Saturday, September 09, 2006


I have said many times that the key to reform in the Muslim world is the emancipation of women. Well, today Ali Eteraz has a post up about the Women's Protection Bill which is a stunning piece of reform that goes up for a vote this next week in Pakistan.

Ali comments in his email: "This is Muslim reform in action. Yet the MSM will not pick it up and it falls upon a lowly guy like me to have to publish these important writings."
The women's protection bill of Pakistan -- which will dramatically alter the rape laws of Pakistan -- has a chance of being passed this coming Monday. The bill is an attempt to reform the draconian rape laws of Pakistan from 1979, passed by then dictator Zia ul Haq under the auspices of the religious establishment. The laws require that for a woman to make an allegation of rape she must produce four male witnesses. If she is unable to put forth the witnesses she herself is liable for adultery (and can be imprisoned or put to death for adultery). Absurd. In one case, a blind girl, Safia Bibi, who had been raped was convicted on charges of adultery because she could not identify her attacker.

You may know that this has been a contentious issue in Pakistan. I wrote about a prominent religious reformist getting shot in the mouth (link below).

I have been in correspondence with individuals who are involved in the Women's Protection Bill. While on one hand they have had to contend with the religious establishment, they have also ran into opposition by some liberal groups, and international NGO's like Human Rights Watch, who find the proposed amendments inadequate.

What the reformists are trying to explain, however, is that while total repeal of the bill would be wonderful, politics is a process, and that means taking whatever progress that can be gotten right now. While concerns about the fact that the bill is being pushed through by a dictator (Musharraf) are valid, they are unfair in light of the tremendous abuses that will be alleviated if this bill is passed. In the short term, the reformists -- and those backing the bill -- need our support. Later, more progress can be made.

I am setting forth below a link to an op-ed (among others) which will appear in Pakistani press tomorrow. It cogently explains the situation and asks for international support. The reformists need to be recognized for the good they have achieved despite the enormous difficulties, and not to be criticized for what they have failed to achieve. Brown versus Board of Education was the work of a sustained legal attack by the NAACP starting in the late 20's. Western NGO's and Women's Rights Organizations should be cognizant that the step towards gender equity and equality will not be one long one but will occur over a period of time. The best thing to do right now is to support the efforts of the reformists and later carry their torch further. It would be a terrible tragedy if after decades of efforts the amendments were tabled due to inadequate support by progressives. Well intentioned people around the world need to express their support.

Here are some important links. I would be grateful if you could say anything about this situation. Feel free to publish this email, or link to any of the links below or publish them in full on your site. This is real life Muslim reform at work and it needs all the support and encouragement it can get. These are the kind of things that the MSM does not cover for which responsibility falls to bloggers.

Op-Ed appearing later this week in Pakistani press

The Right To Own Women - Longer Article by Sofyan Sultan

Women's Protection Bill Cheat Sheet

Shooting A Shaykh In The Mouth (About Reformist Cleric Shot)(About Reformist Cleric Shot)

I can also make a copy of the bill available upon request.

Go over to Eteraz and see what you can do to spread the word. This is the sort of thing we want to happen in the Muslim world, and we must do everything possible to encourage and enable change like this--not only for their good, but for our own.

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