Pakistan: Elimination Of Violence Against Women

Published: Fri 27 Nov 2009 12:17 PM
Pakistan: A Statement On The International Day For Elimination Of Violence Against Women
The women of Pakistan bear the brunt of poor governance, military strife, and the corruption of the social, political and economic systems which surround them. W omen make up 49% of the population of Pakistan, yet they are continuously marginalized and discriminated against by the middle class and feudal societies, and through political and social structures which are inherently misogynistic. Recently, eruptions of violence in cities across the region have prompted new concerns that militia are specifically targeting women in their terror campaigns.
As an explicitly Muslim state, the women of Pakistan are beholden to a number of Islamic principles. For one, the family is seen as the nucleus of society, the fundamental building block from which the rest of society emerges and evolves. Women are seen to be responsible for maintaining the sanctity of the family, and are thus those who are most likely to disrupt this sanctity. As such, the woman becomes the lynch pin of an ordered society; it is on her back that responsibility and power lies, both for her family and by extension, for all of society. While the violence against women enacted in this society occurs for manifold reasons, it seems that this understanding of women as both the lynch pin and the one with the power to unravel society, is a contributing factor to the continual mistreatment of women in Pakistan.
Violence against women is seen to be of no importance to the judiciary of Pakistan, particularly the lower judiciary. Women face numerous types of violence perpetuated by the state and its agents, including rape, gang rape, torture, registration of false cases of adultery, honour killing, Jirga (an illegal, parallel judicial system for the exchange of minor girls in land disputes,) burying alive or putting before dogs, acid throwing, no free choice of marriages, restriction of freedom of movement and expression, domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace, snatching of children, forcing conversion to Islam, blasphemy, deprivation of property rights, disappearance after arrest and being used as sex slaves in military torture cells.
The main causes of this violence stem from a lack of proper investigative mechanisms by the police, and the presence of a strong feudal system, which contribute to the ultimate failure of the judicial system. In the urban centers of the country, the judiciary is indirectly under pressure from the landed aristocracy, as in the case of rural areas where there is no question of women getting relief (not even bail after arrest) from the lower judiciary.
Bills adopted against sexual harassment and domestic violence
Even so, there have been advances made in legislation. In a rare show of concern for women, the National Assembly unanimously passed a bill to provide harsher punishments for those who commit sexual harassment, expanding the definition of the crime to facilitate prosecution of the perpetrators. The punishment for the crime was increased to up to three years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs. 500,000. Effectively, women should feel encouraged to enter the workplace, as their protection is hopefully assured by a bill that makes sexual harassment laws less vague and open to interpretation. While this initiative is truly commendable, it is important to note that the Senate has yet to approve this bill. Indeed, while this is certainly a laudable effort, we must remember that the strength of these laws comes in their application and not simply their approval. Indeed, in one recent case, a senior anchorperson at Dunya Television News was pressured to keep silent about her sexual harassment by the managi
The National Assembly has also adopted a women’s protection bill, for the prevention of domestic violence, and the provision of aid and services to victims of the same. According to the bill, protection committees, comprising police officers, would provide legal and medical protection. They would assist and if necessary, relocate the aggrieved and their children. The bill also states that at any stage of the hearing, the accused may be directed to pay monetary relief to meet the expenses incurred and losses suffered, including loss of earnings, medical expenses and maintenance of the aggrieved person and her dependents. The bill states that domestic violence is an offence, and that if a person repeats such act(s), they are liable to one-year’s imprisonment and a fine of Rs.200,000. The bill also maintains that the federal government must ensure that the National Commission on the Status of Women reviews the legal provisions on domestic violence at regu lar intervals, and sugges
Many cases reflect the need for the police to be held accountable for actions which undercut the rule of law. The AHRC received information that the rape and murder of a woman last year by a group of men included two police officers. Please see an Urgent Appeal, Police officers participate in the rape and murder of a woman and no investigation is carried out, Please see the link of a case
