PAKISTAN: Constant violence against women in 2009

An Article by the Asian Human Rights Commission

Physical and sexual violence, honor killings, forced marriages and structural inequalities within the society are constant violations of women’s fundamental rights. The cases in this article were provided by Mister Mohammed Nafees from Karachi, based on news from Daily Dawn.

By Julia Lemétayer

2009 has been another tragic year for women rights in Pakistan. Many cases have been reported, in which women were abducted, assaulted, raped, murdered, forced to marriage or traded to resolve disputes. According to Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organization working for women empowerment in Pakistan, between January and June last year, a total of 4,514 incidents of violence against women were reported. Victims, if they dare reporting these facts, have to face police obstruction and societal pressure. If some of these facts can be imputed to feudal societies and tribal traditions, the most worrying aspect of women rights violations is that some practices and ideas are simply entrenched in the mindsets.

Last September, two people allegedly chopped off the nose and an ear of a woman over “honor” in Marghzar Colony of Hanjarwal, Punjab. One of the perpetrators was believed to be the victim’s brother-in-law. “Honor” is also the reason why Khalida Bibi, a little girl living in Bahadur village in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was strangled allegedly by her parents and uncle. In October, Sakina Khan Langarial allegedly hacked to death her younger sister, Iram Khan Langarial, because she suspected that she had “loose morals”. From January to May 2009 only, 90 women are believed to have been killed in the name of honor in the Punjab, seven in the NWFP. However, it can be assumed that all the cases are not reported, especially if we consider that most of the perpetrators are members of the family – immediate and extended – like a husband, a brother or a cousin. In some cases, women are killed by their husband suspecting extra-marital relations while in others, they are killed for having chosen their husband rather than accepting the one their family chose for them. Sometimes, “honor” can also be an excuse for a cold-blooded murder. Far from being an old tribal tradition remaining only in remote rural areas, these barbarian practices are spreading in urban centers.

Most of honor killings are committed in the name of the “karo-kari” tradition. Karo (black man) and kari (black woman) are metaphorical terms for adulterer and adulteress. If a man declares his wife kari, he is entitled to kill her and her alleged lover. Thus, a blind man strangled his wife and shot dead a man with the help of his able brothers, after branding them kari and karo in the Sain Dino Ghoto village near Ghotki, northern Sindh, last November. He suspected his wife of having illicit relations with his neighbor, so he killed them both. Likewise, Imam Bakhsh shot dead his wife and the man he suspected to be her lover last June. A 2-year old boy was also accidentally killed in the event. Not much can be done against the murderers, especially if the wife has been branded kari by a Jirga, a tribal assembly of elders that dispense so-called justice according to customs and tradition. Jirgas are illegal in Pakistan, but the rule of tradition is often more powerful than the rule of law. Jirgas not only justify killings, they also order some in order to “restore justice”. Jirgas claim to dispense justice under the name of religion, but Islam is actually used as an excuse to avoid critics and gain more power. Plus, their members are powerful people – tribal leaders, members of the parliament – which can explain why the government has difficulties to shut down these court-like gatherings.

Aside from honor killings, Pakistani women have to face various types of violence in their day-to-day life. The most common one is domestic violence. Women are beaten up, tortured or even killed by their husband every day. In July, a man reportedly beat his wife to death in Ghazi Khan Lashari village, Punjab, because she was complaining about the torture she was subjected to. A mother of four was axed to death by her addict husband near Lalazar Colony, Punjab, because she refused to give him money to buy drugs. Assaults by unknown men can also happen to women, like this woman and her 5-year old, who suffered from severs burns after an acid attack, or like that unidentified young girl, whose body was found in the bushes at a desolate place in Block 19 of Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Karachi, last August.

Sexual harassment, sexual assaults, rape and gang-rape are also a typical example of the low status of women in society. Last August, for instance, a woman was waiting for a Lahore-bound bus at the Pindi bypass stop in Punjab when seven policemen picked her up in an official van on the pretext of investigation. They took her to a nearby hotel and gang-raped her. Near Sukkur, Sindh, last July, a 10-year old girl who had gone to a nearby grocery store was found lying unconscious hours later by her family. A man had kidnapped her and subjected her to sexual assaults.

