Percentage of the population that is female: 48.5 percent (compared to 50.5 percent in the United States, 53 percent in Estonia and 37.1 percent in Bahrain) [Source: World Bank data.worldbank.org ]

Gender Statistics:
Labor Force Participation by persons aged 15 to 24 by sex: 59.8 percent for men and 20.7 percent for women (2015)
Labor Force Participation by persons over 15 by sex: 79.9 percent for men and 24.2 percent for women (2015)

Enrollment in secondary school: 50.7 percent for men and 41.1 percent for women (2016)
Under Five mortality rates (deaths per 100,000 births): 87.8 for men and 80,6 for women (2013)
Proportion of seats held by women in parliament: 20.23 percent
Adolescent birth rate (births per 1,000 women): 46
[Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division, genderstats.un.org ]

Pakistan’s founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said 1940: "No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live."
Benzair Bhutto proved that women can attain high positions in Pakistan. Other women have attained seats in regional and national legislatures and women played a role in Pakistan’s struggle for independence. Women have served as ambassadors, newspaper editors and work as professionals.

But despite this, most women in Pakistan are oppressed in some way or another and face serious discrimination. In tribal areas they area discouraged from leaving their homes and when they do they are supposed to cover themselves in a burqa. Women are killed by their husbands for trivial matters and girls are killed by relatives to uphold family honor. The practice of buying and selling brides endures. Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission estimates 70 percent of Pakistani women have suffered domestic violence. A big blow to women was the rise of by Islamic conservatism, and laws that backed it up, that were imposed in the late 1970s.

Status and Rights of Women in Pakistan

Women in Pakistan routinely exercise their right to vote and are well represented at colleges and universities in Pakistan. Islam gives women rights to child custody, alimony and inheritance. and are engaged in business and occupy positions in have enter any profession. Women are very much involved in agriculture and the services sector. Women serve as judges in high courts and several lower courts. In the early 2000s, a 10 percent quota was reserved for women in the police force. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: Unlike in Saudi Arabia, Pakistani women are permitted to drive. There are no formal restrictions on what women in Pakistan can wear in public; such decisions are generally made based on a woman’s cultural upbringing. But the freedom women have in major cities such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore are often not available to them in more rural areas of the country.” [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 27, 2016]

According to Governments of the World: “Women in Pakistan have equality of political rights under the constitution, and seats are reserved for women in the National Assembly, the provincial assemblies, and in local government. In many areas, however, great disparity exists between the status of men and women. Citizenship is determined by descent through the father's line, and the law of evidence measures women's evidence as worth only half that of men in most cases — and worth nothing without corroboration from a man in financial matters. In areas in which Islamic law prevails, gender inequality is marked. Family law for Muslims falls under the Shariat Court, and women have fewer rights than men in inheritance, termination of marriage, and child custody. Polygamy is legal, and few provisions ensure financial security for women whose husbands have divorced them. The most discriminatory provisions were introduced as part of Zia's Islamization strategy. The Hudood Ordinances exclude women's testimony in criminal cases. Charges of rape must be supported with either the confession of the accused or the testimony of four men. [Source: Governments of the World: A Global Guide to Citizens' Rights and Responsibilities, Thomson Gale, 2006]

“Socioeconomic factors also point to gender inequalities that adversely affect women. There are only approximately ninety-nine women for every one hundred men, and the infant mortality rate for girls under five years of age is 66 percent higher than for boys. These statistics run counter to expectations because, all other things being equal, women have higher life expectancy rates than men and girls tend to be healthier than boys. Literacy rates are approximately 20 percent lower for women than for men, with rural women having a literacy rate of about 25 percent.”

Views About Women in Pakistan

Many women prefer the traditional Islamic way of life and have no ambition to seek careers or liberated lives. Pakistan and Bangladesh have traditionally given great reverence to daughters and mothers. The constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and encourages women to participate in all aspects of secular life.

Personality traits admired in women include being upbeat and friendly, possessing common sense and being chaste before marriage and faithful after it. It is often the opinion of other women that matters most to a woman and her circle of female friends.

In 1997, a court ruled than woman is entitled to fall in love and get married. The cases involved a couple who secretly married without their parent’s consent. The woman spent 11 months in a shelter for destitute women to avoid her parent's wrath and the man was imprisoned for four months on kidnapping charges.

