LAHORE - Civil society organisations have reservations on the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Bill 2015, which has been tabled in the Punjab Assembly and has been referred to a standing committee.

The draft of the bill, which has been accessed with great difficulty by activists, reveals several issues that need immediate attention and revision.

An emergency meeting was convened at Shirkat Gah – Women’s Resource Center to debate the text of the Bill. Activists from Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and several human rights and women’s rights organizations participated in the debate, along with legal experts, including eminent human rights activist and lawyer, Hina Jilani.

Speaking at the occasion, Hina Jilani said: “This is not a domestic violence bill. This is merely a procedural document that lists how battered women should be provided protective services, which doesn’t even provide them a way to seek justice.”

She added that the Punjab government should not pass legislation in the name of a domestic violence bill when it fails to even define domestic violence according to the laws of the land.

 Executive Director of Shirkat Gah, Farida Shaheed added, “We are shocked that through this bill the Punjab Government has failed to address the pernicious issue of persistent and widespread societal problem of domestic violence against women and girls.” She further added that there is a need for condemning all acts of violence against women and girls as criminal offences. “Over the last two years, civil society organizations have worked in close coordination with Punjab Government with regards to a domestic violence bills, going as far as to formulate and present drafts of the bill. However, they have been ignored in the favor of the draft that was tabled in the assembly.”

It was noted that the Bill does not criminalise domestic violence against women. The Bill merely lists modes of providing protection to women who have been “abused”. However, the “physical, psychological, economic, and emotional abuse” and “stalking” have not been defined in the Bill. There is absolutely no mention of sexual abuse. Apart from this problematic lack of definitions, there are other grave issues with the Bill that need immediate revision or amendment.

All activists at the meeting agreed to call upon the Standing Committee to which this Bill has been referred and the Punjab Provincial Commission on the Status of Women to ensure that Punjab follows the lead of Sindh and Balochistan governments that have enacted legislation on Domestic Violence which clearly makes violence against women a criminal offence.