WOMEN in Pakistan live in a state of perpetual fear. This raises questions about the rights of women especially in a country where they face violence, which often proves fatal, on a daily basis. And yet, so deeply entrenched are the medieval customs and values which allow such abuse that the violation of women’s rights is hardly considered an aberration in Pakistan. Incidents such as the ones reported in this paper on Saturday – ‘honour killingÂ’ and domestic abuse that involved throwing acid on a woman’s body – are common and thus do not make headlines in the local press as they would in most parts of the civilised world. Clearly, media reminders are not enough. We have come to accept the way women are abused through tribal customs which kill women in the name of ‘honour’, for marrying men of their choice, and even jirga-sanctioned rape.
Crimes against women perpetuate a form of social organisation in which the male is all-powerful. Pakistan may be a patriarchal society but women comprise half the population. Thus the empowerment of women would mean strengthening the position of this significant percentage of the population – surely the welfare of such a large proportion of society cannot be ignored. So, what measures have been taken for the empowerment of women? The fact that our assemblies have a large number of women legislators than previously is indicative of change – but one which is favourable to women from the elite. Certainly this is a step forward from the times when the number of women parliamentarians was negligible. However, the fact is that the poor and destitute remain in the clutches of vicious traditions and only change at the grassroots level can rescue them from their predicament.
Government laws and actions must override social customs. Implementing legislation which makes violence against women in all its manifestations a criminal offence is an imperative measure. The Women’s Protection Act 2006 came into being with the aim of amending the Hudood Ordinance laws and improving the prospects of successfully prosecuting rape. However the problem arises at the stage of implementation. The government must ensure that police at the district level take notice of these cases – most of which go undetected – and bring the offenders to justice. Owing to a culture of corruption and gender bias, the police approach often works in favour of the man. Punishment and deterrence are key elements of the solution. If offenders are given adequate punishment it will dissuade others from committing the same crime. On the other hand, victims should be given full support instead of being ostracised. The government in collaboration with non-governmental organisations can ensure that the rights of women are protected and the laws implemented.