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Protecting Women’s Rights in Pakistan

Institutions & Governance
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Pakistani officials conducted the first ever training of marriage registrars in response to research, sparking a conversation about protecting women’s rights in marriage.

In Pakistan, the Nikkah Nama is a marriage contract between two Muslim partners, and guarantees the rights of women in marriage, divorce, and inheritance. This contract is perhaps the most important one a Pakistani woman will sign in her life, yet many women in Punjab are not informed of the terms of the contract when they sign it.

The officials who register the marriage must therefore ensure the document includes protections for women’s rights in accordance with the law. But 90% of Nikkah Registrars have never attended any formal training on their responsibilities. Instead, registrars are often unaware of the details of the law, respond to family or community pressures on what the contract should say, or frequently cross out parts of the contract they or family members disagree with.

With funding from the Economic Development and Institutions (EDI) program, managed in part by CEGA, Duke researchers Erica Field and Kate Vyborny tested the first ever effort to train all marriage registrars in the province of Punjab. After the training, there was a 166% increase in the number of registrars who could correctly identify key rights women have in marriage. The researchers are now measuring whether registrar trainings lead to more standardized contracts for women that better uphold their rights. 

The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women shared the results of the training and evaluation with the Council on Islamic Ideologies, the authoritative body over the Muslim marriage contract in Pakistan. The Council is now reviewing the marriage contract to make it more “woman friendly,” an important step to improve access to legal rights for millions of women.

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