Young girls are particularly vulnerable to gender-related violence. According to traditions, they are often treated like merchandise and can be traded as peace offerings in arranged marriages (swara) or in resolution of a dispute, ordered by a Jirga (vani). In Mansehra region last August, a Jirga decided to punish a couple who had married of their own will and decreed to give three sisters of the man in marriage to the brothers of his wife. In Wahi Pandhi, Johi taluka, Sindh, a Jirga decided the divorce issue of two women by forcibly handing over their children to relatives of their fathers. Futhermore, in Karachi, eight-year-old Zahida was married to Dilshad, 17, by her father Abdul Rasool in exchange for Dilshad’s sister, whom the father wanted to marry. This cannot be called a ‘marriage’, but it is unfortunately not an isolated case. Child marriages amongst children — and girls being married to adults — are a regular feature in Pakistani society.

Victims of this violence have to face police obstruction and societal pressure. In October, Miss Asma Khand, 15, was gang raped by three of her school teachers. The same evening at Faiz Ganj police station, District Khairpur Mirs, Sindh, the head officer (SHO), Mr. Mohammad Husain Samtio, denied Asma medical treatment and refused to file a First Information Report (FIR) – as is required by law. Asma’s parents have been advised by the school headmaster not to complain to the police to avoid reprisals from the teacher’s powerful landlord connections and damage to their daughter’s reputation. Allegations in the media have since suggested that the headmaster’s own daughter was raped by the same men in July. One of the perpetrators was finally arrested but even though rape is a non-bailable offence in Pakistan, he was helped by corrupted colleagues and was released. The victim’s father was pressured to take the case to a Jirga. He refused and Asma, facing threats, had to leave the area.

The violence women suffer from is thus not only physical, but also societal. This can be seen in their under-representation in Pakistan workforce and public service. In Karachi province, they constitute a mere 14 per cent of the judges from the lowest to the higher tier. The difficulties that some women have to work are also a sign of this structural violence. For instance, the AHRC has learned that a woman in Sindh province has been arbitrarily denied her job in the civil service for nineteen years, without explanation or official confirmation.

What can be done to improve women rights in Pakistan and fight against impunity? The government has already banned Jirgas, but they are still very powerful. Some call for “qisas” judgments, a retaliation based on Shariah, which calls for a punishment equal to the crime. Thus, a man who killed 100 boys was condemned to death and was cut into 100 pieces [??? – PTH]. Men who chopped off a woman’s nose and ears were condemned to the same treatment. However, human rights violations should not be repaired by further crimes. Instead, deep structural changes have to be made. A better representation of women in the state and public offices is a first step that has to be made. Furthermore, reforms in the judiciary and the police seem necessary to stop impunity and to fairly condemn perpetrators. Through these reforms and through education, Pakistan could make the most important step: a true change of mindset.

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.

24 Comments

Filed under human rights, Justice, Pakistan, poverty, Religion, Rights, Rural, Society, state, violence, Women

24 responses to “PAKISTAN: Constant violence against women in 2009

  1. mazbut

    Strangely there is NO mention of ‘revolting’ and ”run-away girls’ in the whole story. Do women have the right to ‘run-away’ with their paramours? Does that tantamount to Women Rights?? What generally is the future of run-away women in our Society?? What implications do some ‘acts’ of women have on the social and societal, not to speak of Islamic or moral , status of families and their other unmarried girls in the family?? Is there any solution to that??

  2. B. Civilian

    re. the murderer of 100+ boys

    this is probably a reference to javed iqbal, the serial paedophile and murderer from lahore. judge jafry had made the absurd and illegal pronouncement which was of course never carried out.

    the judgment about the perpetrators having their ears and nose cut off was made for rhetorical effect, even when the court knew it was illegal and could not be and was not carried out.

  3. B. Civilian

    @mazbut

    your suitability as target readership as far as this article is concerned is clearly doubtful. however, there is some possibility that you might find yourself directly subject to the laws relevant to this article. the target readership needs to make sure that they have worked hard and strengthened enforcement of these laws, in time for that eventuality.

  4. Majumdar

    Mazbut,

    In your opinion what shud be done to ladies who have run away with someone else- say a married lady with a paramour or a lady who has eloped with a man who her family disapproves of?

    Regards

  5. Mustafa Shaban

    The situation of women in Pakistan seems terrible. This is a result of lack of education, poverty, tribal mindset, and some mullahs preaching a wrong kind of Islam. The educational system in Pakistan needs immediate reform.

  6. Most of the arrange marriages are actually ‘forced marriages’ and the speciality of middle class. The women are emotionally blackmailed for this and so the marriage becomes a mere compromise…

  7. mazbut

    @ Majumdar

    That exactly what I am trying to know!