Being a Woman in Pakistan

Fatima Bhutto wrote in a novel, “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon” about the discrimination women experience in Pakistan and the pervasive violence there. She wrote in The Times: “Walking across an airport you are told by a stranger, a man in an ironed shirt, a leather belt with a silver buckle and jeans turned-up at the ankle, to cover yourself properly because a peephole of skin — your collarbone, your leg, your stomach — has shown through your salwar kameez. Applying for a visa to Malaysia you are told that as a Pakistani woman you will need to provide a return ticket to prove you are not travelling to the great Islamic state to work as a prostitute (the consulate will not ask a French woman for the same anti-prostitution proof, as though only Pakistani women are suspicious enough to wish to spend that much time in dreary Malaysia). [Source: Fatima Bhutto, The Times, December 2, 2013]

“Filling out any government form — your national identity card, your passport, bank papers — you are asked for two names besides your own: your husband’s or your father’s. A rape victim in this country is required to have police approval before a hospital can perform a rape test on her (and to get police approval you must first file a police report — no easy matter — as the strict Sharia Hudood Ordinance punishes women for sex outside of marriage and for adultery, automatically criminalising all rape victims.

“Moving across your city, you are unsafe. You cannot ride an auto rickshaw at night. On a bus you must sit in a section in the front, two rows of plastic covered seats divided off from the rest of the vehicle by a metal cage so no one can touch you or see you. Footsteps are forbidden, who can walk in cities that never built pavements? Only streets and stop signs for those wealthy enough to drive cars.

Book: “The Shadow of the Crescent Moon” by Fatima Bhutto (Viking £14.99)

Women Customs in Pakistan

The traditions governing the behavior of women is known as “purdah” and is very similar to a code of the same name used by Hindu women in India. It involves covering the body and face and segregating from males. A study in the early 1990s found that 82 percent of urban women observed purdah restrictions and 47 percent of those in rural areas did.

Purdah has traditionally been regard as a middle class and upper class custom, indicating that families were well off enough so women did not have to work and that her male relatives could take of her and protect her. Many women prefer purdah. Not having it means they have to work.

Sometimes men and women are segregated on buses, trains and boats. Sometimes there are separate lines for men and women. In some places, especially tribal areas, men should not touch women or even look at them.

In many places, men and women are segregated and women lives have two components. Their private household one and their public one outside the home. Inside the home they can dress as they please and associate with male relatives. The home is regarded as the women’s realm and specific areas are set aside for men to meet with male visitors. Outside the home they are supposed to be chaperoned by a male relative.

Often in mosques, buses and trains there are separate areas for men and women. Women should not visit mosques on Friday, it is considered rude. Segregation is not so pronounced in village life because much of the agriculture and field work is done by women.

Women are not supposed to have eye contact or speak formally with men. When meeting strange man out of necessity, say at a market, the inaction should be as short as possible. Women should never wink. It is regarded as flirting.

Pakistan is one of the last few places in Asia where you can find schools that teach manners to young women. The Pakistan Air Force Finishing School near Islamabad teaches girls from elite civilian and military families about make up, fashion and cooking. As part of their military training they are taught how to set up tents and camouflage.


Purdah is practiced in various ways, depending on family tradition, region, class, and rural or urban residence, but nowhere do unrelated men and women mix freely. The most extreme restraints are found in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province) and Balochistan, where women almost never leave their homes except when they marry and almost never meet unrelated men. They may not be allowed contact with male cousins on their mother's side, for these men are not classed as relatives in a strongly patrilineal society. Similarly, they have only very formal relations with those men they are allowed to meet, such as the father-in-law, paternal uncles, and brothers-in-law.*

Poor rural women, especially in Punjab and Sindh, where gender relations are generally somewhat more relaxed, have greater mobility because they are responsible for transplanting rice seedlings, weeding crops, raising chickens and selling eggs, and stuffing wool or cotton into comforters (razais). When a family becomes more prosperous and begins to aspire to higher status, it commonly requires stricter purdah among its women as a first social change.*

Poor urban women in close-knit communities, such as the old cities of Lahore and Rawalpindi, generally wear either a burqa (fitted body veil) or a chador (loosely draped cotton cloth used as a head covering and body veil) when they leave their homes. In these localities, multistory dwellings (havelis) were constructed to accommodate large extended families. Many havelis have now been sectioned off into smaller living units to economize. It is common for one nuclear family (with an average of seven members) to live in one or two rooms on each small floor. In less densely populated areas, where people generally do not know their neighbors, there are fewer restrictions on women's mobility.*

The shared understanding that women should remain within their homes so neighbors do not gossip about their respectability has important implications for their productive activities. As with public life in general, work appears to be the domain of men. Rural women work for consumption or for exchange at the subsistence level. Others, both rural and urban, do piecework for very low wages in their homes. Their earnings are generally recorded as part of the family income that is credited to men. Census data and other accounts of economic activity in urban areas support such conclusions. For example, the 1981 census reported that 5.6 percent of all women were employed, as opposed to 72.4 percent of men; less than 4 percent of all urban women were engaged in some form of salaried work. By 1988 this figure had increased significantly, but still only 10.2 percent of women were reported as participating in the labor force.*

