The Gender Gap Index 2015 ranked Pakistan second from the last among 145 countries in terms of gender-based disparities.
Pakistan has a patriarchal social structure in which women are subservient to men, and are viewed as their property. Most of the socio-economic space is owned and controlled by men. Due to large gender disparities in the areas of health, education, and economic and political participation, women are usually subordinated by men and are frequent victims of violence. Women in Pakistan have less power and less social status.
Power dictates the position of women and girls at the household, community, and policy levels. Many forms of violence against women are not recognized as crimes or violations of women’s rights by authorities and imams e.g. domestic violence or, the violence ensuing from the infamous blasphemy laws. Even where gender-based violence is criminalized, perpetrators have not been pursued or regarded as such.
The above is prevalent despite the fact that the Government of Pakistan stands committed to end all kinds of violence against its citizens irrespective of gender, race, and religion, and is a signatory to almost all international conventions and agreements on violence against women and gender-based violence. While laws and guarantees may exist on the books, they need a strong social and political will to promulgate them. The reason for this may be that Pakistan issued a declaration that the ‘accession to CEDAW is subject to the provisions of Constitution’. Through this, it set up a preemptive safety net protecting Sharia law in the country.
PREVALENCE AND FREQUENCY
Data show that cases of gender-based violence increased. A total of 8,548 cases were reported during 2009, a 13% increase from 2008. In the vast majority of cases where women lost their lives due to violence at home, their husbands and in-laws were implicated. In other cases, victims’ fathers and brothers were responsible. There were many cases reported of women seeking divorce or separation who were subject to mutilation, such as having their noses, ears, and hair cut off by angry husbands. Pakistani women also commonly face sexual violence. It is estimated that as many as eight women – half of them minors – are raped every day. Many of these are committed to exact revenge on the victim’s family, as women are considered keepers of the family honor. Rapes are also ordered as punishments by the Panchayat and Jirga councils of elders, sometimes for crimes committed by other members of the family. Many sexual assaults on women occur in custody by the police.
It is also very important to realize that women due to their position in Pakistani society are systematically, psychologically, and emotionally abused. Right from the very start, they are constantly told that they are not good enough and that they are to be subservient to men. Thus, they grow up to have a very poor self-concept and learn to accept their ‘place’. Such women, when abused, don’t see it as a violation of their rights, but rather a consequence of their own doings- as something utterly normal.
WHY IS THIS PREVALENT?
Gender issue in Pakistan is a very controversial issue in Pakistan.
- This is so due to the overarching authority of Islam in Pakistani society.
According to Article 2 of the Constitution Islam is the State Religion and that “no law can be enacted that contradicts the basic teachings of Quran and Sunnah. ”
Religion overwhelmingly dominates the social, political, and personal lives of individuals. All Islamic schools of thought in Pakistan uphold conservative and patriarchal interpretations of the role and status of women. The imams, whom people approach in case any difficulty or problem, are all men, who espouse a male-oriented spirituality and reinforce male dominance in all relations, especially in marital relations. They interpret problems from within their traditional patriarchal perspective and propose solutions accordingly. This is even in the instances when they are approached with cases of violence against women, especially spousal violence. They accord unequal relations between husband and wife, wherein the husband has a dominant role and the wife is subservient.
- Overall, males in Pakistan are regarded as ‘guardians of their female relations’ and are encouraged to control and subordinate women.
This unequal relation between male and female, especially between husband and wife, is justified on the basis of the difference between them on the ground of their ‘sex’ and a that there exists a division of labor based on ‘natural and God-given differences.’ Thus, a typical notion of masculinity v/s femininity is constructed on the basis of which gender inequality is glorified. According to many, for the conjugal and harmonious functioning of society women need to accept the superiority of men. This has become a pretext for fathers, brothers, and husbands battering and murdering their daughters, sisters, and wives. This is because according to them they behaved in an un-Islamic way and brought dishonor to the family. Honor killings, dowry deaths, and domestic violence are so common that they not only have been normalized but institutionalized in Pakistani society. The killing of Qandeel Baloch by her brother is the most recent example in this case. The law against honor killing is such that the offender can be let off if he is forgiven by his father. Rarely do women approach authorities in cases of domestic violence because not only have they internalized their subordinate position but also such cases are regarded as personal affairs.
- The justification and prevalence of gender inequality in Pakistan can be clearly understood when its stand against the ‘perverse influence of the western culture’ is taken into account. In trying to find its place in the international order and legitimize itself the state of Pakistan has built itself an identity, which is mutually exclusive of that of the West. Due to this, Pakistani society has become more conservative and traditional, in reaction to the pervasiveness of western culture. Since women are considered the bearers of culture and honor, they are the ones who have ended up bearing the brunt of this phenomenon. Thus a very strict public-private divide has emerged in which no matter how Westernised the public sphere (men) became, people could take comfort in the private sphere (women) as untouched, unharmed and unspoiled by the western culture. The escalating control and monitoring of women had the greatest impact on the bodies and sexuality of women. This tension between the international acceptance and internal retreat to tradition leads to an environment where violent crimes against women escalate. The rise in incidents of acid attacks on women is clearly indicative of this. Women often become victims of such attacks when they dress/behave inappropriately or reject marriage proposals. The screening of the documentary ‘Saving Face’ by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (a victim herself) brought international attention to this problem.
