Violence and discrimination against women is an alarming issue in Pakistan and globally. This restricts not only women’s basic rights and participation in society, but also the democratic, economic and social development of those societies. Strengthening women’s access to justice is the key for a prosperous Pakistan.
For example, various articles of the Constitution of Pakistan give protection to the citizens against violence of any kind. These articles include: Article 4 (rights of individuals to enjoy the protection of law), Article 8 (fundamental rights), Article 25 (equality before the law), Article 27 (no discrimination on the basis of sex alone) and Article 34 (full participation of women in national life).Pakistan has also made considerable progress by passing laws for safeguarding the rights of women. This includes the Prevention of Anti Women Practices law, which recognizes practices of acid violence, forced marriage and ‘honour killings’ as criminal acts; the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention (Amendment) law; the Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act; the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016; the Women in Distress and Detention Fund Act 2010; the Sindh Domestic Violence Act 2013 and Balochistan’s Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act.
The government also offers legal support mechanisms to female victims of violence. The Federal Ministry of Human Rights has prepared a Plan of Action on Human Rights, in which the protection of women’s rights is a major focal point, and manages a toll-free helpline (1099) for victims of human rights violations such as violence against women. Moreover, the National and Provincial Commissions on the Status of Women actively work to protect the rights of women, of which one example is the toll-free helpline (1043) of the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). On the ground, there are also innovative initiatives such as the one-stop Violence Against Women Center (VAWC) established in Multan earlier this year with plans to establish special courts for hearing cases of crimes against women throughout the province of Punjab.
We have just observed the yearly 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), a time when women’s rights receive more visibility through the activities of Pakistan’s civil society organizations and men and women working for human rights. It is an opportunity to sensitize larger segments of society about gender equality and pro-women laws. But just as violence against women unfortunately will not stop with the end of the 16 Days of Activism on December 10, so our efforts to prevent it must continue and increase every day.
Because despite positive developments as those mentioned above, the number of cases of honour killing, rape, acid attacks and kidnappings against women reported every year remains alarmingly high, and domestic violence is to a great extent a socially accepted practice in Pakistan. Physical, sexual or psychological abuse in a relationship is often considered as private household matters, and in many cases the police view domestic violence as private affairs and discourage women victims from taking legal action against family members. Meanwhile, the level of reporting and rate of convictions for crimes against women is very low. This means that many Pakistani women, particularly the poor and marginalized, continue to be excluded from the justice system, which is detrimental to Pakistan’s Rule of Law and societal development.
There is an opportunity, however, to transform this situation and place women’s rights at the core of the justice system. Awareness is the first step towards securing those rights. Firstly, key stakeholders from all parts of society should therefore jointly reach out to the public regarding women’s rights and the laws and support available for female victims of violations. Secondly, there is a need for efforts towards greater sensitization on gender equality and on the importance of implementing national and provincial pro-women laws within the law enforcement and judiciary. Thirdly, legislators need to continue to strengthen laws and the regulatory framework at all levels of society to deliver equality before the law to the women of Pakistan.
The EU Delegation, the Embassy of Sweden, UN Women and PODA have joined hands to promote women’s access to justice through the documentary play SEVEN, which aims to continue its tour in Pakistan in 2018. Through this project, Pakistani politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, activists, artists and athletes have engaged to fight violence against women. We now ask you to join as well, and put forward an even more concerted effort in accelerating progress towards achieving justice for half of Pakistan’s population – its women and girls.
As part of the SEVEN project a social media campaign was launched to raise awareness of access to justice for women. Please use the following hashtags to follow or join our campaign:
#7onTourPakistan #Access2Justice #KnowYourRights #EndVAW