While we hear of legislation aimed at protecting women making its way through parliament, on the ground laws against violence, harassment and other offences which are supposed to protect women seem to have very little impact. This, of course, is disturbing and suggests that laws alone do little to spare women from the horrors they suffer so often. Instead, the secret may lie in efforts aimed at altering mindsets and granting women the greater security and empowerment they so badly need.
The State of Human Rights Report for 2011, launched by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in Islamabad, makes this abundantly clear. The report records the ‘honour killing’ of at least 943 women. Other cases could, of course, have gone unreported. The report also notes that nearly 600 women were killed after being accused of having ‘illicit’ relations. More than 200 others were murdered for choosing to marry of their own free will and many suffered rape or gang rape before they were killed. Another 701 women committed suicide. The numbers for both honour killings and suicide continues to climb steadily each year and this indicates that mere words and fervent promises will not suffice to protect women.
This is something the now-autonomous National Commission on the Status of Women needs to think about, so that it can come up with concrete proposals. The figures we see now are simply shameful. Other issues highlighted in the report do not make for very pleasant reading either. We learn more from the report about the dangers for journalists, for minority groups and the fact that some 33 per cent of children remain out of school. Many are engaged in hard labour. It is hard to see how we can progress given these facts. However, the report points out the problem; it is the task of leaders to solve them. The sooner they get about this business, the better off our women will be. Hopefully, the HRCP report for next year will reflect some improved figures.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 24th, 2012.