    The Champions of Women Rights/Human Rights should not be oblivious to situations pointed out by you and me.
    I don’t think it would be advisable to give a ‘blanket’ to women in the existing social conditions. Neither our society, morals, values nor religion allow men to be ”disgraced” in the name of misused and abused ‘women rights’; a family disgraced by the act of a revolting and run-away female member is destined to loathe and calumny in our society,; people look down upon it and it is almost impossible to find matches for other unmarried girls in it. So far there is no system of fixing matches other than arranged marriages again due to social problems. Needless to say parents of a girl usually have a life-long responsibility in our culture to additionally care for their women folk, don’t they?
    Unless a woman is free to travel in the country at any time of the day and night I would rather deny them the so called ‘women rights’ until then…as that would be in their own interest.
    Simultaneously, I condemn the maltreatment to women as applied in case of ‘differences’….but at the same time would like some one to suggest a way out because after all it takes two to tango!

  8. mazbut

    @Mustafa Shaban
    Agree but much has to do with poverty, bad governance, injustice and ignorance; Mullahs don’t have much role to play in this!

  9. Mustafa Shaban

    @mazbut: Agreed it is mostly the problem of poverty and education. These things need to be solved in order to end these problems.

    @G.Vishvas: I completely disagree, the Quran needs to be interpreted and peeled like an onion, its verses are deep and have many meanings and layers. The Prophetic hadith and Ahlul Bayt are both correct interpretations of the Quran.

    Islam has never been biased against women and in fact is the most liberal of religions. Islam has helped women, only misuse and misinterpretation leads to these problems. You will be stunned at some of the things Islam points out to concerning different topics. Islam and Quran have challenged and passed the test of time as a progressive message that is eternal and modern in nature with the capability to solve all of human problems and help human being progress.

    Also the acts that some people justify as ”islam” have no place in Islam and infact are the result of tribal culture and other patriarchal cultures and ideologies that have no place in Islam. Sometimes Islam is mixed with these cultures, which confuses people into thinking differently.

    One turkish tribal leader who endorsed honor killing said ”Honor comes before the Quran” meaning most of these people give priority to patriarchy and culture over Islam therefore violating Islamic rules to satisfy thier culture and society.

    Others are just really messed up people who cal themselves islamic scholars but they themselves no nothing about Islam.

  10. mohammad

    We all know, majority of women are condemned to lives of misery in rough Pakistani society. They have to face sea of emotional physical and cultural constraints. I resign to the fact that in my life time women empowerment will not materialise. I will say the rape may be more prevalent than reported, but worryingly the overwhelming majority of sexual abuse happens to boys. I think hundred of thousands of boys are abused in Pakistan every year, with society turning a blind eye to such horrific incidents.

  11. mazbut

    @ Mustafa Shaban

    In your response to G. Vishvas you have stated that the problem lies with various interpretations of the holy Quran. Well, this is true to some extent but you will not disagree with the fact that there are many issue upon which there is concensus between the major sects of Muslims. Wouldn’t it be fair if those conformities are enforced??

    Personally I think the main antagonistic element befacing Islam is democracy itself. Democracy, as a system of government is least adaptable to a Muslim state like Pakistan for the reason that conditions governing democracy do not exist. To this you may quote India or Bangla Desh etc but those are NOT Islamic states officially.

    In words of Iqbal

    jamhooriat ik taez-e-hukoomat he ke jis mein
    bandoan ko gina kartay hien tola nahi kartay!

    Pakistan needs a system of government which can cater to its needs and fulfills the existing demographic, social, cultural, educational, economic, administrative and Islamic conditions.

    Instead of blaming controversy on the interpretation of Quranic verses, most of which are fundamental and vividly understandable, we the Muslims should study the Quran ourselves and comprehend it without falling ‘prey’ to the cliche of attributed controversy on their interpretations.

  12. Milind Kher

    Women who have been raped are punished for adultery.Women who are innocent are raped like Mukhtar Mai.

    Tribal law needs to be withdrawn. Also, the Shariah laws should not be implemented as the mullahs distort them terribly.

    Have a truly secular state. That is the only solution. Else, the abuse of Islam by mullahs will continue.

  13. Mustafa Shaban

    @mazbut: What you said is true, but Iqbal spoke of an enlightened democracy which is a democracy based on islamic principles rather than secular. I think this is the answer.

    @Milind: Just because religion is misused dusnt mean we should avoid it. We have to take the authority away from some of the mullahs and challenge them rather than ignore them.

