The inferior status of women under certain interpretations of Islam is well-known. Now banks in Pakistan have made it official, saying they can't accept women as witness for securing loans.
A few days ago the Dawn newspaper reproduced a memo of the Allied Bank, a premier institution, setting out the norms for extending credit against Defence Savings Certificates.
An applicant for credit under the scheme succeeded in his mission only after he replaced a promissory note signed by two women with another carrying signatures of only male witnesses.
When confronted whether he was sure that women could not stand as witnesses in such cases, the bank official who issued the memo replied, nonchalantly, "Yes, surely. I am doing this for 20 years."
The memo insisted the norm was in conformity with "court instructions" and "government of Pakistan rules."
But the official himself did not specify any law or prudential regulation prohibiting women witnesses for loans.
Thus at a time when the State Bank of Pakistan, an oversight authority, is headed by a woman economist, Dr.Shamshad Akhtar, Dawn lamented.
Reacting, the Allied Bank said it was only following, like other financial institutions, a controversial 1984 decree that equated two women to one man as witness.
In a press release, it said, "Allied Bank, like all financial institutions, adheres to the Qanun-i-Shahadat Ordinance, 1984 (Order), section 17 (1) and section 17 (2), sub-sections (a) and (b), according to which †two men or one man and two women can testify as witnesses in financial matters."
But some others are not impressed by the bank's argument. "This is clear-cut violation of the injunctions of the holy Quran laid down in the dictum of God which says that ladies can testify competently under all heads and in all courts and obligations," fumed Pakistan People's Party Senator Babar Awan.
†He said that even under the controversial Qanun-i-Shahadat of 1984, issued by the then military ruler General Ziaul Haq, men and women were equally competent to give evidence and stand as witnesses.
"In everyday judicial practice, women are appearing as competent witnesses and their testimony and depositions are being relied upon throughout the country as well as globally," the senator said.
Awan also noted that under Article 25 of the Constitution, gender-based discrimination violated the fundamental rights guaranteed by Pakistan's supreme law and said: "Therefore, saying that women are not competent witnesses is not only a derogation of the injunctions of Islam but also contemptuous of the constitutional and judicial system of the country."
He indicated he would raise the issue in the parliament.