Among wealthier Pakistanis, urban or rural residence is less important than family tradition in influencing whether women observe strict purdah and the type of veil they wear. In some areas, women simply observe "eye purdah": they tend not to mix with men, but when they do, they avert their eyes when interacting with them. Bazaars in wealthier areas of Punjabi cities differ from those in poorer areas by having a greater proportion of unveiled women. In cities throughout Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly North-West Frontier Province), Balochistan, and the interior of Sindh, bazaars are markedly devoid of women, and when a woman does venture forth, she always wears some sort of veil.*

Pashtun Women and Purdah

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Women have traditionally had few rights under the strict code of Pashtunwali. Purdah, or separation of men and women, is traditionally practiced. At times throughout history, such as during the years of Communist rule, women were encouraged to take part in society more openly. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

However, during the years that the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, women were restricted from participating in almost every form of public life, forced to adhere to a strict dress code that included the wearing of the burqa, and were restricted to their homes unless accompanied by a male family member. Since the Taliban were removed from power, such restrictions have been lessened, and some Pashtun women have regained their careers and even hold public office. However, many continue to follow these restrictions due to social pressure or because of their own choice.

Women usually accept the rules of purdah. Charles Lindholm, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Women are the wombs of patrilineage , which is the source of all honor and continuity. They must be kept secure and chaste, so that lineage itself remains pure...In maintaining the household and staying in seclusion a woman shows her own pride and honor, since she too identifies with the patrilineage of her father and then of her husband. For her, purdah is a badge of her status. She is content to let her husband do battle in public while she dominates the household.”

Wives and Mother-in-Laws in a Pakistani Family

A woman's life is difficult during the early years of marriage. A young bride has very little status in her husband s household; she is subservient to her mother-in-law and must negotiate relations with her sisters-in-law. Her situation is made easier if she has married a cousin and her mother-in-law is also her aunt. The proper performance of all the elaborate marriage ceremonies and the accompanying exchange of gifts also serve to enhance the new bride's status. Likewise, a rich dowry serves as a trousseau; the household goods, clothing, jewelry, and furniture included remain the property of the bride after she has married. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

A wife gains status and power as she bears sons. Sons will bring wives for her to supervise and provide for her in her old age. Daughters are a liability, to be given away in an expensive marriage with their virginity intact. Therefore, mothers favor their sons. In later life, the relationship between a mother and her son remains intimate, in all likelihood with the mother retaining far more influence over her son than his wife has. *

Often the mother-in-law (the mother of the husband) runs the house. In a story about family planning workers making visits to remote villages, Karin Brulliard wrote in the Washington Post: If a health educator stops by, the mother-in-law must first be approached, as Shahid experienced in Mirwah.“So what? I will take care of the children,” the mother-in-law, her arms covered in bangles, said when Shahid expressed concern that the daughter-in-law, still a teenager, was not using birth control. Husbands, mullahs, mothers-in-law — still prize many children, particularly boys. husbands and mothers-in-law, as well as the inability of many women to make decisions for themselves. “Our mothers, they are the deciding figures,” one man said. “Our wife? What does she know?” mother-in-law, a woman in ornate silver jewelry, who matter-of-factly stated that the newborn should be the first of at least eight children. [Source: Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, December 14, 2011]

Gender Relations in Pakistan

Gender relations in Pakistan rest on two basic perceptions: that women are subordinate to men, and that a man's honor resides in the actions of the women of his family. Thus, as in other orthodox Muslim societies, women are responsible for maintaining the family honor. To ensure that they do not dishonor their families, society limits women's mobility, places restrictions on their behavior and activities, and permits them only limited contact with the opposite sex. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Most of the people you see on the streets are men. As true in other Islamic societies, men are revered and seen as their heirs of family titles, property and legacies.

