MISOGYNISTIC cultural practices are often so ingrained that the state must make more proactive efforts to eradicate them. Last week, the Senate’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice missed such an opportunity when it rejected a draft constitutional amendment to make women’s inheritance a fundamental right. The bill tabled by PML-N’s Sadia Abbasi proposed the inclusion of Article 24A in the constitution, which states that no woman will be deprived of her share of the inheritance. Ms. Abbasi argued that while Islamic law empowers women to inherit movable and immovable property, it has become routine for families to deny them that right. However, Railway Minister Azam Swati pointed out that such a change was unnecessary as laws on women’s inheritance are already in the statutes. Unfortunately, the latter view prevailed in the vote.
There is a great gap between what the law says and what actually happens in the name of culture and tradition. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2011, added Section 498A to the Criminal Code, among other provisions, to criminalize the act of depriving women of their inheritance rights. Anyone found guilty of this crime is punished with a prison sentence of five to ten years and / or a fine of Rs1m. However, anyone associated with grassroots Pakistan and the life experience of many women – and not just the lower socio-economic classes – knows how often men expose their mothers, sisters and daughters to emotional blackmail and worse, forcing them to forego their share of estate . Sometimes the ugly reality emerges behind closed doors in public. Not long ago a video surfaced on social media of women being brutally beaten by male relatives who allegedly claimed their share of family property. For countless of these women, the state has to send an unequivocal message that women’s inheritance rights are not a luxury granted by men, but a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution.
Posted in Dawn, November 8, 2021