In Pakistan, violence against women is both a crime and a socially accepted norm. Though gender disparities have persisted for a long time, they now pose a grave threat to national security.
More than 48 percent of Pakistan’s population comprises women. They are consigned to a secondary position, and are discriminated against in terms of nutrition, health, and education. They do not have the right to make life-altering decisions.
In Pakistan, domestic abuse is viewed as a private affair that the court has little interest in. Women are typically threatened to remain silent in the face of domestic violence, and only a few women report abuse to the authorities. More than 45 percent of women admitted to hospitals in Punjab reported being assaulted by their husbands and between 70 and 90 percent of women reported experiencing domestic violence.
Honour killings are among the most heinous types of violence against women. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there were around 450 honour killings last year. Another horrifying form of abuse against women is acid throwing. According to estimates, more than 400 women in Pakistan fall victim to this atrocious act of violence each year.
In a nation with 34 million internet users, the cybercrime division has only 500 members, 400 of whom were added in the past year. Between 2018 and 2019, the agency received 8,500 reports of online harassment against women.
The Ministry of Human Rights reported 5,048 incidents of sexual violence and workplace harassment in 2018, 4,751 in 2019, 4,279 in 2020, and 2,078 in 2021. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdown measures in the country over the past two years, all work, and therefore harassment, shifted online, causing a decline in harassment instances in 2021. In a nation with 34 million internet users, the cybercrime division has only 500 members, 400 of whom were added in the past year. Between 2018 and 2019, the agency received 8,500 reports of online harassment against women.
According to a recent report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), at least 11 rape incidents are recorded daily in Pakistan, with over 22,000 such events reported to police during the past six years (2015–21). The report states, “Only around 4,000 of the 22,000 cases were brought to the court for trial, and 77 of the total number of accused were prosecuted and convicted, making the conviction rate approximately 0.3 percent.”
Pakistan is currently ranked 151st out of 153 countries, demonstrating the severity of the problem. Pakistan’s ranking as the sixth most dangerous country for women is hardly surprising. Noor Mukaddam, the daughter of a former Pakistani diplomat, was slain in Islamabad. Recent cases of violence include the murder of a mother of four in Hyderabad; the torture of a couple in Islamabad by the accused harasser; the shooting of a lady in Peshawar by her husband; the rape and murder of a beggar and her toddler in Rawalpindi; and the rape of a defenceless mother on a motorway in middle of the night; and the murder of two sisters in Gujarat who wanted to divorce their husbands.
Pakistan however enacted the Protection Against Harassment of Women in the Workplace Act in 2010 to comply with its international responsibilities and defend women’s rights. The most recent amendments in law, the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Amendment) Act 2022, broaden its reach to include both official and informal workplaces. It also includes domestic employees, who were not previously covered by the law.
The ministry acknowledged the recent promulgation of the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Act 2021 and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2021. The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act of 2016 seeks to protect women against domestic, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse, stalking, and cyber-crimes committed by their husbands, siblings, adopted children, and domestic employers.
The law remains a piece of paper and has implementation difficulties, with cases routinely resting in courts for years without timely justice. This discourages women from filing complaints, and many opt not to.
The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) provides a helpline number, 1043, for anyone to report incidents or cases of harassment against women, as well as to inquire about the legal procedures that could be followed to combat acts of violence. The Punjab-Women Safety App is a project of the Punjab and KP police in collaboration with the Punjab Safe Cities Authority (PSCA).
Despite these steps, according to a survey, over 94 percent of women are oblivious to these government-sponsored programmes and services. Despite these efforts, the law remains a piece of paper and has implementation difficulties, with cases routinely resting in courts for years without timely justice. This discourages women from filing complaints, and many opt not to.
In addition, many women and men are unable to stand up for themselves in courts, primarily owing to a fear of social stigma or a lack of knowledge of their rights. This predicament is not solely the fault of the government, the society as a whole, including the police and courts in particular, will be required to participate in a comprehensive reform programme.