In another recent case, police made no moves to arrest five men accused of gang-raping a sixteen-year old girl and were instead said to be supporting an illegal out-of-court settlement. It seems that since the accused are members of a powerful political party, the police have told the AHRC that they do not intend to take DNA samples of the accused. In another case, in which a group of schoolteachers have been accused of gang-raping several students, the police willfully delayed the victims’ medical examination. :
Unfortunately, it seems that the police are not the only officials who willingly compromise their professional integrity in the name of personal or political gain. Gender biases and misogynistic values can be seen in cases such as one where a Additional District and Sessions Judge Nizar Ali Khawaja on March 25, 2009 in Karachi, Sindh province, was highly inappropriate and unprofessional during the rape trial of a young girl, putting her through a grueling, sexually-explicit cross-examination in front of her alleged attackers, using aggressive, sarcastic language and asking for specifics and demonstrations of the act. To read about the detail of the case please see the link:
Every two hours a woman is raped
Even so, as a result of the state’s complicity, access to justice remains extremely limited for most female victims. Especially in cases where perpetrators are members of influential political groups, even those courageous enough to report their crimes often do so at the risk of their own lives and that of their families. The failure of the judicial system and political corruption is taking a long-lasting toll on the community, with more and more victims giving up on the system as a whole, and allowing cases of violence to go unreported. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, it is estimated that a woman is raped every two hours, a gang rape occurs every eight hours, and about 1000 women die annually in honor killings. The newly made Women’s Protection Act has failed to deter acts of violence against women who continue to fall victim to honor killings.
Since the ‘War on Terror’ started at the end of 2001, acts of discrimination and violence against women have increased. According to reports, acts of violence against women in 2005 immediately following the 'War on Terror’ increased three hundred-fold as compared to previous years. As such, the main victims of the ‘War on Terror’ are the women of Pakistan. According to press reports and reports collected from different women’s organizations, since 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror,’ 72,162 cases of violence against women were reported.
Incidences of violence against women take many forms. In one recent case, the ritual abuse and naked humiliation of three women cast a deeper shame on the justice system that supported it. Please see Urgent Appeal, The ritual abuse and naked humiliation of three women casts a deeper shame on the justice system that supported it,
Acid Throwing:
Acid throwing has recently come under international media scrutiny. This horrifying form of violence against women involves throwing acid, usually sulphuric acid, on women with the malicious intent to permanently disfigure her face and body features. The incidence of acid attacks is reflective of the misogynistic values that are inextricably intertwined into social systems where acts of disagreement by women can invite morbid vengeance. In one case, Maria Shah, a health worker from Shikarpur, was burnt from her face down to her thighs for refusing to marry the rickshaw driver who had been hired by her family to take her to school. National Assembly Speaker Fehmida Mirza enquired after her health, and noted that the government would bear the expenditure of Shah’s treatment. Maria Shah died on February 25th 2009. Aslam Sanjrani, a rickshaw driver, threw acid on the 25-year old Maria Shah, who was a lady health worker from Shikarpur, for spurning his marriage proposal. < br />
It would also be useful to look at Bangladesh, where they passed two laws (in 2002). The Acid Crime Prevention Act stipulates the death sentence as a maximum penalty for an assault. Experts say that throwing acid (usually sulphuric acid) is one of the most horrifying forms of gender-based violence. There is always a malicious intent to take revenge, disfigure and harm the person. It has long-lasting physical and psychological consequences say those working with survivors of such attacks.
There are no countrywide statistics to show if the crime has escalated since most go unreported or at times the police refuse to register an FIR. Ms Bokhari has recorded some 7,900 cases from 1994 to 2006. “But this is just the tip of the iceberg and only in the 200-mile radius of Islamabad.” The gap in her statistics from 2006 to 2008 was not because the practice dropped for two years but because Shahnaz learnt that hospitals were asked not to admit burn victims.
Plight of Women in Prison:
The Punjab province has the highest number of prisoners under trial in Pakistan. Official statistics show that 1,225,879 cases the latest spasm of violence in Pakistan cities has prompted new concerns that militants have begun to specifically target women in their terror campaign. remain pending in subordinate courts, with 144,942 in the Sindh region, 187,441 in the NFWP and 7,664 in Balochistan. The National Judicial Policy has stressed the importance of granting bail to those under trial, issuing directions to give priority to the disposal of the cases of women and juveniles.
