Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf approved legislation on Friday that will allow some 1,300 women jailed for minor crimes to be freed on bail.
"The president today signed an ordinance that has allowed women languishing in jail to be released on bail, except those held on murder and terrorism charges," Minister for Women and Youth Affairs, Sumaira Malik, told a news conference.
She said around 1,300 jailed women stood to be freed on bail as a result of the president's decision.
However, it was unclear whether the change would effect women imprisoned under Pakistan's Islamic penal code, known as the 'Hudood Ordinance', which enforces punishments for crimes such as adultery, rape and theft.
The Hudood laws were promulgated in 1980s by then military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq.
While these laws prescribe strict punishments like death by stoning or lashes for those found guilty of having sex outside marriage and amputation of hands and legs for thieves, these punishments have rarely, if ever, been applied.
Government officials say around 1,600 women are jailed across the country and about 300 of them are facing murder and terrorism charges.
But rights activists say the number of women in prison is far greater, and the majority of them are facing charges under Hudood laws.
Civil and women rights groups have long called for the repeal of Hudood laws which they say discriminate against women. But successive governments have ducked the issue due to opposition from Pakistan's influential conservative Islamist parties.