Breaking News Emails
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful constitutional body in Pakistan proposed legislation last week that would allow husbands to "lightly beat" their wives who decline sex or refuse to wear what their mates prefer.
The Council of Islamic Ideology says it has to finalize the 160-page draft before it is sent to lawmakers in the Punjab province, the country's most populated region, for approval.
As well as beatings for wives who decline to have sex with their husbands, the document also advocates men use "limited violence" on spouses who do not bathe after intercourse or during menstruation.
"Do not hit her vindictively, but only for reminding her about her religious duties"
The council — known as CII — went so far as to provide guidelines on how to inflict the beatings.
"Hit her in areas where her skin is not too thick and not too thin," CII leader Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani told a press conference in Islamabad on Thursday. "Do not use shoes or a broom on the head, or hit her on the nose or eyes."
"Do not break any bones or cut her skin or leave any marks," he added. "Do not hit her vindictively, but only for reminding her about her religious duties."
The CII cannot make laws itself but gives suggestions to Pakistan's government and parliament.
Already, the proposal has sparked outrage inside the country.
"This is unbelievable," said Allama Tahir Ashrafi, a former member of the CII who resigned for what he called religious regions. "So, what is 'light beating' and 'limited violence'? Not chopping off their heads but only, say, burning them in oil?"
Ashrafi is now leader of the 110,000-member Pakistani Religious Scholars Council, a group of mullahs who debate Islam and preach.
He told NBC News the CII was subverting the very religion it claimed to uphold: "Violence is forbidden by Islam, period."
He said the council should be speaking "about rape, about the increasing divorce rate, about suicide bombing — but they avoid these issues."
"Violence is forbidden by Islam, period"
Others have questioned the practicality of the proposals.
"Will the Maulana [religious scholar] observe every beating himself, personally?" said Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab province law minister, in another press conference in Lahore. "How will he ensure that 'light beating' doesn't become 'heavy beating'."
The draft bill has a step-by-step guide on how to administer these beatings. If a wife disobeys her husband, according to the document, the husband should try to talk to her. If that doesn't work, he should sleep separately and only finally use violence as a last resort.
The CII suggests that any man who doesn't follow that process should be prosecuted.
Pakistan was the first Islamic country to elect a woman to high office, with Benazir Bhutto serving as prime minister in the 80s and 90s before her assassination in 2007. However it consistently ranks as one of the world's worst countries for female employment and education.
More than 1,000 "honor killings" were carried out in Pakistan last year, a practice where women are murdered by their own relatives if they are seen as bringing "dishonor" on their families.
The CII's proposal was in response to an unconventionally liberal move by Pakistan's Punjab province, which pushed for a progressive gender-equality law called the Protection of Women Against Violence Act. The act sought to give women more rights, including fitting violent husbands with electronic tracking bracelets.
Rejecting that bill as "un-Islamic," the CII proposed its own document instead. The CII's draft bill has to be finalized by the council before it is sent to the provincial legislature for approval.
In addition to the beatings, it also seeks to ban women from several aspects of society.
Female co-eds? Nope, not after primary school. Women joining combat squads in the armed forces? That would be out too — a far more conservative approach than the country's air force, which has started training women to be fighter pilots.
Women also would be barred for nursing male patients in hospital unless it is their husband, son, brother or father.
The proposal does make some paltry concessions for the female population. It says they should be allowed to inherit property and given protection from being kicked out of their houses if their husband dies without a will. Women should not be subjected to forced marriage, acid attacks or honor killings, the draft also states.
Still, the list of punishable offenses goes on. The draft said beatings also should be administered to any woman who does not wear a hijab, gives money to other people without her husband’s permission, and talks loudly so the neighbors can hear.
Women would also be forced to breastfeed their kids for two years and banned from using contraception without their husband’s permission.
"Disgusting," human-rights lawyer Asma Jahangir said in an interview with Pakistani television this week. "But we shouldn't be worried. The women of Pakistan know how to protect themselves."