PESHAWAR: A resident of Peshawar, 28-year old
Halima Bibi, 28, has suffered from a constant cycle of abuse at the hands of her husband. But it wasn’t until he tried to shoot her at their home in Peshawar that she finally worked up the will to leave him. But a divorce did not solve the problem. He recently tried to shoot her again.
Despite these life-threatening circumstances, the police have failed to provide protection to Halima, even though she has filed three formal complaints. She also doesn’t send her children to school anymore, fearing that their father may kidnap them.
Halima’s story rings true with dozens of other women in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). Though the number of reported cases of gender-based violence is increasing every day, the provincial government has been dragging its feet on taking concrete steps to curb these crimes.
K-P has no gender-specific laws apart from the Commission on Status of Women Act, which was passed by the previous Awami National Party-led (ANP) provincial government and amended by the current one. The idea was to create an autonomous body to promote women rights and introduce relevant laws, but to this date, nothing fruitful has been done. Cultural norms also restrict reporting of crimes against women, and even in the case of the of the handful that are formally recorded by the police, investigators show little desire to diligently investigate.
The combined effect of these shortcomings is that violence against women is on the rise in the province. This year alone, around 20 women have reportedly been killed in the name of honour in different parts of the province. According to data provided by non-governmental organisation Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network (PCSN), three women were killed in Swat District and four in Nowshera District. The remaining cases were recorded in other districts including Kohat, DI Khan, Swabi, and Shangla.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, PCSN coordinator Taimur Kamal cited lack of interest in introducing laws against such crimes as the reason behind the continuing violence. He said honour killings are taking place in different ways and that domestic violence is leading many victims to commit suicide.
“In rural K-P, women are either poisoned or burnt alive while the parliamentarians fail to curb such inhumane practices. Not a single case of violence against women is properly investigated or resolved,” he says, adding that the province’s Commission on the Status of Women has also failed to address the issue.
Discussing the rapid increase in cases of violence against women, gender studies lecturer Darwish Khan says human rights are upheld only in welfare states and violation of these rights in Pakistan, being a security state, is no surprise. A faculty member at the University of Peshawar, Khan says Pakistani state machinery takes interest in security matters and constitutes laws and policies to strengthen those interests but human rights, particularly those pertaining to women, are largely ignored.
“The issue of violence against women is increasing day by day due to lack of education, harsh social practises and certain Pashtun norms; sadly, the provincial government has failed to promulgate comprehensive policies and laws to bring an end to this problem,” he says, emphasising that providing education and security is the main responsibility of the state.
“Most of our leaders and parliamentarians are working for political scoring, not for human development, and so the main task – legislation for human rights and progressive change – is avoided,” he believes.
The lecturer stresses that there is an imminent need for social engineering of the Pashtun society if residents of K-P are expected to give due consideration to women rights.
According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and non-governmental organisation Aurat Foundation, 4,734 cases of sexual violence against women were recorded in Pakistan between 2004 and 2016. For the same period, 15,222 cases of honour crimes against both men and women were reported, 1,843 cases of domestic violence against women, 35,935 cases of suicide by women and 5,508 cases of kidnapped women.
For 2015, the data shows 32 cases of rape and gang-rape, 20 cases of attempt to rape and 987 cases of honour killing in K-P alone. Most of these cases were reported in the provincial capital Peshawar (104) and Mardan district.
Weighing in on this data, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl legislator Uzma Khan says laws to protect women are crucial in the current scenario. “The present K-P government amended the Commission on Status of Women Act 2009 bill when it came to power to support women, and reconstituted and reorganised the Commission to enable it to prepare new laws against women-related crimes,” she says, while claiming that the version of the commission created by the ANP was somehow defective.
Uzma is also the General Secretary of K-P Women Parliamentary Caucus (WPC), which she says has passed a resolution in the provincial assembly requesting parliamentarians to constitute a law against honour killing. “The WPC has drafted a bill, and after consultation with religious experts and other stakeholders, it will soon be tabled in the assembly,” she says.
The absence of a system to treat women equally, Uzma says, reflects how desensitised people are when it comes to crimes against women. She says women parliamentarians have tried to make other lawmakers aware of the problems faced by women as well as introduce relevant laws since 2002, when reserved seats for women were increased from two to 22.
“In our male-dominated society, violence against women is not considered a crime, which is why such incidents are common. Even during assembly sessions, women parliamentarians are faced with discrimination and it shows women have fewer rights in all spheres of life,” she shares, arguing there’s a need to change this mindset and raise awareness among the masses in order to address the problem.
The chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women was unavailable for comment.
Abdur Razzaq is a Peshawar-based radio and print journalist. He tweets @TheAbdurRazzaq