Pakistan’s recent vote in favour of the Women’s Protection Bill, which allows rape cases to be tried under the civil penal code rather than under Sharia law, is a valuable step towards facilitating the empowerment of all women – the third Millennium Development Goal, states an Editorial in this week’s issue of The Lancet.
Every two hours, a woman is raped in Pakistan, with a quarter of assaults being perpetrated by gangs. This statistic, from the Human Rights Commission, is likely to be an underestimate because the country’s laws have deterred women from reporting such crimes. Rape cases have been dealt with in Sharia courts, where a woman’s evidence is not admissible. For a conviction of rape the perpetrator must either confess, or four men must testify to eye-witness accounts. However, on November 15, Pakistan’s parliament voted in favour of the Women’s Protection Bill. This means that judicial decisions on rape cases will now be based on forensic and circumstantial evidence.
The Lancet comments: “This commendable move is a step forward for Pakistan, and other Islamic countries, which should be encouraged to recognise women’s rights. This revolution of the country’s rape laws represents a valuable step towards meeting the third Millennium Development Goal: facilitating the empowerment of all women, especially those who are oppressed, in order to achieve gender equality throughout the world. This is a lofty ambition, but with Pakistan’s recent progress, achieving this goal looks more promising than ever.”
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