Kofi Anan, former General-Secretary of the United Nations, once commented that violence against women is the most shameful and pervasive human rights violation.
Gender Based Violence (GBV) and violence against women in Pakistan is a much-discussed topic in the present day but still the commission of crimes against women and girls are rising steeply. Pakistan is ranked as the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women, making it a chronic case of GBV.
At the very onset, let it be stated that violence against women and girls is a grave violation of human rights. Occurring in public and private places, it has many forms, ranging from domestic and intimate partner violence to sexual harassment, assault, trafficking, sexual violence and gender-related killing. Its impact spans from immediate to long-term physical, sexual and mental consequences for women and girls, including death. It negatively affects women’s general well-being and prevents them from fully participating in society, hence affecting their productivity. It seems that being a woman in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a crime.
Despite the presence of strict laws and legislation to curb these criminal acts, the question arises as to why the offense is still on the rise. Why are the predators still at large? And are there any instances where women have played victims by falsely making allegations against their male counterparts?
Violence against women has its roots in the patriarchal mindset of the society, where women and girls are considered a property. Lack of education, poverty and a feudalistic system in rural areas have added insult to injury. Often women are even denied the very basic rights like the right of education, career growth and rudimentary marriage rights like divorce/khula.
The province of Punjab (unfortunately) tops the list, where women continue to fall prey to such incidents while the law enforcement agencies like police seem to be helpless in providing them protection. Such a stark failure of the system has exacerbated the situation, whereby they with full impunity declare incidents of honour killings as general crimes and grant complete leverage to the accused for pecuniary gains.
The failure of the state is further established when a women approaches a police station – a most unwelcoming place where female victims refrain to go due to the hostile attitude of police officers and their prejudice against women. Usually, the instances of domestic violence are said to be private matters of the household and it is arduous for victims to report them. This results in a large number of cases remaining unreported, with the exception of a few that see the light of media. In cases of domestic abuse women develop Stockholm syndrome where the victims will have a sympathetic bond with their abuser in an effort to survive.
The latest statistical data has shown a high surge in these cases particularly in the year 2021. The beheading of Noor Muqaddam in the federal capital shook the society to the core. However the moment the case faded away after a conviction, the debate on the better empowering women also subsided.
As a woman, I would consider sexual harassment as one of the base concerns engulfing the society. Women in Pakistan generally hail from orthodox conservative families where it is difficult for them to work. However, at workplaces, men being less educated and legally unaware, try to approach women through different means including staring, touching and unwanted friendly gestures. These things are enough to make a person uncomfortable. The worst aspect is that if these matters are reported to the heads of the organisation, the normal attitude is firstly to hush-up the issue or alternatively to fire the woman! Regrettably the victim has no other option but to salvage her respect and sit at home.
The Constitution of Pakistan 1973 grants equal rights to men and women. The legislature has drafted numerous laws through which women can be protected. Most interesting is Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), which talks about insulting modesty or causing sexual harassment towards women. Once proven, the perpetrator of the crime can get up to three years of incarceration with heavy fine. In addition, there is another potent provincial law called the Protection Against Harassment Of Women At The Workplace Act 2010, which provides protection to working women at work places.
Even though the laws are in place, their misuse cannot be ruled out. The ecent case of the death of a professor of MAO College is a glaring example of such misuse.
Finally, the state must develop awareness programs through social media, TV dramas and other sources so as to teach younger generation the basic values of our religion and the concept of respectful coexistence between men and women so that both genders may operate under their boundaries.