Space is allocated to and used differently by men and women. For their protection and respectability, women have traditionally been expected to live under the constraints of purdah (purdah is Persian for curtain), most obvious in veiling. By separating women from the activities of men, both physically and symbolically, purdah creates differentiated male and female spheres. Most women spend the major part of their lives physically within their homes and courtyards and go out only for serious and approved reasons. Outside the home, social life generally revolves around the activities of men. In most parts of the country, except perhaps in Islamabad, Karachi, and wealthier parts of a few other cities, people consider a woman — and her family — to be shameless if no restrictions are placed on her mobility.*

The traditional division of space between the sexes is perpetuated in the broadcast media. Women's subservience is consistently shown on television and in films. And, although popular television dramas raise controversial issues such as women working, seeking divorce, or even having a say in family politics, the programs often suggest that the woman who strays from traditional norms faces insurmountable problems and becomes alienated from her family. *

Challenges Facing Pakistani Women

According to The Guardian: After Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, Pakistan has Asia’s highest maternal mortality rate. In 1994, Pakistan's Lady Health Worker (LHW) Programme was established to bring urgent healthcare services to rural Pakistani women and lower the birth rate in Pakistan. However, approximately 30 percent of Pakistan is not covered by the LHW programme, says Rubina Jaffri from Hands. [Source: Sabrina Toppa in Allah Bachayo Khaskheli, The Guardian, June 1 2016]

Four important challenges confronted women in Pakistan in the early 1990s: increasing practical literacy, gaining access to employment opportunities at all levels in the economy, promoting change in the perception of women's roles and status, and gaining a public voice both within and outside of the political process. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

There have been various attempts at social and legal reform aimed at improving Muslim women's lives in the subcontinent during the twentieth century. These attempts generally have been related to two broader, intertwined movements: the social reform movement in British India and the growing Muslim nationalist movement. Since partition, the changing status of women in Pakistan largely has been linked with discourse about the role of Islam in a modern state. This debate concerns the extent to which civil rights common in most Western democracies are appropriate in an Islamic society and the way these rights should be reconciled with Islamic family law.*

Improving Women’s Rights in Pakistan

Promoting the education of women was a first step in moving beyond the constraints imposed by purdah. The nationalist struggle helped fray the threads in that socially imposed curtain. Simultaneously, women's roles were questioned, and their empowerment was linked to the larger issues of nationalism and independence. In 1937 the Muslim Personal Law restored rights (such as inheritance of property) that had been lost by women under the Anglicization of certain civil laws. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

As independence neared, it appeared that the state would give priority to empowering women. Pakistan's founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, said in a speech in 1944: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you; we are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

After independence, elite Muslim women in Pakistan continued to advocate women's political empowerment through legal reforms. They mobilized support that led to passage of the Muslim Personal Law of Sharia in 1948, which recognized a woman's right to inherit all forms of property. They were also behind the futile attempt to have the government include a Charter of Women's Rights in the 1956 constitution. The 1961 Muslim Family Laws Ordinance covering marriage and divorce, the most important sociolegal reform that they supported, is still widely regarded as empowering to women.*

Two issues — promotion of women's political representation and accommodation between Muslim family law and democratic civil rights — came to dominate discourse about women and sociolegal reform. The second issue gained considerable attention during the regime of Zia ul-Haq (1977-88). Urban women formed groups to protect their rights against apparent discrimination under Zia's Islamization program. It was in the highly visible realm of law that women were able to articulate their objections to the Islamization program initiated by the government in 1979. Protests against the 1979 Enforcement of Hudood Ordinances focused on the failure of hudood ordinances to distinguish between adultery (zina) and rape (zina-bil-jabr). A man could be convicted of zina only if he were actually observed committing the offense by other men, but a woman could be convicted simply because she became pregnant.*

Women and Islam in Pakistan and the Women's Action Forum

The Women's Action Forum was formed in 1981 to respond to the implementation of the penal code and to strengthen women's position in society generally. The women in the forum, most of whom came from elite families, perceived that many of the laws proposed by the Zia government were discriminatory and would compromise their civil status. In Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad the group agreed on collective leadership and formulated policy statements and engaged in political action to safeguard women's legal position. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The Women's Action Forum has played a central role in exposing the controversy regarding various interpretations of Islamic law and its role in a modern state, and in publicizing ways in which women can play a more active role in politics. Its members led public protests in the mid-1980s against the promulgation of the Law of Evidence. Although the final version was substantially modified, the Women's Action Forum objected to the legislation because it gave unequal weight to testimony by men and women in financial cases. Fundamentally, they objected to the assertion that women and men cannot participate as legal equals in economic affairs.*

Beginning in August 1986, the Women's Action Forum members and their supporters led a debate over passage of the Shariat Bill, which decreed that all laws in Pakistan should conform to Islamic law. They argued that the law would undermine the principles of justice, democracy, and fundamental rights of citizens, and they pointed out that Islamic law would become identified solely with the conservative interpretation supported by Zia's government. Most activists felt that the Shariat Bill had the potential to negate many of the rights women had won. In May 1991, a compromise version of the Shariat Bill was adopted, but the debate over whether civil law or Islamic law should prevail in the country continued in the early 1990s.*

Discourse about the position of women in Islam and women's roles in a modern Islamic state was sparked by the government's attempts to formalize a specific interpretation of Islamic law. Although the issue of evidence became central to the concern for women's legal status, more mundane matters such as mandatory dress codes for women and whether females could compete in international sports competitions were also being argued.*

Rural Versus Urban Women in Pakistan

Duties of rural women in Pakistan include fetching water, milking animals, planting, weeding, harvesting, shooing away birds, gathering food, making dung cakes for fuel. They often engaged in weaving, embroidery or carpet making.

