A new bill aiming to protect Pakistani women from physical and emotional violence has been called un-Islamic by leaders in the country’s religious right.
Right-wing party leaders such as Maulana Fazlur Rehman, who heads the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl party, have said that criminalizing violence against women will increase divorce rates and that it goes against the fundamental values of Islam.
“This law is in conflict with the Holy Quran, the life of (Muhammad), constitution of Pakistan and values of our country,” Rehman told media on March 1, according to the Religion News Service. “We are with all those who want to end violence against women, but by this law the country is going from one extreme position to another.”
The Protection of Women Against Violence Bill, which was approved by lawmakers in the Pakistani province of Punjab on Feb. 24, created a toll-free help line and shelters for women seeking protection from violence, as well as financial relief and a system for registering complaints, according to Deutsche Welle. The law also established penalties for domestic, emotional, psychological, verbal and economic abuse, as well as stalking and cybercrime.
Activists such as Fauzia Viqar, chairwoman of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women, praised the bill as a historic first step in the struggle for women’s rights in Pakistan.
“The bill is aimed at upholding the principles of kindness, justice and equality enunciated by Islam,” Viqar said in a statement, according to RNS.
Others, such as Chairman of Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology Muhammad Khan Sherani, have declared the law un-Islamic. Sherani demanded that the council, which is comprised of Islamic scholars that advise the government on whether laws comply with Islamic values, be allowed to conduct a formal review before the bill is enacted.
"It is unacceptable," Sherani said of the bill at a press conference on March 3, according to CBS News. "The law seems to have the objective of pushing women out of the home and to increase their problems."
Women in Pakistan face violence in the form of kidnappings, honor killings, rape and acid attacks, according to DW. The Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights group, reported that over 5,800 cases of violence against women were registered in Punjab in 2013 alone.