Illiterate and ignorant: Pakistani women continue to suffer

Researchers say women subject to violence, incarcerated for crimes they never committed.

Sehrish Wasif August 28, 2011


Illiteracy, ignorance of rights, absence of relevant laws and the prevalence of social taboos are factors responsible for the hardships faced by Pakistani women.

Young lecturers and researchers from various local universities stated this during the inaugural session of a two-day conference titled “Women’s studies”, organised by the American Institute of Pakistan Studies (AIPS) in collaboration with the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) here at a local hotel on Saturday.

The conference aims to share findings and promote studies on women’s rights by young researchers, said NCSW Chairperson Anis Haroon while talking to The Express Tribune. “With the passage of time, trends and situation change and these studies will help provide new mechanisms and techniques to cope with women-related issues, such as violence against women,” he said.

Fatima Jinnah Women University Lecturer Adeela Rehman shared the findings in her study on “Women’s indigenous knowledge about folklore and riddles in Punjab’s rural society”. She said that riddles are mostly produced by women in rural areas during their leisure time, which “might just be a game, but also promotes gender stereotypical norms and values in society”.

Karachi University Lecturer Aliyah Bilgrami shared her findings on “Women prisoners in Pakistan: changing practices to enforce law and rights”, saying that Pakistani women are unaware of their rights and are easily incarcerated for crimes they never committed.

Bilgrami said that imprisoned women face “The most terrible of conditions,” and noted that 55 to 60 per cent of women in police custody are raped, physically and sexually abused and face violence from male police officials. She said that many women in Karachi jails don’t even know under which law they were imprisoned. She said that homosexual acts and drug use are quite common in jails, adding that the majority of women are imprisoned for kidnapping children or involvement in drug trafficking.

She said that during her research, she came across a woman who had to get an abortion after being thrashed by jail staff while pregnant. When she tried to lodge a complaint, she was threatened with dire consequences. Another respondent said that she lost her baby after she was subjected to violence by a lady constable in a women police station. This indicates that even women police stations are not providing protection to women, said the researcher.

“Custodial violence passes undetected by state authorities and contributes to the lack of protection for women that are victims of such violence,” she added.

Researcher Asma Fatima highlighted the flaws in family laws under her study titled, “The tyranny of verbal divorce, the disinherited female and the abandoned child: A strong case for reforming Muslim personal laws in Pakistan.”

She said that the Muslim Family Law Ordinance does not recognise if a woman has had prior marriages and conflicts with Shariah Law in practice. In addition, annulment of marriage with a minor girl, or the provision of maintenance if the girl has had children, has also been ignored.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2011.


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