Since 2010, a number of pro-women laws have been introduced including the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016. Subsequently, a series of institutional mechanisms including Violence Against Women Centres were established in Pakistan. Isn’t amazing that despite that violence and discrimination against women continued to rise. According to Special Monitoring Unit of Punjab, on average each day, ‘six women are killed, eight women are raped, 11 are assaulted, and 32 abducted for various reasons.’ The global gender indices also reveal our ugly spots. For instance, the Global Gender Gap Index 2016 ranked us just above one country — Yemen. And interestingly even a war-torn Syria is above us. Pleasantly, our former colony Bangladesh stands at 72nd number. No wonder she got rid of our yoke. Moreover, Pakistan ranks as the third-most dangerous country for women to live in. Other countries are Afghanistan, Congo, India and Somalia. ‘Rape, violence, lack of healthcare and education are just some of the perils faced by women in these countries are the indicators used for this ranking.’
The 2015 Global Terrorism Index reports that since 2014 the world witnessed 80% increase in terror-related deaths and 87% of the terror incidents took place in five countries. Pakistan is one of them, and five terrorist groups claimed responsibility for these attacks. All of them happen to be extremist Muslims — Taliban, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, IS and al Qaeda. The recent surge in terrorism in our country is claimed by Jamaatul Ahrar — an extremist faction of the Taliban.
All the above-mentioned five terrorist groups believe in women’s subordination. Just consider this — Pakistani Taliban have blown up hundreds of girls’ schools in Pakistan. Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of school going girls in Nigeria. Most of religious scholars and political leaders of religious parties though are apparently opposed to terrorism, share their opinion with terrorists’ on women’s status. For instance, when the Punjab Assembly passed the Protection of Women against Violence Act, most religious scholars/leaders vehemently opposed and pronounced it ‘contrary to Islamic teachings.’ Chairman of the Council for Islamic Ideology Maulana Sherani equated it with ‘high treason’. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI, Liaqat Baloch of the JI and many Punjab Assembly members of the ruling party issued frightening statements against the act. For them punishing men for committing violence against the women is not acceptable but killing and causing harm to women in the name of honour, religion and culture is fine. Frightened of losing its vote bank, the ruling party halted further progress on the said Act.
After having a series of anti-terror operations in the past, now we are experiencing Radd-ul-Fasaad (RF) in Pakistan. Indeed our armed forces deserve complete and unconditional support. But as stakeholder, each citizen has the right to differ with the method/s that are being adopted to eliminating the fasaadis. While I support the RF, just killing the terrorists and their facilitators is not enough. Also we have to address the root causes — hate and intolerance of all forms including against women. Evidently this is not happening. The godfathers of hate and intolerance are roaming freely — flaunting weapons — harassing and intimidating.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day — 8th March, it is imperative to explore whether there is any relationship between terrorism and violence against women or vice versa. It is true that fewer women are killed in terrorist attacks than men, because women happen to be few in public arena. It is also true that women are generally killed by men and not vice versa. And this is true for most countries including the US. Yet, most countries are not dangerous for women. As mentioned above we share this shame along with four other countries. Some may argue that due to on-going civil strife and terrorism in these five countries, dangers to women has gone up. This is not true. The indicators have nothing to do with war or terrorism. It is due to lack of women’s access to education, healthcare and assets; and prevalence of domestic violence including rape (that takes place very often at home and within the community level).
This lack of women’s access defines a lot of male mindset. If we love someone, we love to give him/her or share things we like the most and with huge enthusiasm. For the last seven decades, our male dominating society and the successive governments did not share the resources with female population and criminally neglected welfare of its female population. Moreover, almost every man reacts harshly to a slightest defiance, committed by a woman. Look how did we mistreat Malala Yusufzai and Mukhatran Mai when they refused to keep silent.
The religious elite would also oppose even a tiny step taken for women’s welfare and would condone honour killing by keeping their mouths shut. And most often the state would also side with the culprits. Resultantly, misogyny has deepened in our country. No wonder 70% of our women suffer some form of violence in their life, despite the passage of pro-women legislation and flashy rhetoric.
Isn’t really strange that those who passed these bills don’t enforce them? The fact of the matter is that almost all pro-women laws have been introduced in the country due to international commitments and not because of any political will or local pressure. Hence, the successive rulers have no interest in their implementation. But, keeping the religious elite happy and prosperous is absolutely necessary for them, as they have been playing a pivotal role not only in fulfilling foreign policy objectives but also electoral support to constituency based dynasties. In return they are given free hand to spread hate, intolerance and even killing of women. Will Radd-ul-Fasaad succeed without eliminating misogynist ideology and power of its merchants? Just consider this first.
Between 2003 and 2017 as many as 21,641 civilians (1,442 per year) were killed in terrorist attacks, while the misogynists murdered 5,000 (3.5 times more) women each year in the country. Why has our army launched a series of anti-terrorists operations and why didn’t our state ever seriously try to protect lives and rights of its women? Is it because the state perceives terrorists as enemy of the state, while killers of women aren’t? Isn’t sad that both violate law of the land violently! Both kinds of perpetrators draw their support from the same source too. I am convinced that as long our state continues to treat them differently, violence and terrorism may not end from our country. We must eliminate the source, the root cause. Mere treatment of symptoms is not enough.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 9th, 2017.