  14. bushra naqi

    We have to come back again to the existing hudood ordinance which has facilitated men to freely abuse women sexually by giving them impunity in case of absence of four witnesses which everybody knows is virtually impossible.

    The fact of the matter is that it must be the responsibility of the state to protect women and other weaker and vulnerable sections of the society by legislating laws to protect them. Such issues cannot be left to mullahs and civil rights organizations because of the severity of the situation. .

    Strong penalties and punishments will gradually lead to a changing mindset and move society towards a humane and civilized modes of behavior.

  15. Milind Kher

    Bushra is absolutely right. The state has to protect women. No nation or society can call itself civilized or developed unless women are safe.

    MS, it does not look like there is anybody who can run an Islamic government the way it should be run. It is better to have a secular form.

  16. Mustafa Shaban

    @Milind: you are rite, that it is the states responsiblity to protect women.

    Regarding religion and secularism, even secular countries are among the third world countries. Also no matter what you have, capitalism, socialism, secular or religious, even if you have a free judiciary if you are missing the biggest check and balance of government then nobody will be happy. Other than the judiciary it is the peoples awareness, activism and sacrifice for the nation that keeps the rulers on thier toes and not do curroption. If the people get busy in theier own little lives and accept the violation of thier rights by the government without protest or disobedience then they will never be happy and alwayz be in misery.

  17. Mustafa Shaban

    The people ofcourse, must act collectively and as one for them to be the biggest pressure group on government.

  18. Majumdar

    Mazbut bhai,

    The Champions of Women Rights/Human Rights should not be oblivious to situations pointed out by you and me.

    I am glad that we are on the same page on this sensitive issue.

    Neither our society, morals, values nor religion allow men to be ”disgraced” in the name of misused and abused ‘women rights’;
    Unless a woman is free to travel in the country at any time of the day and night I would rather deny them the so called ‘women rights’ until then…as that would be in their own interest.

    Well, I come back to the original question I had posed to you- How do we deal with recalcitrant women?

    From your opinion, it wud seem that a Chand bibi type swift operation wud be ideal under the circumstances.

    Regards

    (Incidentally there are some famous equivalents in India too- sadly the girls and their paramours were executed while in Swat she was let off with a mere flogging )

  19. Nikita

    Democracy, as a system of government is least adaptable to a Muslim state like Pakistan for the reason that conditions governing democracy do not exist.
    and what exaclty are those conditions?? are people living in officially declared Islamic states not entitled to the right to vote?

    Unless a woman is free to travel in the country at any time of the day and night I would rather deny them the so called ‘women rights’ until then…as that would be in their own interest.
    and what precisely are these so called women rights that you would want to deny them??? are you trying imply that till the time the society does not reach a utopian stage wherein men and women are equal in every sense, you are going to put a ban on even those meagre rights which are available to us at present? and how does this act work in our interest?

    Strangely there is NO mention of ‘revolting’ and ”run-away girls’ in the whole story. Do women have the right to ‘run-away’ with their paramours?
    such a situation would not have arisen in the first place if men and women had been given the basic right to choose their life partners and if women were not looked at as commodities to be exchanged between families.

  20. Ammar

    Violence against women in Pakistan has been prevalent phenomena and this is multifaceted as the patriarchal structure is further consolidated with religious analogies so to justify violence against women. Violence against women is tolerated and often ignored on the pretext of being a domestic affair and this reflects upon the extremist tendencies of our society.

  21. Mustafa Shaban

    @Ammar: I understand what you are saying, but I believe that a large section of the youth of Pakistan are a lot better educated and hopefully civil society in Pakistan will rise to solve its problems. Since the advent of free media, a lot of dicussion and debate takes place about Pakistan. We will find answers, nobody is ignoring anything anymore.

  22. Ammar

    Somehow I do not find the argument of lack of education being one of the reasons for the violence against women. I say so as the phenomena of domestic violence is also common in the urban educated elite. It is the state of mind which legitimizes the use of violence and for that I agree the media is shaping positive attitudes among the audience.

  23. Milind Kher

    Very clearly, the violence against women is an indication of the medieval thinking which yet dominates large sections of the society.

    Unless there is a widespread awakening and sustained action, nothing will happen.

  24. rex minor

    What is being reported should not be acceptable in any society! However, to put it in prospective the human rights advocates are well advised to publish a report on these misdeeds and crimes for other countries in parallel. Pakistan is not a unique country for violence against women?