The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, enacted in February 2016, says that Punjab Government will setup protection centers and shelter homes for women, victim of violence. The law provides for establishment of a system for ‘protection, relief and rehabilitation of women against violence’.
Since 2010, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz government has enacted various laws that deal with women rights, including those relating to workplace harassment, representation as well as exploitation in family and marriage disputes. In 2015, the then provincial Law Minister had introduced the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence bill in a bid, to enable the State to ensure protection and facilitation of women, in the Punjab Assembly. The bill stirred much controversy with not just the right wing political and religious parties opposing the penalties proposed in it, but also by women rights activists who claimed it did not provide sufficient penalties. After much consultation, the bill was finally passed by the provincial assembly nine months after it was introduced.
The law listed several implementation provisions including the establishment of a toll free helpline and taking measures for mass awareness of the act. But one of the most important implementation measures provided for in the law was the setting up of protection centres and shelter homes for women victims of violence. While they were to be set up in a phased manner, the centres would ensure provision of several facilities including police reporting, registration of criminal cases, medical examination, first aid, psychological counselling and legal aid, among others.
With the passage of a year since the enactment of the act, the government has yet to launch a protection centre. But the government claims the first of its kind centre is ready and will be launched in Multan on Women’s Day – March 8. Speaking to Truth Tracker, Provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah says that the government had planned to initiate the implementation in south of the province, with the law giving the government provision to specify the date and area through notification for its implementation. According to Sanaullah, the centre, which is near completion, will cover three divisions of the southern province with central and northern areas under consideration in the next stages.
As for the time that has so far elapsed since the enactment of the law, Sanaullah says for the police to take action, a parallel infrastructure providing all necessary resources to an aggrieved woman needed to be in place first. And for that infrastructure, he says, legislation was a prerequisite. “Only the police couldn’t have done it without a supporting infrastructure for the victims,” he adds. With the Multan centre awaiting its inauguration this Women’s Day, Sanaullah says the centre is a detailed project that offers multiple resources under one roof, and for which time was required for not just construction but also induction and training of staff. “It has been a speedy process so far and we hope to ensure monitoring and sustainability,” he says.
According to PMLN MPA Azma Zahid Bukhari, the implementation has come a long way. While Azma says that the first protection centre, also called the Violence against Women Centre, is all set for launch in Multan next month, hiring and training of protection officer and staff for the centre had been done as well. “There was a lot of unneeded controversy surrounding the law but we managed to move past it. It is an on-going process,” she says. The lawmaker adds that after Multan, the government aims to launch similar centres in five other major cities of the province by transforming already existing infrastructure, such as Dar-ul-Aman. As for sensitization, besides mass awareness programs in educational institutions, she says the opposition also played its role – by opposing the law. “Through that continuous debate and opposition, they generated a lot of awareness and people started learning more about it.”
Opposition lawmaker Saadia Sohail of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf disagrees with the notion that progress in implementation has been made. “We supported the law but there is nothing on ground,” says Saadia adding that the government had failed to even inaugurate the first protection centre in Multan during this time. Saadia was one of the women lawmakers from the opposition who withdrew all the proposed amendments to the law during its passage in the assembly despite a symbolic protest absence by their male colleagues. “There is no budgetary allocation to ensure long term sustainability and nor do we see any mass awareness campaign by the government.”
But while there may be some delays, rights activist Umme Laila says the real challenges are for budgetary allocations, awareness and monitoring mechanism. “Outreach is a problem across all 36 districts,” she says adding future monitoring will help determine the effectiveness of the implementation mechanism. Executive Director at HomeNet Pakistan and Lahore division member for the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, Laila says implementation has progressed in terms of the finalizing of the soon-to-be inaugurated Multan protection centre, appointment of relevant staff as well as up-gradation of an already existing helpline. “We can’t say there is full implementation. It will require time as well as mass awareness. But while there isn’t a 100% implementation, things are on track.”
In consideration of the views expressed by independent observers and with the government hopeful of inaugurating the protection centre in March, and subsequent centres in other parts of the province, work is underway to ensure implementation of the said law. However, the provincial government, with election year around the corner, had better pick up pace. Women voters will make a note of implementation of the Act.