The International Women’s Day was observed across the country amid clear divisions in the society over issues related to women. This division is even visible on government level, where some members of the federal cabinet including human rights minister Ms Shireen Mazari extended support to Aurat March 2020, whereas some others openly criticised organsiers of the said march in different parts of the country.

Some of the experts believe that there are several women-related issues over which different schools of thought are in agreement and at least those issues should be addressed instead of outrightly turning down each other’s view point. One such issue is that of women’s right to inheritance.

Recently, the provincial anti-harassment ombudsperson started taking cognizance of cases wherein females were denied their right to inheritance in ancestral properties.

Initially, a provision was added in Pakistan Penal Code for checking the practice of depriving a woman of her right to inherited property. The Criminal Law (Third Amendment) Act, 2011, was enacted in Dec 2011.

Similarly, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a law was enacted in 2010 for checking the practice of depriving women of their right of ownership in property. The KP Enforcement of Women Ownership Rights Act, 2012, was passed by the KP Assembly on Jan 5, 2012, and was printed in official gazette on Jan 17, 2012.

That law provided that no person shall abridge, violate, curtail or obstruct the right of ownership or possession of a woman, nor shall he dispossess any woman of her property. The law provided punishment of up to five years imprisonment with fine of up to Rs50,000. It was added that the said punishment should be in addition to any other punishment provided under any other law for the time being enforced.

Subsequently, The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Enforcement of Women’s property Rights Act, 2019, was passed by the Assembly on Oct 14, 2019, and was published in official gazette on Oct 21, 2019.

The said law empowers the provincial ombudsperson appointed under the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2010, to hear complaints.

It provides that any woman deprived of ownership or possession of her property by any means may file a complaint to the ombudsperson if no proceedings in a court of law are pending regarding that property.

The ombudsperson shall make a preliminary assessment of the complaint where after he may, if the matter requires further probe or investigation, refer the matter to the deputy commissioner concerned who after conducting summary enquiry shall submit a report within 15 days to the ombudsperson.

On conclusion of the proceedings if the ombudsperson finds that the complainant has been illegally deprived of ownership or possession of her property, he shall direct the deputy commissioner or a stat functionary to take steps as to restore or confer possession or title of the property to the complainant.

Furthermore, if the ombudsperson comes to the conclusion that the matter requires in-depth enquiry, investigation or detailed recording of evidence, he shall formulate a reference and submit it to the civil court of competent jurisdiction.

Any person aggrieved of an order of the ombudsperson has the right to file an appeal before Peshawar High Court within 45 days of the order.

Recently, an advocate of the high court, Saifullah Muhib Kakakhel, filed complaints on behalf of different complainants who had allegedly been deprived of inherited properties. In one of the cases the complainant claimed that she had been deprived of her share in inheritance since 1981 since the death of her father in Peshawar.

The ombudsperson Ms Rukhshanda Naz, has started proceedings in different cases and issued directives to deputy commissioners concerned for initial reports.

Saifullah Muhib Kakakhel said that this newly enacted law was a prompt remedy for the women who were mostly deprived in our community and would also prove fruitful because it would not be time consuming like normal civil disputes.

He emphasised that awareness should be provided to females on their ownership rights and the forum of redressal in order to give legal right of females in their movable and immovable properties which included inheritance, dower, gift, etc.

A major development in the country towards women’s rights was the setting up of the National Commission on the Status of Women in the year 2000 under the NCSW Ordinance 2000. Subsequently, the said ordinance was replaced with the NCSW Act 2012 in which a more elaborate and much better mechanism has now been provided for appointment of the chairperson and members of the commission.

Similarly, in KP the provincial commission was set up in 2010, taking lead over other provinces. Later on, in 2016 the KP Commission on the Status of Women Act was passed, which replaced the earlier law of 2010.

Interestingly, the then chief minister, Pervez Khattak, had announced formation of district committees on status of women in 23 of the districts in 2017. However, the said committees had not been notified so far.

Similarly, member of the KP Commission on the Status of Women, who were appointed in Jan 2017, and its chairperson Ms Riffat Sardar completed her three-year term in Jan. The commission has to be reconstituted now.

It is reported that the KP government has decided to re-appoint Ms Riffat Sardar as commission’s chairperson and the decision now awaits a nod from the provincial cabinet.

Experts on the subject believe that apart from implementing the existing laws, the KP government should also expedite the process of enacting a law on domestic violence as well as to repeal the colonial-era law, Child Marriage Restraint Act, and make it in line with modern days’ requirement.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2020

Originally Published: https://www.dawn.com/news/1539403/view-from-the-courtroom-amid-divisions-on-womens-rights-least-thorny-issues-need-to-be-addressed