As womens rights advocates and educated women throughout the country so rightly celebrate the passing of two landmark bills intended, after, hopefully, receiving final approval from the President, to safeguard women from male instigated physical and mental torture, it is pertinent to wonder whether or not these laws will actually serve to improve the lot of 'ordinary women throughout the length and breadth of a country which is, despite much flaunted reports to the contrary combined with a liberal dose of wishful thinking, solely dominated by the male of the species. These bills - in the form of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill and the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill, the first prohibiting forced marriages, marriage with the Holy Quran and preventing women from inheriting property, and the second introducing life imprisonment which should not be less than 14 years or a minimum fine of Rs1 million - are laudable indeed and a major milestone in the ongoing battle for womens rights. Yet, they cannot eradicate situations, traditions and customs that have, over the years, become an integral, indeed widely accepted, part of society as a whole unless, and until, mindsets, not only the mindsets of men but of some women too, undergo a complete transformation of a kind which, in real terms, could take generations to instil. The majority of people, not only here in Pakistan but also in other countries, tend to consider that laws are made for other people and, most certainly, do not apply to them personally unless they are, quite literally, caught in the act and, even then, they will attempt to squirm or bribe their way to an innocence they should not, under any circumstances, be allowed to proclaim: One only has to think of governmental figures, politicians in general, people of 'influence and those whose money or connections 'talk to understand that, especially in countries such as Pakistan, a certain segment of the population is indubitably 'innocent unless proven guilty, rather than the 'guilty until proven innocent as is supposed to be the case. There are far too many examples of guilty people being completely exonerated of their crimes in Pakistan to list here and, as what is 'good for the goose is good for the gander to use a somewhat overworked term, the population at large fully expects, and often does, escape punishment for crimes committed. It is not that laws do not exist; it is that they can and are 'bent or 'ignored under certain sets of circumstances and this is exactly where these two new bills are liable to fall down. Take the issue of 'forced marriages for instance: Forcing girls and women into marriage, like Badal-e-sulah, Vani or Swara, as a means of settling disputes is a deep-rooted, despicable practice that should have been outlawed generations ago and, if humankind had any conscience, it should never have evolved in the first place. Yet, surely, the term 'forced marriage is equally applicable to those, men and women both, who are 'forced by elder members of their families, to tie the knot with a near or distant relative for reasons of maintaining family ties or retaining property within a certain family group? It is true to say that the girl or woman is asked, at the commencement of the ceremony, if she agrees to marry whoever the male happens to be but few, if any and despite their personal misgivings, will dare to back out at this juncture as their lives, if they are allowed to live, would be made an absolute misery and it is, shamefully so, equally true that many females, particularly poorly or completely uneducated ones, are totally unaware that they do have this right of refusal at all When it comes to issues pertaining to property rights and succession to both immovable and movable property, the law of the land runs slap bang into the differences between Sunni and Shia rights of inheritance, as already laid down and stringently spelt out. Therefore, any attempt at 'interfering with these could have some very nasty repercussions with, at the very least, cripplingly expensive cases, running on for years and years if not from one generation to the next, which is not to say that women should be denied their rights, not in any way at all but that until those, usually the males of the family, are taught the rights and wrongs of such issues and that women, irrespective of age and marital status, do have inalienable 'Human Rights too nothing positive in the way of change is liable to actually occur. What it all boils down to, unfortunately, is that laws are laws, but mindsets are mindsets. Outlawing certain things does not automatically ensure, or even encourage, any alteration of soundly entrenched thought patterns and those growing up in a society which neither understands, nor cares to understand, that mistreatment of their fellow human beings, irrespective of gender, cast, colour or creed, is completely against all the laws of religiosity and humanity both and until the entire population is actively taught that peace, love and tolerance are the only laws by which the human race can hope to survive, little of enduring positivity is liable to happen. The writer is author of The Gun Tree: One Womans War (Oxford University Press, 2001) and lives in Bhurban. Email: