Two women always equal one man

A Reuters file image of the SBP logo

PUBLISHED April 03, 2022

CARACHI:

The intricacies of the banking system are not always easy to understand. But in Pakistan, they are even more confusing for women who must have male witnesses present for their financial transactions, despite the law allowing female witnesses. Private banks justify these regulations by following the example of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), which requires all customers – men and women – to obtain forms witnessed by two male witnesses.

Marium* experienced this recently when she approached a private bank for a loan of Rs 150,000. He was asked for documents from his place of work, then a liabilities officer told him to get forms witnessed by two men. When she asked why female witnesses were not allowed, she was told that the bank does not accept female witnesses due to SBP regulations.

SBP regulations

SBP is the regulatory authority for all banks operating in Pakistan and has a set of rules under the constitution on how private financial institutions should operate. According to SBP, all policies and regulations of the Pakistani banking system apply equally to men and women.

“There is no such policy from SBP to compel banks to ask for male witnesses from female customers, Abid Qamar, SBP’s senior spokesperson, told The Express Tribune. According to Article 17 of the Qanun-e-Shahadat Ordinance of 1984, banks are required to treat men and women equally.

He said if a private group breaks the rules, customers should first file a complaint with the institution. They can also contact Banking Mohtasib Pakistan, a second forum for complaints against banks, or the SBP hotline. “No such specific criteria exist when a customer encounters discriminatory behavior, however, when reported, such cases are handled on a case-by-case basis for resolution,” Qamar said.

Customers complain

Yet people who have tried using female witnesses for simple transactions say they have encountered difficulties. “I was denied a credit card from the bank just because my form has a male and female witness,” said Fareeha, who asked to be identified only by her first name. According to Sharia, four women should be an acceptable replacement for two male witnesses, but Fareeha said his bank would not accept female witnesses at all. “I do not understand why they do not take into account the testimony of women.

Customers from various other banks have shared similar stories. “I was told to bring my father or my brother,” said one woman, who asked not to be identified by name. Later, she gave up on getting a car loan from the bank because of this obstacle. She said the financial statement or loan form has two columns for witnesses, and they must be men.

Most clients who spoke to The Express Tribune said they believed these rules were adaptations of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat (evidence legislation). According to this law, the testimony of two women is equal to that of a man. In practice, this should also apply to banks. But to avoid extra work, they ask for two male witnesses instead of four female witnesses. Over time, banks have stopped giving the option of having four female witnesses and now only accept testimonies from men.

History of reform

The law of evidence is the most discussed and important part of procedural legal reforms. Proponents of Islamic reform in Pakistan have long argued that the Evidence Act of 1872 – a holdover from British rule – is un-Islamic. On January 2, 1981, President General Zia-ul-Haq said that “what is of vital importance, in my opinion, is that the law of evidence be strictly in accordance with the Quran and the Sunna”.

The Rebuilt Council of Islamic Ideology, encouraged by President Zia’s statement, began revising the Evidence Act of 1872. As formulated by the council, the Evidence Bill differed significantly from the 1872 law. Indeed, it made so many changes that Tanzil-ur-Rehman, the chairman of the council at the time, determined that it would be easier to write new legislation than to revise the old version. The resulting ordinance included a lengthy chapter on Nisab-i-Shahadat, which both incorporated the Hudood Ordinances’ rules of evidence and established disparities between the testimony of men and women.

According to the new law, a woman’s testimony was worth half of a man’s testimony. In addition, the proposed ordinance differed significantly from the 1872 Act in terms of oaths, purge of witnesses, evidentiary requirements, and penalties for recanting evidence. But it is the provisions dealing with the value of the testimony of men and women that have received the most public attention. Many women’s organizations strongly opposed the proposed rule and staged nationwide protests against it.

The administration at the time was at an impasse. He dedicated himself to crafting a distinctly Islamic code of evidence that would oppose colonial power. However, the large, outspoken and well-organized opposition of the time claimed that the proposed ordinance was unjust and anti-Islamic. The administration approved a new rule of evidence that was almost identical to the old evidence law, but was described as a significant change from the past.

Accordingly, on October 28, 1984, President Zia-ul-Haq announced the adoption of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat, claiming that it had replaced an “un-Islamic law with an Islamic law”. However, a closer examination of the Qanoon-i-Shahadat reveals that it differed from the 1872 statute only in one substantial respect. According to article 17 of the new law:

  1. In matters of pecuniary or future obligations, if it is recorded in writing, the act must be attested by two men, or a man and two women, so that one can recall the other, if necessary , and the proof must be made accordingly; and
  2. In all other cases, the Court may accept or act on the testimony of a man or a woman or on any other evidence relating to the circumstances of the case.

This clause replaced section 134 of the 1872 Act, which stated that “no specific number of witnesses shall in any case be required for the proof of any fact”. The 1984 Qanoon-i-Shahadat did not differ substantially from the Evidence Act 1872.

  1. In practice, Section 17 of the 1984 Act has had little impact on legal interpretation or practice. As of December 1989, no case had been filed in a Pakistani higher court based on the interpretation of the substantially revised provision of this order. And, given the nature of financial transaction procedures in Pakistan, no[BJ1] should increase very soon. In practice, virtually all financial transactions in Pakistan require the countersignature of many people due to custom or rule. Indeed, banking laws expressly permit the use of attested signatures, and legal procedures governing transfers of property, loans, contracts, and other matters also permit it. Accordingly, the much heralded and hotly contested Islamic Qanoon-i-Shahadat is essentially a restatement of the Evidence Act of 1872. Nizam-i-Mustafa, on the other hand, said that the Evidence Act of 1872 was Islamic.

Private banks react

Private banks say they only follow the rules put in place by SBP. But bank workers say they are also manipulating the rules to make it easier for them in some cases. “The forms don’t have space for four witnesses and it’s also extra work, so we ask clients to have two male witnesses sign,” said a private bank agent, who asked to stay anonymous. He said it is a problem for banks and customers to use four female witnesses because they have to collect CNIC and signatures from four people instead of two.

Banks do not require witnesses for the opening of an account or a credit card, but they do need them for changes of registered addresses, discrepancies between signatures on documents and CNIC, if the customer has a photo account, if the customer does not want to pay Zakat, or if the customer needs a loan to buy anything like a car, a house, a bicycle or a laptop.

“The form that requires testimony is a compensation form and is mainly used for reporting purposes. According to Sharia, 2 male witnesses are required, but according to the same law, four women or one man two women are also accepted” , said Nadeem Shah, manager. said a private bank agent. He added that forms in banks have only two columns, which has consolidated the practice of asking for two male witnesses. “Most of the time bank officers tell customers about it so they don’t have to come back with bad witnesses,” Shah said.

Banks are required by law to follow these rules, but they are also trying to make banking easier for women in other ways, said Zaigham Sheriff, GM Personal Segment, Standard Chartered Bank Pakistan. “Our best-in-class digital onboarding platform gives women the ability to open an account from the comfort of their own home.”

He also said that the bank is in the process of launching an exclusive proposition for women which will provide them with a wide range of products and services. He said the State Bank of Pakistan has also launched financial education programs to create awareness among the financial community and educate the community.

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