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.