From Riffat Inam Butt, March 20, 2012
I was working as a civil/family judge in Lahore, Pakistan, when I was selected as a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow. My interaction with Professor David Weissbrodt, Director of the Human Rights Center, and Professor Marsha Freeman encouraged me to focus my study on human rights issues. I also received the opportunity to complete an LL.M. degree. During my studies in the United States, I learned about new and dynamic ideas for empowering women in my country through effective legislation.
Stimulated by the idea of working for the legal empowerment of women, I returned to Pakistan and resumed my duties as a judicial officer. I soon realized that my scope and area of influence were very limited and that women’s issues needed review at the policy level. Most of the legislators in the current parliament have either a religious or feudal background. I further realized that drafting legislation that accords legal protection and empowerment to women will require a gender-sensitive paradigm shift in the mindset. I firmly believe that strong legal protection can be provided to women only if legislators have a gender-sensitive approach.
I left the judiciary and joined the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) as a legal expert. Here I have gotten the opportunity to review the laws, rules, and policies that adversely affect women, and I have also taken on legislative initiatives on women's rights when needed.
In a review of the personal laws of Christian and Hindu minorities, I found that existing laws on Christian marriage and divorce needed revision because they have placed the women of the Christian community at a disadvantage in the settlement of family disputes. No legislation exists on personal laws of the Hindu community in Pakistan.
I arranged several focus-group discussions on the effectiveness and ineffectiveness of the personal laws of Christian and Hindu minorities on marriage and divorce. The outcomes were the drafting of a bill for the Hindu community, and proposal of a number of amendments to make the Christian personal laws on marriage and divorce more effective and more responsive to the present day challenges. These drafts are being finalized by the Ministry of Human Rights for introduction into the legislation process following the due procedure. A bill was also drafted, which the Ministry is considering, introducing effective penal clauses into the Pakistan Penal Code to combat domestic violence.
The Jirga/Panchayat system, a parallel illegal justice system, is prevalent in Pakistan, and its menace is increasing day by day. Its decisions are largely discriminatory against women and end in victimization of women. To end impunity of the Jirga/Panchayat practices, I also prepared and filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and it has been admitted for regular hearing. It is another victory for the rights of women in Pakistan. I am also regularly interacting with the media to sensitize and educate them on the implications of the laws affecting women.
More about these efforts is available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/317883/ncsw-submits-draft-bills-minority-marital-status-may-be-documented/, http://tribune.com.pk/story/351183/fighting-for-womens-rights-supreme-court-urged-to-declare-jirga-systems-illegal/, http://www.dawn.com/2012/01/19/minorities-marriage-bills-run-into-disagreements.html, and http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/09/back-to-square-one-in-womens-bail-laws.html.