Activists of the Aurat March carry placards during a rally to mark International Women's Day in Lahore, Pakistan, on March 8, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

When will Pakistan attain women protection and empowerment?

A lot more must be done to address the causes of violence against women and change mindset to promote gender equality

Abdul Sattar Baloch March 08, 2023

International Women's Day is celebrated on March 8th every year. It's a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. It is also a day to recognise the ongoing struggles that women face in achieving gender equality and to call for action to address these challenges.

The origins of International Women's Day can be traced back to the early 20th century when women's movements began to gain momentum around the world. The first National Women's Day was observed in the United States on February 28, 1909, to commemorate garment workers’ strike in New York City. The following year, Socialist International established International Women's Day to promote women's suffrage and to recognise the contributions of women in all spheres.

In 1917, women in Russia organised a strike for "Bread and Peace" during World War I, demanding an end to the war and better living conditions. This strike, which began on March 8th, was a catalyst for the Russian Revolution and helped establish women's rights in Russia. In 1975, the United Nations officially recognised International Women's Day, and it has since become a day to highlight gender inequalities and advocate for women's rights and empowerment.

In Pakistan, the celebration takes place with various events, activities and campaigns to raise awareness about women's rights and gender equality. The day is observed by women's organisations, civil society groups and human rights activists. One of the main events held on Women's Day in Pakistan is the Aurat March (Women's March). It is a grassroots movement that started in 2018 and aims to raise awareness about women's issues and demand greater gender equality in Pakistani society. Aurat March is organised in different cities across Pakistan and is attended by women and men from all walks of life.

In recent years, there have been some controversies and backlash against Women's Day celebrations in Pakistan, particularly regarding the Aurat March. Some conservative groups have criticised the movement for promoting “western values” and have accused it of being “anti-Islam”. However, the organisers of Aurat March and other Women's Day events continue to push for greater gender equality and to challenge patriarchal norms and attitudes in Pakistani society.

It's also true that women in Pakistan face various forms of violence, including domestic violence, honour killings, acid attacks, sexual harassment, and forced marriages. Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent forms of violence against women in Pakistan. A survey conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics found that 32 per cent of women aged 15-49 have experienced physical violence at the hands of their husbands. This violence includes beatings, burning, and even murder. Honour killings and acid attacks have also been increasingly high.

Sexual harassment is another issue that women in Pakistan face. A survey conducted by the Aurat Foundation found that 97 per cent of women in Pakistan have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public places.

The Pakistani government has taken steps to address violence against women, including passing laws to protect women's rights and establishing crisis centres and hotlines for women in distress. However, a lot more must be done to address the root causes of violence against women and change the mindset perpetuating this violence in Pakistani society. Some of the major laws in Pakistan relating to violence against women include:

  • The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act, 2006: This law amended the Pakistan Penal Code to include harsher penalties for offences against women, such as rape, acid attacks and honour killings.
  • The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011: This law criminalises several harmful practices against women, including forced marriages, giving women in marriage as part of a dispute settlement, and depriving women of their inheritance.
  • The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013: This law provides legal protection to women against domestic violence and abuse, and it allows women to obtain restraining orders against their abusers.
  • The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011: This law criminalises acid attacks and provides harsh penalties for those who commit this offence.
  • The Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016: This law was passed by the Punjab government and provided comprehensive protection to women against all forms of violence, including physical, psychological, and economic abuse.

Protecting women in Pakistan from violence and promoting gender equality requires a multi-faceted approach involving individuals, communities and civil society organisations. The government may require the following major steps:

Strengthening the legal framework:

While there are several laws in place in Pakistan to protect women from violence, implementation and enforcement of these laws remains a challenge. The government needs to take steps to ensure that the legal framework is implemented effectively and that perpetrators of violence against women are held accountable for their actions.

Increasing awareness and education:

Raising awareness about women's rights and gender equality is crucial to changing attitudes and behaviour towards women in Pakistani society. Education about gender equality should be incorporated into school curricula, and awareness-raising campaigns should be launched to promote women's rights and challenge patriarchal norms.

Providing support services:

Women who experience violence need access to a range of support services, including medical care, counselling and legal assistance. The government should establish more crisis centres and shelters for women, and these services should be adequately resourced and staffed by trained professionals.

Empowering women economically:

Economic empowerment is key to reducing women's vulnerability to violence and abuse. The government should provide support to women entrepreneurs and promote women's participation in the formal economy.

Strengthening community-based initiatives:

Community-based initiatives can be effective in preventing violence against women and promoting gender equality. These initiatives could include women's groups, community dialogues, and awareness-raising campaigns at the grassroots level.

Addressing cultural and religious practices that discriminate against women:

Many cultural and religious practices in Pakistan discriminate against women and reinforce patriarchal attitudes. Efforts should be made to challenge these practices and to promote more progressive interpretations of religion and culture that support gender equality.

These steps require a sustained and coordinated effort from all stakeholders, including the government, civil society organisations, and communities. It'll take time to achieve meaningful change, but protecting the rights and dignity of women in Pakistan is essential.

Abdul Sattar Baloch

A development sector learner working for the protection of children, women and vulnerable masses for the last 14 years.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