Foreign Policy Blogs

Pakistan and America – All the Same

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Pakistan and the United States of America may seem like polar opposites, but when you push aside the semantics, you’ll find the same people everywhere: insecure, intolerant, injudicious and irrational.

In Pakistan:

The Domestic Violence Bill was first proposed in the Senate in 2009 and has since been lying dormant and the subject of much disapproval and suspicion. Members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) [extreme-right-winged religious party] have said that the Bill was unislamic for promoting “western-style freedoms”. At first glance, the fact that the JUI-F are opposing something named Domestic Violence Bill seems to be self-serving.  Take a deeper look and you’ll find that they’re not wrong in opposing the bill as it is currently drafted – however, their grounds for rejection are more than flawed. Beside the abysmal state of drafting (e.g. the definition of “sexual abuse” contains the phrase “any kind of sexual abuse”), I have the following problems with the Domestic Violence Bill  as it is posed today and I’ll leave you to make up your own opinion on the matter.

First, its application seemingly is only in Islamabad Capital Territory – acts committed outside the jurisdiction are non-actionable under this Bill. Section 7 states that an “aggrieved person” shall not be evicted from the household without consent “whether or not he or she has any right, title or beneficial interest in the same.” Household is not defined.

Where most people seem to have taken issue is the clause defining Domestic Violence, to include “Emotional, psychological and verbal abuse” which is further explained as “repeated exhibition of obsessive possessiveness or jealousy constituting serious invasion of the victim’s privacy, liberty, integrity and security”.

The Bill means well – it aims to cover all forms of domestic violence, whether they relate to a married couple or an adopted child or a member of the family with special needs (coming under the definition of a “vulnerable person”). However, the potential that the Bill be misused and abused – as it is framed right now – is vast. It appears that it has been drafted on emotion and not on prudent understanding of the real issues. Much like the disinterest that was seen in Parliament during the passing of the Women’s Protection Bill (which has somewhat done away with the hudood ordinance backlash that left women at the mercy of the interpreters of the rape laws) – when female members of parliament were against this bill only because it was said to be against the injunctions of Islam. Why didn’t they take the time to do their job and understand the issue or even understand the purported injunctions of Islam that were the backing of such legislation? Because they were unfazed by its repercussions.

Similarly, those who have drafted this Bill, although meaning well, have not done so in the most sensible fashion. Legislation proposing to give the weaker members of society a voice is bound to be criticized and delayed; just like in the Acid Control and Crimes Act took a year to pass and the Anti-Women Practices Act which took three; it’s a shame reckless drafting is only further hampering the process.

In America:

The Violence Against Women Act is up for reauthorization. Since is enactment in 1994, there’s been a reported 50% fall in spousal abuse cases. The reauthorization would continue the current grants program, expanding efforts to reach the Native American Indian tribes and further allow safeguards to lesbian, bisexual and transgendered victims alike. In the words of Senator Patrick Leahy, “a victim is a victim.”

Some Republicans (or the American version of the JUI-F, however you wish to see it) think the reauthorization would widen immigration avenues (immigrant victims may claim battery) and “dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples”.  The NY Times reported that “the conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly called the Violence Against Women Act a slush fund ‘used to fill feminist coffers’ and demanded that Republicans stand up against legislation that promotes ‘divorce, breakup of marriage and hatred of men.’”

Vice President Joe Biden is pushing this re-authorization. “Imagine now the message it sends if [the law is] not reauthorized. Just ask yourself, what message would be sent to every one of our daughters, every one imprisoned in her own home?”

Granted, the debate in the U.S. Senate is on how much funding is going to be afforded to this program and who all shall be entitled to claim benefit under it, which is a step ahead of where Pakistan’s Domestic Violence Bill rests. The National Task Force to end Domestic Violence Against Women said that the reauthorization had been filed as “motion to proceed” in the Senate and is likely to be debated on the Senate floor next week.

Coming together:

An argument in the Pakistani Senate was that if the Domestic Violence Bill were passed, a spouse couldn’t question the other as to where they had been even if they come home at four in the morning, drunk. To this, Mr. Abbas Nasir, writer for a leading Pakistani newspaper said, “If his contention hadn’t been so sad, it would have been laughable. Doesn’t he know that if your spouse (man or woman) arrives home at four in the morning and you haven’t the foggiest where they have been and why, your relationship may well be over anyway and is best terminated?”

The president of Concerned Women for America, Penny Nance, wrote members of the U.S. Congress to oppose the Violence Against Women Act. “It pits husbands against wives,” said Janice Crouse, spokeswoman for the group. She said elements of the law were triggered by “very flimsy” claims of abuse. “A woman can, with the barest evidence and no evidence at all, claim abuse and get him out of the house.”

Moral of the story:

We’re all the same, save our preference for fashion.



Sahar Said
Sahar Said

Sahar, who grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, has obtained her Master of Laws degree from The George Washington University Law School, and worked with a non-profit in New York. She currently writes from Germany.

Sahar can be followed on Twitter @sahar_said.