March Issue 2012
Interview: Anis Haroon Chairperson, National Commission on the Status of Women
Q: Should laws precede social change or vice versa?
A: Laws are instrumental in bringing social change, so in my view they should definitely precede social change. The very process of law-making, and following through on different steps of the legislation, amounts to creating the space to bring private matters into public debate and pushing boundaries.
Q: The gap between the existing laws pertaining to women and their implementation has been widening. How do you propose to bridge the gap?
A: The gap in the implementation of all laws has always been there, including those pertaining to women. This has been the concern of law-makers, implementers and activists for many years. One needs to review and reform all those institutions that are involved in the implementation of laws. To begin with, police reforms are needed in order to ensure that FIRs are registered and proper investigations are carried out. The conviction rate for crimes against women is negligible due to faulty investigations and lack of evidence. Most of the time, especially in cases of rape, the intervention is not timely, and no medico-legal facilities are available; consequently the evidence is destroyed. Civil society organisations have, for a long time, been proposing a one-window operation for rape victims and extensive work has been done on it. The police and lower judiciary need to be sensitised on women’s issues and, additionally, they need to update their knowledge. More women need to be inducted into the judiciary and the police. The institutional response to violence needs to be strengthened by the state, which is responsible for the implementation of laws in order to protect women.
Q: To whom would you credit the passage of so many pro-women laws in quick succession?
A: The NCSW played a key role in creating political clout by bringing civil society organisations with them and creating a direct link with the legislators. The fact that the 20% women sitting in parliament were able to form a women’s parliamentary caucus has helped tremendously in bringing women’s issues into the assemblies. The speaker, who is a woman herself, has played a key role in pushing the women’s agenda forward in chairs of different standing committees and contributed to its success. The NCSW, women’s organisations and legislators have worked together to draw effective strategies.
Q: Now that there are so many gender-specific laws, can one expect any dramatic change in the situation of women?
A: Women’s issues are linked to the socio-economic and political situation of the country. No dramatic change takes place overnight, in isolation. The stage has been set and many barriers have been broken. However, the mindset of those who are implementing the women’s agenda also needs to be changed. The media can play very significant role in it.
Q: Three factors behind inefficacy of the laws are:
(i) the police who are mostly reluctant to register FIRs.
(ii) the role played by the jirgas, who sanction retrogressive practices.
(iii) the men who line the pockets of the police and the jirgas to get a verdict in their favour. How do you intend to tackle these hurdles?
A: All three lead to the denial of and delay in justice. Not only are FIRs not registered but the investigations are also faulty. The police are under the control of influential political and feudal lords and the jirgas continue to erode the rights enshrined in the constitution. The Supreme Court has been petitioned by the NCSW to enforce a ban on all jirgas that are held to resolve women-specific issues. This parallel system of justice needs to be abolished totally and the judicial system should be overhauled to dispense justice without delays. There is a dire need to restore people’s confidence in the judicial system.
This interview was originally published in the March 2012 issue of Newsline.
Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues such as education, health care, womenâ€™s empowerment, childrenâ€™s rights and the lives of ordinary people.