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Respect & honour for Pakistan’s women

Living in a village in southern Punjab, 13-year-old “Naila” graduated from her 6th grade class and received a marriage proposal from a neighbouring boy from a well-to-do family. Her father, a poor vender at a local bus stop, rejected the proposal on grounds that the boy was from a different clan and was also jobless. Where cast and family are major considerations for settling marriages, rejection was not unusual. But for Naila this decision sealed her fate.

Following her father’s refusal to accept the proposal, as she was returning from school one day, Naila became a victim of an acid attack. The perpetrator — the same boy who had proposed to her — threw acid on her face, putting both her life and future in jeopardy. Unfortunately, incidents like this one colour the way the world sees Pakistan, creating the image of a country that does not respect women and that allows vigilantism that results in physical harm against girls and women, and sometimes even death, in the name of family honour — and even religion. According to estimates by the human rights organisation Ansar Burney Trust, “as many as 70 percent of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence.

This violence can range from beatings, to sexual violence or torture, to broken bones and very serious injury caused by acid attacks or burning the victim alive.” In the words of a prominent lawyer and human rights activist Hina Jilani, “The right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions.” Why is this the case, especially in this age of widespread information and worldwide campaigns for women’s emancipation? In most of the cases the perpetrators are boys or men, destroying the future of those women who refuse to marry them or give in to their sexual advances. Fortunately, a few NGOs in the region are doing work to sensitise their communities about violence against women through awareness campaigns and other projects. The Depilex Smile Again Foundation, Acid Survivors Association, Action Aid, Social Youth Council of Patriots and other such organisations in different parts of Pakistan are helping victims of acid or kerosene oil attacks, providing them with free reconstructive surgery, rehabilitation and vocational training.

The goal of empowering women with the respect and honour they were born with, can be achieved through legal measures, national action and international cooperation in such fields as economic and social development, education and social support. Under the Qisas and Diyat law of Pakistan which dictates how cases of retribution for violent crimes are compensated under Pakistani law, the perpetrator must suffer the same fate as the victim. Bangladesh, another country grappling with the same issues, introduced the death penalty for people perpetrators of acid attacks and passed laws in 2002 restricting the sale of acid. But these laws have not eliminated acid crimes, partly because of the inefficiency of local law enforcement. State indifference, discriminatory laws and the gender bias of many in the country’s police force and judiciary have ensured virtual impunity for perpetrators of violence against women. Ultimately what is required is a shift in the traditionally ingrained mindset of the Pakistani population to respect and demand equal rights for women. In Naila’s case, after being moved from hospital to hospital, she and her parents contacted the Pakistan Welfare Society (PWS) that, with the assistance of the Acid Survivors Association in Islamabad, provided her with full medical treatment and trauma healing assistance. PWS also established a Legal Aid chapter in the Layyah district of Punjab to provide legal help to victims of acid attacks and domestic violence. PWS pursued Naila’s case in court which resulted in a 15-year sentence for the criminal and monetary compensation for the victim. But helping one person, as important as it is, is only addressing the symptoms of gender bias and inequality. The root causes must be also be addressed so that acid attacks become a thing of the past, and girls like Naila no longer need to seek help.
Source: The Frontier Post
Date:10/16/2008

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