According to a survey conducted by the AGHS Legal Aid Cell Team while visiting different jails, most women prisoners were subjected to physical abuse during interrogations by police. The survey also noted that female prisoners constituted 1.4% of the total prisoners held in the Punjab jails, with 876 adult jails and five juvenile jails. Over 67% of these women are under trial. The survey states that at least 80% of women prisoners are unaware of the status of their legal proceedings and 35% have not engaged lawyers. It adds that at least 70% of female prisoners are illiterate. Only 6% have made allegations of abuse by jail authorities. Over 48% of women prisoners are accused of murder, and 0.5% are convicted to the death sentence.
The survey maintains that 30% of women in these jails are accused under the Control of Narcotics Substance Act 1997. The rest of the women are accused of Zina or of other minor offences. Five juvenile female prisoners are under trial in murder cases as well.
More than 4000 people have died in Jirga-sanctified murders over the last six years, and two thirds of them have been women. Their deaths have often occurred under the most barbaric of circumstances. Many are charged with having a relationship outside of their marriages (an often fabricated claim,) while others are suspected of planning love marriages, as opposed to the arranged marriages planned by their families.
Love Marriage as Crimes:
As an explicitly Muslim state, the battle between secular, Christian and Islamic societies within Pakistan are particularly pronounced. In order to maintain these separations, love marriages across caste or religious lines are strongly discouraged, with family members using their political ties to arrest and torture the families of those involved in love marriages, so as to ‘teach them a lesson.’ In one particularly heinous case, assembly member Iftekar Baloch is said to be behind the arrest, torture and false arrest of six close relatives of the man who married a wealthier girl of a different tribe. It seems that the judge was under pressure by Baloch to renew the detention orders of these victims, despite there being no evidence against them. Ashraf’s mother has been released on bail, but the rest are still in prison and have been told that they won’t be released until the persecuted couple return.
Even though the Constitution of Pakistan states that if a person complains of torture, the courts must take notice, this case speaks to the power of political influence and personal standing. Iftekar Baloch’s political position has compelled this judge to sidestep the rule of law in order to remain in Baloch’s favour. Read more:
Jirga Against Women:
In the feudal, fiercely patriarchal north, women’s lives are seen to be of little worth. It is a matter of prestige to have more than one wife, and young girls are often sold into marriage to settle disputes. In one case, under the orders of Jirga, and with the knowledge and apparent acquiescence of the police, three young girls aged ten, twelve and thirteen, were handed over as compensation to a man who claimed that the girls’ father had slept with his wife. The complainant had openly killed the wife, as he had his previous wife.
In one recent case involving a Jirga, (illegal court) an 18-year old girl, trafficked to a family through marriage, was raped repeatedly by her father-in-law and other male members of the family.
Women are traded and bartered to resolve minor disputes, and as a display of personal and political power through these underground court systems. So long as there remains an alternative means to procuring ‘justice.’ the law will not be respected The AHRC calls for the Pakistani government’s acknowledgment of these illegal courts, and calls for their eradication, for the ultimate furthering of the true writ of law.
Indeed, while the legislative changes are commendable, there is a need on changing the attitudes and values of the public. It is clear that these misogynistic values are systemic, so there must be a re-education of values from the ground up. We must remember that new laws don’t necessarily make for new minds, and that change needs to happen at a number of places within the justice system. We see in this case, that regardless of the new bill, the attitudes of those in power remained unchanged. As such, the suggestion that the protection committees be comprised of police officers should be questioned. The negligent attitude and corrupt values of those who are in positions of power, beg the question: are the police right for this job? We question the use of the police, who are often perpetrators of violence, and their ability to offer advice, guidance and protection in a time of need. We call for an understanding of the violences that emanate from both the state and sections of c ivil society. We call for In light of these happenings, the AHRC calls for the Pakistani government’s assurance of legal provisions to uphold this bill in practice; to protect women against violations of their rights, within both the domestic and public realm, and ensure that those who violate these provisions be swiftly brought to justice.
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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