A new study produced by the Center for Human Rights, Musawi and the National Commission for Human Rights revealed that an alarming number of women in Pakistan are completely unaware about their marital rights. In fact, an overwhelming majority believed that they did not possess the skill set, or agency, needed to negotiate their marriage contracts as a whole. This should be a cause of concern for not only the government, but for society at large. Lacking knowledge about legal rights, especially in such a private institution like marriage, leaves women extremely vulnerable to exploitation, manipulation and potential distress in the future.
As per the study titled ‘Diagnostic Study of Nikahnamas in Punjab: A Review of Women’s Marriage Rights’, 86% of women believed that they were not competent enough to negotiate their own marriage contracts, 85 percent believed that women did not have the right to divorce, 92% believed that the wife’s right to maintenance was subject to her husband’s approval, as is the right to work. Even more outrageously, 60% of the women believed that consent under duress is still valid if two people are married.
These are extremely concerning figures that are reflective of the fact that most women in Punjab are severely uneducated about integral rights. The objective of the study was to identify gaps within the legislative and institutional framework of marital contracts but what it has unearthed is something more dangerous. The law has sufficient provisions to grant all key rights to brides, but women themselves are either too disadvantaged to ask, are completely unaware about the concept of marital rights, or have aligned their beliefs to disempowering conservative values. This then produces further complications moving forward, starting with limited legal options when facing marital troubles. Furthermore, once a marriage contract is signed, it becomes legally binding and thus the state is also limited when it comes to intervention.
It is absolutely essential that the government recognises this problem, and embarks upon educating women about their rights and empowering them enough to ask for them at key points in their lives. There must be awareness campaigns, and additions made to school curriculums that address such key information about integral rights. Another potential solution that the government can also employ is giving official directives to religious clerics who overlook such legal documents to inform women about such rights before they sign the contract considering how important it is for personal and legal protection.