On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it can be useful to take stock of just how dire the situation for women remains in the country. Just this month, two women were declared kari by a jirga in the Shar community of Shikarpur. Although the women were later released after a public outcry and the intervention of influential people in the community, the fact that a jirga can be held and hand out such sentences in open defiance of the orders of the Sindh High Court, shows how long a way we have to go before women’s rights become a reality in Pakistan. The issue of ‘honour’ killings is also one that refuses to go away. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, at least 675 Pakistani women or girls were killed in the name of honour during the first nine months of 2011, leaving us on pace to match the 791 such victims in 2010.
One of the biggest problems women face is that for the sake of their reputation (that is the way many see it). They rarely report the crimes that have been committed against them. This is as much a cultural problem as it is of law-enforcement. Women who report cases of rape often have to face shame and ridicule without the benefit of knowing there is a good chance that their rapists will be punished. Meanwhile, the continuing spread of militancy, particularly in the tribal areas, has worsened the misery of a lot of women. In areas that are controlled by militants, women are denied access to education; furthermore, they do not have the right to work and are forced to remain strictly in their homes.
But there is some good news too. The current government has been proactive in passing legislation that serves the interests of women. Last month, the National Commission on the Status of Women Bill was passed, while the government has also passed the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill and the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill during its tenure. However, we still have a long way to go before every woman in this country feels safe enough to take on tasks similar to their male counterparts.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2012.