- The impact of Talibanization on Pakistan in general, and women and girls in particular, however, is clear. To quote Muslim Khan, spokesperson for the Tehrik- e-Taliban:
“Women will benefit the most from the enforcement of the Sharia… We want to give women their rightful place in Islam… Women are not supposed to work in factories, or even work in fields. That is a man’s work and we will not allow them to shrug off their responsibility.” The Taliban has interpreted Quran in a very dogmatic way, such that woman has become even more oppressed. Not only are her movements outside the house being monitored but also are her clothing and behavior. This is evidently shown in the number of women who have been brutally tortured and shot dead for ‘stepping outside the confines of their homes’, wearing clothes other than a burqa, seeking education, or simply for being liberated. The case of Malala Yousafzai is a good example of this case.
- There is widespread police abuse of women in Pakistan. More than 70% of women in police custody are subjected to physical and sexual abuse by law enforcement agencies. The police fail in their duties to provide women with basic services and protections afforded to them by laws. Other times, they push the victims to go for a ‘compromise’. They often refuse to register cases of rape and assault, especially when another officer is involved. In most cases, they operate with a patriarchal attitude and with the belief that it is the woman’s fault. Often, the police are connected with the higher-ups in government and society and work in their favor. Gender bias has been institutionalized in the criminal justice system. There’s outright harassment of rape victims at all levels of government. After the police, come the conservative and apathetic attitude of the judiciary, which is composed of extremely traditional and male chauvinistic judges and lawyers. This results in many offenders being set free from the charges leveled against them and women undergoing multiple rounds of victimizations. Discriminatory legal provisions still exist in the Hudood Ordinance 1979, Protection of Women Act 2006, the Qisas and Diyat provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code, the Citizenship Act, and the Law of Evidence.
- The practice of tribal councils or jirga, within the tribal system or Panchayat, is also a source of violence committed against women in Pakistan. Women are completely powerless in this system. This was evidently observed during the case of Mukhtar Mai. In such situations, women have only two options left- to seclude themselves, or commit suicide. The result of this for women is a complete lack of control over their own lives in tribal areas and combined with the discriminating practice of the police leave them with little recourse other than that prescribed by the culture. The tribal system is so embedded in the Pakistani society that the lines between it and the official state are very blurred. This created problems for the abolishment of Jirga and gives credibility to the idea that the State is complacent in crimes against women.
It is very important to realize that it is the persistence of the patriarchal system, which adds to the likelihood of State crime occurring when the state fails to uphold its own legislation in deference to the culture of patriarchy. The above points show how the state is failing to protect women from institutions and agencies that have discriminating and harmful practices against women. This is indicative of the failure of the state to exercise due diligence over the actions of its agents and failure to comply with international law as well as Pakistan’s own domestic laws. A holistic and independent policy for the elimination of gender-based violence is missing from the national reform agenda.
Thus, women in India and Pakistan undergo violence from womb to tomb. Various forms of gender violence are chronologically arranged in terms of stages of the life of a woman beginning with sex selection/ sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, child marriage, child abuse, trafficking, domestic violence, dowry harassment, murder and rape, sexual harassment, and ending with old age abuse.
A neo-patriarchal attitude has emerged under which violence against women has been normalized against women of all classes and stages.
A paradoxical situation has thus emerged in which woman is constantly sexualized and yet has no sexual rights; in which she is celebrated in the forms of goddesses but is considered as weak and submissive; in which she is the bearer of culture and tradition and yet is constantly abused.
They are just stranded after they become ‘impure/dirty’ and are expected to live out their lives as living corpses; devoid of any hopes and aspirations.
This is clearly indicative of strict binaries between male and female, tradition and modernity, religion and secular and between public and private, existing in blatantly patriarchal and male chauvinistic societies.
Gender-based violence (GBV) is a barrier to socio-economic growth. In developing countries like India and Pakistan where the only criteria for development are GDP and welfare, it is sad to see that we are not giving women that equal power and liberty to be financially independent and contribute towards civic development.
It needs to be realized that legislation alone cannot by itself solve deep-rooted social problems; one has to approach them in other ways too. Therefore, what is required is not only a strong legal support network but also opportunities for economic independence, essential education and awareness, alternative accommodation, and a change in attitude and mindset of society, judiciary, legislature, executive, men, and the most important woman herself. Restructuring society in terms of power and role relationship while emphasizing the egalitarian values is the need of the hour.
We have heard of the saying “God helps those who help themselves.” Similarly, a little perseverance will power, the realization of self-worth can help women across strata to rebuke the ferocity. It is also important to have open and thoughtful conversations within the family so that any misuse or miscreants are not ignored and are corrected in their formative years.
Education has to enter at all layers because only then can females be independent and have the liberty to choose their career, have a say in marriage, and other lifestyle changes.
1.Tarar, M. G., & Pulla, V. (2014, April). Patriarchy, Gender Violence and Poverty amongst Pakistani Women: A Social Work Inquiry. Retrieved from http://www.hrpub.org/download/20140405/IJRH8-19200116.pdf.
2.Offenhauer, P. (2005, November). WOMEN IN ISLAMIC SOCIETIES: A SELECTED REVIEW OF SOCIAL SCIENTIFIC LITERATURE . Retrieved from https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/pdf-files/Women_Islamic_Societies.pdf.
5.Baig, R. (n.d.). Socio Legal Perspective of Dowry: A Study (with Special Reference to Shivamogga District). Retrieved from https://www.isa-sociology.org/en/junior-sociologists/dissertation-abstracts/list-of-abstracts/336
To read Part I, Click Here.
Image Source: Concern Worldwide US.
Saumya Singh has done Masters in International Relations and Politics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She is passionate about writing on the condition of womanhood in the subcontinent and probing international issues. She is also an avid reader, debater, and food enthusiast.