The provincial government of Sindh is rightly credited for enacting various pro-women legislation after passing of the 18th Amendment in 2010 which empowered provinces.
These laws seek to protect women’s rights in various respects and have been a long-standing demand of rights activists in the country. They tend to protect victims of domestic violence and harassment, curb child marriages, ensure women’s participation in the agriculture sector, and safeguard maternity rights, among others.
The Sindh government has also set up the Sindh Commission on Status of Women (SCSW) — on the pattern of the National Commission on Status of Women in the center. A women development department has also been operating in the province for over a decade.
The Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2013, according to rights expert Iqbal Detho, is proving to be instrumental in curbing child marriages, even though its implementation began a couple of years after its passing. He said this law is being applied by police as law enforcers can take cognisance of any such offence without seeking magisterial permission. “We have also been imparting training to policemen in Sindh to educate them about the right application of the various clauses of this law,” he shared.
However, some pro-women laws have failed to make any substantial headway in protecting women, and exist mostly on paper.
While discussing the minimal application of the Domestic Violence (Protection & Prevention) Act 2013, Detho said, “Police officials see confusion in the definition of the law as according to them there is no clear directive that police can take cognisance of such offences,” he added.
Detho asserted that while other provinces have adopted the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010, Sindh has yet to do so, adding that several harassment complaints could be addressed through the legislation.
When it comes to safeguarding women’s rights, various administrative jurisdictions are involved and these departments don’t work under one umbrella — which SCSW Chairperson Nuzhat Shirin feels is a key missing ingredient. The women development department, social welfare department, police, and civil administration get simultaneously involved in women’s rights cases. “We need to strengthen existing departments instead of overlapping their authorities,” she commented.
She explained that if a women’s ‘safe home’ is to be established, it is the prerogative of the deputy commissioner, whereas a protection officer is to look after a woman in distress on behalf of the women development department. “The essential one-roof administration for such cases eludes us,” complained Shirin.
Detho also regretted the operation of only eight ‘woman and child police stations’ in Sindh, adding that separate police stations and protections centers need to be established where women feel safe to report crimes of violence, and are also offered protection and shelter when and if needed.
“This is something which is completely missing,” he regretted.