March Issue 2010

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 10 years ago

While the rest of the country is reeling with issues of poverty, extremism and terrorism, some members of the country’s august assemblies are consumed with issues of polygamy.

Ironically, it was a woman parliamentarian, Samina Khawar Hayat of the PML-Q, who first raised the subject in the Punjab Assembly. She said given the number of single women in the country, a man need not take his wife’s permission to contract another marriage, and that she would have no objection to her spouse taking a second wife.

“But over 80% of the parliamentarians already have more than one wife,” came the honest revelation of a PPP legislator, Nabil Gabol.

Obviously, they are men of means — those who man parliament — and can support wives, and reportedly mistresses too — while they default on taxes and loans in these economically depressing times.

But Ms Hayat and Mr Gabol need to stop obsessing about polygamy and turn their sights on another world inhabited by women — those of the disadvantaged kind, not those looking to get married.

For most of them are already married — some as young as six, married to 60-year-olds — and victims of abuse. Suspicious husbands have chopped off their noses and limbs, thrown acid on them, burnt them with hot irons, divorced them without giving alimony and taken custody of their children. Some have even been murdered along with their families.

Even the girl child is not spared. Only recently, a 12-year-old domestic help was tortured to death by her master — an advocate — and his family in Lahore. And the whole lawyers’ community sprung into action, not to defend her but to attack the media for reporting the incident and bringing one of their own “into disrepute.”

Unfortunately, the Domestic Violence Bill, which was passed by the National Assembly, was allowed to lapse in the Senate. The mullahs had a ridiculous objection to it — that it was a western concept and it would encourage women to seek divorce.

The religious lobby tends to see every pro-woman legislation through the prism of the West — and brands it anti-religious. The term human rights does not exist in their lexicon. Remember the last time the women were trying to introduce amendments to the Hudood Ordinances? Maulana Fazlur Rehman said it would “promote free sex.” (It all boils down to sex!)

Fortunately, for every Fazlur Rehman, there is a Sherry Rehman within the assembly, who is contesting such ridiculous notions and lobbying for justice for women.

But it could be a long battle if the male colleagues within the National Assembly do not stand alongside the female parliamentarians in their fight for equality. For instance, only recently in the by-elections in Mansehra, women were not allowed to cast their votes as all the parties, even the progressive ones, had entered into an informal agreement not to allow women into the polling booths.

And this has been the practice in the past. So who will break that code?

For the present, the question draws a blank.

The March 2010 issue of Newsline is on newsstands now.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.