A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
(March 07, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) Despite the Pakistani government’s few efforts to improve the women’s situation, physical and sexual violence, honour killings, forced marriages and structural inequalities within the society still make Pakistan one of the worst countries in the world in terms of gender gap according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2009. Pakistan is at the lowest bottom of the ranking among Asian countries and at 132 out of 134 countries. Economic empowerment also stood at 132, health at 128 and political empowerment at 55. The situation is getting worse, as its ranking was 127 in 2008 also Asia’s worst ranking in terms of gender based gap.
‘Global Gender Gap Report,’ is a framework for understanding the magnitude and depth of gender-based disparities in different fields of the life. Please see the link of the report at page 10 and 11 on following link; (click here)
With these statistics in mind, we must concede that although this day began as a day in which women are reminded of the battles they have fought, the achievements that have been won, and the small, but certain, steps that have been taken, it is clear that it is still just the beginning. Although this a day to celebrate the rights women acquired throughout the years and to remember the efforts that still have to be made towards equality between men and women. In Pakistan however, women have nothing to be celebrating about. Their rights and safety are continuously restrained by repressive laws and customs. Physical and sexual violence, honor killings, forced marriages and structural inequalities within the society are constant violations of women’s fundamental rights. Despite the government’s few efforts to improve their situation, they still suffer from structural inequalities and violence and their low status is entrenched in society and mindsets.
Laws have been issued to tackle violence against women, such as the Protection of Women Act, 2006 or the Criminal Law Act, 2009. The latter provides protection to working women at workplace from sexual advances and intimidation. The 2006 law protects women from abduction and rape, among other things, and makes provision for punishment of such offences. However it still fails to fully protect women, for example by not recognizing marital rape or by severely punishing non-marital sex, thus giving arguments to extremists.
On January 26, 2010, a bill regarding acid violence - which would specifically target those crimes by stating higher punishments for the attackers and by regulating the sale and purchase of acid - has been submitted to the National Assembly of Pakistan. However, this only marks the beginning of a long legislative process and it will require some time before the law is successfully adopted and effectively enforced. It will also require a strong political will which, until now, has proven inadequate, if not, inexistent. Indeed, in most of those cases, the judicial institutions have not taken stern sanctions against the perpetrators, who have often been able to act and walk away in total impunity. Nor has adequate compensation and support been granted to the victims.
Throughout 2009, thousands of cases of violence against women were reported in Pakistan. Most of the perpetrators are members of the family – immediate and extended – like a husband, a brother or a cousin. If a woman has been branded “kari” (black woman) by a Jirga - a tribal assembly of elders that dispense so-called justice according to customs and tradition – her husband is entitled to kill her and her alleged lover. Jirgas are illegal in Pakistan, but the rule of tradition is often more powerful than the rule of law.
Women are beaten up, raped, tortured or even killed at home; they have to face the constant threat of sexual harassment, sexual assaults, rape and gang-rape. In Swat, 17-year-old Chand Bibi received 34 lashes in public for going out in the street with her father-in-law. Their everyday-life is regulated by tribal archaic traditions. Few weeks ago, Samina Khawar Hayat, a female legislator in the legislative assembly of Pakistan’s Punjab province stunned her colleagues by asking the Punjab government to amend existing laws to allow men to marry a second, third and fourth wife without the consent of first wife, whereas existing Muslim Family laws in Pakistan make it mandatory for husbands to obtain the first wife’s permission.
The number of women of all ages and backgrounds who are killed in the name of honour cannot be determined; the vast majority of these cases are unreported and only in the rarest cases are perpetrators brought to justice. Many women in Pakistan live lives circumscribed by misogynistic traditions which systematically control their bodies, their decisions and their lives. Undocumented and unreported killings in the name of honour are often bolstered by governmental indifference, discriminatory laws and negligence on the part of Pakistan’s police force and judiciary. As Neshay Najam in ‘Honour Killings in Pakistan’ notes, “it is paradoxical that women who enjoy such a poor status in society and have no standing in family should become the focal point and a false and primitive concept of family honour, which they are expected to uphold at the expense of their inclinations and preference in matters of marriage.”
All these examples show how women are not considered as human beings in some regions and how it can be dangerous, just being a woman. It also shows that discrimination against women is not only a legal problem, but also a societal problem, as it is deeply entrenched in the mindsets. Laws are not sufficient to protect women against centuries-old traditions. This can be changed only through an in-depth evolution that includes the disassembly of Jirgas, the effective implementation of the rule of law in every region of the country and the reform of the judiciary and the police to stop impunity and fairly condemn perpetrators, which requires a strong political will. Structural changes also have to be made, such as a better representation of women in state and public offices. These are just some of the measures that could be taken in order to deliver Pakistani women from old tribal traditions. Women’s International Day should be a good occasion to think about it and, more importantly, not to forget them.
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission