By Shabbir Mir
GILGIT: At least two bills relating to women’s rights were passed in the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Legislative Assembly in May 2013 owing to the efforts of the then Tourism, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs advisor Sadia Danish. While the assembly passed the anti-sexual harassment bill and another on safeguarding the rights of children almost unanimously, it blocked the one seeking a ban on underage marriages on religious grounds in December last year.
Although a majority of lawmakers in the existing assembly, including Women Development and Tourism Minister Sobia Jabeen Muqaddam, were hoping to see the Child Marriage Restraint Bill sail through, it hasn’t been able to do so. After members of the assembly refused to endorse it, Speaker Fida Muhammad Nashad referred the bill to a committee for review.
“The bill faced opposition from lawmakers and got struck down, but that doesn’t mean it is dead,” says Parliamentary Secretary for Law, Aurangzeb Khan, who tabled the bill in the assembly. “We are going to present it to the assembly soon, with a firm belief that it will sail through,” he adds.
Interestingly, opposition did not come from a religious party alone; it came from those representing parties such as PML-N too. The speaker and deputy speaker were among those opposed to the bill. “This is a mindset that isn’t generally confined to politicians of religious parties,” says Khan, adding the government cannot afford to keep it pending for too long.
Lawmakers in the G-B assembly are the biggest deterrent when it comes to passing bills empowering women. In June 2014, lawmakers criticised the coeducation system in place at the Karakoram International University and termed it against the cultural and religious values of G-B. PML-Q lawmaker, the late Mirza Hussain, raised the issue, triggering a debate in the assembly and earning appreciation from his peers. “It is neither ethically nor religiously permissible to us to allow young women to study with namehrams. In the recent past, unethical activities have been observed because of this,” said Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2016.