September 7th, 2020

By Rehan Piracha 


LAHORE

While Federal Minister for Law and Justice Barrister Mohammad Farogh Naseem claims that the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020 will safeguard the rights of women, activists point out that by elongating the litigation process, women may actually end up being deprived of their rightful inheritance.

They explain that by empowering the Federal Ombudsperson of Prevention of Workplace  Harassment against Women to hear complaints of those who have been deprived of their property, litigation will be prolonged and the law may become ineffective in protecting women.

Under the new federal law, Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020, the office of Federal Ombudsperson of Prevention of Harassment of Women at Workplace will hear complaints of women seeking to enforce inheritance rights and preferably decide cases within 60 days. The law also allows women whose cases are pending before courts to file complaints with the Ombudsperson. After inquiry or probe, the Ombudsperson can recommend the civil court to terminate the case, hold it in abeyance, or to proceed with the case. The Ombudsperson can also order persons usurping the property to pay rent to the complainant for the duration the property was used by them.

Law will prolong litigation

Barrister Harris Azmat, who is an expert on property cases, says promulgation of the law was done with good intentions but it will prolong litigation for women.

“If a woman files a complaint with the Ombudsperson, the other party can move the civil court. So, the aggrieved woman will have to handle two forums simultaneously,” says Azmat.

In his opinion, the office of ombudsperson works well where there are no complicated questions of title or dispute. Women approach courts when there are complications like fake property papers or brothers leaving out names of sisters in succession papers or brothers denying their sisters as siblings, he says.

According to him, the law was not well thought of and will not be effective in the early disposal of cases by women seeking ownership of their properties.

“The government should have instead set up separate courts for women under the civil procedure. The special courts could have conducted time-bound daily proceedings,” he suggests.

Asking too for much from an anti-harassment ombudsperson

However hailing the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020, Farida Shaheed of Women Action Forum says the law is a step in the right direction in helping women get their due rights.

The legal process of getting hold of rights of properties is long and cumbersome, she points out. “Women in our society often do not know who or what forum to approach in case they are deprived of their inheritance,” she says. The law helps women get quick disposal of their complaints or cases pending before courts.”

However, Shaheed questions the logic of giving existing offices of women ombudsperson the onerous task of dealing with complaints about properties. According to her,  the office of Ombudsperson on harassment at the workplace is already facing challenges in dealing with harassment cases.

“The institution of the ombudsperson is not robust enough to simultaneously handle both harassment and property issues faced by women.” She believes that administrative issues would cause many problems in the property rights law’s implementation.

Shaheed explains that the government always rushes through such legislation in a bid to score political points but drags its feet on rules and regulations that are essential to implementing these laws in an effective and efficient way. Stakeholders like civil society representatives, women rights activists are not consulted when the rules of the laws for implementation are drafted and therefore become ineffective, she claims.

Nabila Shaheen of Aurat Foundation also shares Farida Shaheed’s concern that the Ombudsperson focus will shift away from tackling harassment cases and will overburden the office. Shaheen says harassment at the workplace and deprivation of property are two distinct issues faced by women in Pakistan. If the Ombudsperson is handling both matters, it will certainly take attention away from the prevention of harassment at the workplace.

Shaheen says the 15 days mentioned for the deputy commissioner to finalize its preliminary inquiry under the enforcement of the women’s property rights act does not give much time to litigants to submit documented evidence. “This is a question of entitlement and requires evidence and written proofs. It will be very difficult for litigants to get hold of documents within this short time,” she adds.

In her view, the time span of deciding complaints within 60 days by the ombudsperson looks good on paper but practically it will be quite impossible. The ombudsperson is being overburdened, suggesting that the National Commission of Human Rights and its chapters in the provinces could have been reinforced to hear cases under the law.

Kashmala Tariq claims Federal Ombudsperson has the capacity to deal with property cases

On the other hand, Federal Ombudsperson Kashmala Tariq claims that her office has the capacity to handle the additional burden of deciding cases under the newly-enacted Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020. “ The office of the Federal Ombudsperson on Prevention of Harassment of Women has the capacity to handle harassment as well as property cases as deprivation of property is also a form of harassment,” Federal Ombudsperson Kashmala Tariq tells Voicepk.net

The federal ombudsperson has received about 60 complaints from women who were deprived of their inheritance. The cases are from all over Pakistan and include expatriates as well. Complainants are approaching us as the law has not been implemented in Punjab, Sindh, and Balochistan, Tariq adds. “ The Federal Ombudsperson can only handle cases from Islamabad capital territory under the law,” Federal Ombudsperson Kashmala Tariq clarifies.

The federal ombudsperson says the rules of the new property rights law have not been framed. There are some ambiguities in the law as the act has not been implemented in three provinces, she adds.  Tariq says her office has begun hearing of cases under the women’s property rights law. The federal ombudsperson will hold regular hearings from this week as proceedings were affected due lockdown in view of the corona pandemic in the country.

A website that does not say much on the enforcement of women’s property rights

Interestingly, the official website of the Federal Ombudsperson of Prevention of Harassment of Women at Workplace does not have a separate tab for women to file complaints under the Enforcement of Women’s Property Rights Act 2020. The website also does not include a procedure or direction to file a complaint as it does for the lodging of harassment complaints. The only information about the law available on the site is its copy placed just below the Protection Against Harassment at Workplace Act, 2010 in the About FOSPAH tab. Tariq says she has instructed her staff to properly display information for complainants seeking redress under Women’s Property Rights Law on the site.

A similar women’s property rights law has been implemented in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Rakhshanda Naz, the Provincial Ombudsperson on harassment at the workplace, hears complaints of women deprived of their inheritance. Legislation in the other three provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan is in process.

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