woman by himself? But Sheerani’s council has based its wording—reportedly at the urging of a member affiliated with the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl)—of the proposed law on the text of the Quran. Pakistan’s ideological inspiration, Allama Iqbal, challenged the clergy in the 1920s by suggesting in his Sixth Lecture that Islamic punishments would have to be “re-reinterpreted” in modern times. His words were prophetic. The punishment of cutting hands for theft is on the statute book but no thief has had his hand cut in Pakistan so far. The same applies to “stoning to death” which is law despite not being Quranic.

The council’s bill, despite its non-binding status, sets back efforts made so far in Pakistan to prevent domestic violence, which mostly means the husband brutalizing his wife, at times in front of his children.

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Dawn - May 28, 2016

’Lightly’ beating about the bush in 2016

by Maria Amir

This time around the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has produced an exhaustive 163 point ‘model’ bill as its response to the Punjab Women’s Protection Bill passed earlier this year.

The Women’s Protection Bill came under fire from all corners — many women’s rights activists accused the bill of not doing enough, and in contrast, much of the religious right condemned it for daring to do too much, too fast.

At the time, the bill was touted as being ‘anti-men’ by several clerics in the media, prompting Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam’s (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman to un-ironically call for legislation that would now ‘protect the rights of husbands’.

One of those ‘rights’ includes battery, and it is this same clause in the current proposed model that is under heavy scrutiny.

The new recommendations propose that: “A husband may, when needed, lightly beat his wife”. The ‘wife-beating’ proposition, whether legal, rhetorical or hypothetical, has always followed religious discussions about women.

‘Maintainers’ of women

This isn’t news — there are countless debates concerned with decoding of religious texts to comprehend whether a husband is allowed to beat his wife, when, under what circumstances and how much.

The general consensus on the issue tends to go something like this: ‘It is discouraged/only very lightly/the Prophet (PBUH) himself never beat his wives’, etcetera.

There are never any fixed answers and everyone pretends to ignore the absurdity of still needing to have this discussion in the year 2016.
The Council has now classified the act under ‘when needed’; a need which the husband can presumably tweak to suit whatever situation, he feels, warrants a ‘light’ beating.

Proving yet again that the most central focus of women’s rights in Pakistan revolves around the ownership of women’s bodies.

However one phrases it, the underlying factor that separates feminist opinions from misogynist ones relates to women’s bodies — what they can and cannot wear; who can or cannot touch them, see them or speak to them; what they can and cannot do with them; where they can and cannot take them, etc.

The Council has long placed all of the answers to these questions in the ‘male’ column — husbands, fathers, sons and brothers are the natural ‘maintainers’ of women. The state — seeking to give women back their own bodies, or at least the right to own bodies that are not battered and bruised — upsets the status quo.

The CII’s ongoing obsession with focusing the bulk of its ‘recommendations’ on and around women is beginning to form a predictable pattern.

In the past, some of the Council’s directives have included:

Ruling out DNA as primary evidence in rape cases,
Ensuring that women cannot object to their husband’s remarrying,
Prohibiting sex-change operations and,
Endorsing underage marriage

The bulk of the new recommendations do not address the subject of ‘protection of women’ at all which is hardly surprising given that the CII often needs convincing that women in Pakistan are ever attacked.

The way this rhetoric is framed often posits women either as aggressors or as subversive and therefore, deserving of violence.

How we motivate the CII

It is beyond time that we begin to question how our own actions are complicit in empowering the Council of Islamic Ideology.

This problem is not theirs, it is ours.

Many of us find ourselves in a perpetual loop of ‘offence taking’ at most of the actions of conservative religious elements in Pakistan.

Each time they posit something absurd, we all shake our heads and ‘wonder what this country is coming to’ — as if one has nothing to do with the other.

What we all need to recognise is that changes — whether they centre on women’s rights, transgender rights or civil rights in general, cannot occur in a vacuum. It is not as if the response of the CII is at all surprising, they are doing what they consider to be their calling.

The bigger cause for concern is that we all seem to have accepted that this is the CII’s job.

That every time civil bodies, human rights groups or the government try to take a step forward, they will push us two steps back and we will fall in line.

The CII’s proposed recommendations include some positives, which is perhaps not as much of a credit to the Council’s sense of altruism, rather than due to the fact that there are clear religious injunctions that would make it impossible for the body to tweak them to their advantage.

These include the right to Khula, a ban on dowry and the fact that a woman cannot be killed for leaving Islam. However, the document also proposes banning co-education schooling and making breastfeeding compulsory.

At this point, we need to ask ourselves what Pakistan takes seriously?

What are our priorities? Let’s face it, priorities are not determined by legislation or by political rhetoric but by action. This leads us to the subject of what we preach, what we punish and what we police.

It takes us ages to agree on how to end police corruption, improve educational standards and whether or not to take on the Taliban.

However, a blasphemy ‘accusation’ without any evidence will be met with mob ‘justice’ even before it reaches court; rejected marriage proposals can be met with acid thrown on a woman’s face; women being beaten in their homes is a ‘right’ men will draft laws to ‘protect’ — and denouncing a law that protects women is something they will take to the streets to oppose.

This is where we currently stand.

There is no denying that our national priorities revolve around maintaining and perpetuating a cover of religiosity.

If we were truly concerned with being ‘pious’, helping orphans and caring for the poor would be part of our national docket far more than punishing alleged blasphemers.

In 2016, our cultural consciousness is still located along the bodies of women and councils like the CII ensure that it remains so.

This is not about being opposed to ‘Western ideas and influence’ as the CII would often have us believe because if that were the case, they would ban fast food, technology, English, Cricket and US visas.

We only have a problem with ‘Western’ ideas when they pertain to women. This is not an easy fact to accept but it is a simple one. If one accepts that our ‘culture’ is a component of appearance rather than art, language and identity, then it becomes easy to create a vector that controls culture.

Therefore, truly ‘Islamic’ countries are those where women are covered up and ‘liberal’ ones are those where they wear, go and do whatever they want.

Most people of sound mind recognise that Pakistan cannot progress without half of its population pulling its weight. It naturally follows that this half needs to be acknowledged and understood.

On some level, it is absurd that the bulk of this job rests with men. This is not to discredit the efforts of men who stand with women in their struggles but to acknowledge that the leaders of this struggle need to be women.

To expect men to take up the mantle on ‘behalf’ of women is naive, almost as naive as continuing to let a ‘council’ define Islam’s ‘ideology’ for us.

Do Pakistani men condemn or condone wife-beating? Watch the video:

Maria Amir is a journalist-turned-teacher. She has an MSt in Women’s Studies from Oxford University and currently teaches Media Writing, Writing and Communication and Gender at LUMS.

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The Express Tribune May 26, 2016

CII proposes husbands be allowed to ‘lightly beat’ defying wives by Obaid Abbasi


The above material from the media is reproduced here for educational and non commercial use