Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology has sparked outrage across the country and around the world for suggesting it should be permissible for men to “lightly beat” their wives.
In leaked documents the council said it’s appropriate for wives to be lightly beaten for refusing sex, speaking loudly or dressing inappropriately.
Chairman Mualana Muhammad Khan Sherani tried to hose down the controversy by attempting to 'clarify' what it was that the council meant.
“Hit her with light things like handkerchief, a hat or a turban, but do not hit her on the face or private parts. And the beating should not cause any kind of physical damage or even scratches. Resort to light stuff, nothing serious,” he was reported as saying.
The “light beating” phrase came from the council’s proposed alternative to a hard-fought women’s protection law passed earlier this year by the government in Punjab, an eastern state where more than half Pakistan’s population lives.
The leaked alternative bill has been condemned by many politicians and activists in Pakistan and around the world. It’s even sparked a twitter meme, #TryBeatingMeLightly.
In comments reported by Pakistan’s Express Tribune, Chairman Sherani said a husband should first advise his partner to “mend her ways.” A light beating should be a last resort he said. "If she refuses, stop talking to her. Still if she does not show compliance, stop sharing a bed with her, and if things do not change, get a bit strict.”
Claiming the issue had been blown out of proportion, he said he wasn't advocating violence. "Everyone condemns violence. People need to be educated to stay away from violence," he said.
Chairwoman of the Punjab Assembly’s gender committee, Raheela Khadim, ridiculed the council’s response and called for its constitutional mandate to be reviewed.
"We are talking about holding wife beaters accountable and they are proposing something in complete contrast," she said.
Passed earlier this year, the new Punjabi law lays the ground for a women’s protection helpline, creates a women’s protection committees, provides women’s shelters, and allows women to seek restraining orders and claim damages for domestic violence.
The law has been condemned as “un-Islamic” by Pakistani religious groups, who have threatened to protest if it is not repealed.
Contrary to other reporting, the law doesn’t actually create any offences, but breaches of court orders can be punished by fines and jail-time.
The Council's leaked document also says women should be banned from advertisements, prevented from treating male patients in hospitals and banned from receptions for visiting dignitaries.
It did advance some rights, however, saying that women should not be forced into marriage or forced to convert. If a woman is forced to convert, she may revert to her previous faith without being sentenced to death for apostasy the document said, according to the Express Tribune.
An abortion after four months of pregnancy should be declared murder, it said.
The BBC says the 20-member Council of Islamic Ideology is a constitutional artifact, noting that a number of its proclamations have not been taken seriously by leaders.