Feminism In Pakistan: ‘Light Beating’ Of Wives Recommended For Offenses Like ‘Speaking To Strangers’

Feminism in the Middle East has progressed more slowly than many other regions in the world, and a new recommendation in Pakistan by the country’s Islamic Council illustrates just how strongly these gender roles still shape women’s lives there.

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) recently released a set of recommendations that call for men to have the legal right to “lightly beat” their wives for a lengthy list of offenses. The anti-feminist move was in response to a law passed last year that advocated for the protection of women from domestic violence. The CII disagreed.

“A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods.”

The archaic set of regulations doesn’t end there. The CII presented a lengthy list of reasons why violations of Koranic and Sharia law could result in a beating. If passed, Pakistani women would be beaten for “interacting with strangers; speaking loud enough that she can easily be heard by strangers; and providing monetary support to people without taking consent of her spouse.”

feminism Pakistan light beating
An affront to Pakistani feminism has hit the nation as the Islamic Council advocates ‘light beating’ of women for violations of Sharia law. [Image via Chris Hondros/Getty Images]

Outside of the home, the CII also argued that women should not be able to appear in media, nor should women have any contact with men without the approval of her husband. Farzana Bari, an Islamabad-based human rights activist, told the Washington Post that this was illustrative of the state of feminism in Pakistan.

“It shows the decadent mindset of some elements who are part of the council. The proposed bill has nothing to do with Islam and it would just bring a bad name to this country… Violence against women can’t be accepted, and it’s time for the nation to stand up to people who come up with such proposed laws.”

Despite this renewed effort to dial back feminism, Pakistan is actually known as one of the more progressive majority Islamic states in the region. It gave women the right to vote at a relatively early date of 1947, and it elected a female prime minister with Benazir Bhutto in 1988. Furthermore, women are allowed to freely choose their attire and, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, can drive.

feminism Pakistan light beating
Pakistani women have enjoyed suffrage for more than 50 years, a right to vote with which they elected Benazir Bhutto — the first female head-of-state in the Islamic world. [Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]

In the United States, the issue of violence at home first began to preoccupy Americans along with the rise of feminism in the 19th century — Tennessee becoming the first state to fully outlaw wife beating in 1850. Prior to that, however, the Massachusetts Bay colonist also denied the right of husbands to inflict “bodilie correction or stripes” as early as the 1650s. By the 20th century, it became common for law enforcement to intervene. In some states, abuse is still not considered grounds for divorce.

Today, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) estimates that more than 10 million men and women suffer abuse from an intimate partner every year in the U.S. — that’s about 20 people a minute, according to NCADV’s definition. A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014 found that domestic violence severely affects both genders, with men suffering more from abuse like slapping and pushing, and women reporting higher rates of other forms like sexual assault. The overall rates were also relatively even: 31.5 percent of women reported experiencing some kind of intimate partner victimization in their life compared to 27.5 percent for men.

[Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]