Someday soon, "forensic and circumstantial evidence" may actually be at the heart of Pakistani rape trials, Reuters reports. What a concept! Today the country's National Assembly voted to reassign rape cases from the quagmire of sharia law to the civil penal code. Until now, a woman had to present four male witnesses in court to prove that she was raped, or else face punishment for adultery, meaning that for all intents and purposes, rape wasn't prosecutable in Pakistan.
Unsurprisingly, the bill -- which still has to be approved by the upper house of Parliament -- isn't going over too well with Pakistan's religious conservatives. "This is an attempt to create a free sex zone in Pakistan," Maulana Fazal-ur-Rehman told Parliament. "Free sex" as in a woman's free will to refuse sex? No, no. Fazal-ur-Rehman is just boldly exposing the concern that has always impelled sharia laws on rape: the protection of fidelity and chastity, held to be more important than a woman's right to choose her sexual partners. He continued: "Existing laws are correct and should be maintained ... The changes are not in line with Islamic teaching." Sadly, that's an argument that won't be settled anytime soon.
Still, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz was cheered by the news: "It is a historic bill because it will give rights to women and help end excesses against them." Indeed, the aptly titled "The Women's Protection Bill" is one giant step for womankind. But -- there's always a "but" -- conservatives successfully lobbied to revise the bill several times and pushed through an amendment dictating a maximum five-year prison term for extramarital sex.
So, women who can't successfully prove that they have been raped may still be punished; Pakistani women will likely need expert "CSI: Islamabad" teams on their side when going to court. It's sad that women's rights advocates are still bartering in unjust paradigms. But swapping potential stonings or lashings for a prison sentence is still a step up on this crooked ladder.