The rules for women are more oppressive in the countryside and tribal areas of Pakistan. In some places, especially in conservative Northwest frontier, near the Afghanistan border, young women are so secluded that the only males who have seen them without a veil are their fathers, grandfathers and brothers.

To some degree the amount of female covering increases as one heads north and west until reaching the North-West Frontier where most women are either out of sight or hidden under burqas. In the North-West Frontier simply gazing a few seconds too long at a woman is grounds for recriminations Even in Islamabad, the police chief has urged women to cover their heads and not laugh loudly outside their homes.

According to Associated Press: “Many of Pakistan's 180 million citizens hold fairly conservative views on the role of women in society. But those views are even more pronounced in the country's semiautonomous tribal region, a poor, isolated area in the northwest dominated by Pashtun tribesmen who follow a very conservative brand of Islam. Most women in the tribal region are uneducated, rarely work outside the home and wear long, flowing clothes that cover most of their skin when they appear in public. [Source: Associated Press, April 1, 2013]

“Life for women in the tribal region has become even more difficult in recent years with the growing presence of Taliban militants who use the border region as their main sanctuary in the country. The militants have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government to impose Islamic law in the country and have a history of using violence to enforce their hard-line views on women.” In the fall of 2012, “Taliban fighters in the northwest shot 15-year-old schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai in the head in an unsuccessful attempt to kill her because she resisted the militants' views and was a strong advocate of girls' education.”

Women in urban areas, particularly in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore, are much freer women than women elsewhere in Pakistan. They can dress the way like, own cars and homes, run their own business, marry whom they choose and get divorced. In some parts of Pakistan a woman could be harshly punished for doing these things. Women in Karachi generally don’t go veiled. They can wear jeans and shop for lingerie In some affluent neighborhoods Western women can get away with wearing shorts

Pashtun Women

The Pashtuns are an ethnic group that live in western and southern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan and whose homeland is in the valleys of Hindu Kush. In Pakistan, they have a reputation for being fierce tribesmen, largely thumbing their noses at authorities and following their own customs and codes of honor. They make up 15.4 percent of the population of Pakistan.

Pashtun women are rarely seen and their lives are defined by the concept of purdah and Muslim veiling. They are expected to stay indoors to raise children and maintain the household. When they emerge from their homes there are usually covered head to foot in burqas or chaddars. Tribal customs prevent them from owning or inheriting land or property. They often are not consulted about their own marriages and can not ask for a divorce, even if they are being abused. Decisions about their welfare are made by husbands and male guardians not themselves.

Charles Lindholm, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Within the patrilineal system, a woman comes into her husband’s family and gains power as she produces sons. Her daughters will marry elsewhere, but her sons will stay close, bringing in wives who may seek to displace her by winning her sons’ affections.” A mother “is pleased to see her young son keeping his sister in place, just as she hopes he will later keep his wife in hers.”

In the 1970s, strict observance of purdah kept Pashtun women from doing most work outside the house. Some women were not even allowed to leave the house to go shopping and most of the shopping was done by men. Even field work that has traditionally been done by women in other ethnic groups was done by men. In places where women did do work in the fields, men who were not male relatives were supposed to keep their distance. While visiting the Pashtun area at that time journalist Mike Edwards wanted to interview some women working in the fields. His guide told him he should think twice about doing it: "Their men would shoot you." [Source: Mike W. Edwards, National Geographic, January 1977]

Pashtun Women and Purdah

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Women have traditionally had few rights under the strict code of Pashtunwali. Purdah, or separation of men and women, is traditionally practiced. At times throughout history, such as during the years of Communist rule, women were encouraged to take part in society more openly. [Source: revised by M. Kerr, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

However, during the years that the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, women were restricted from participating in almost every form of public life, forced to adhere to a strict dress code that included the wearing of the burqa, and were restricted to their homes unless accompanied by a male family member. Since the Taliban were removed from power, such restrictions have been lessened, and some Pashtun women have regained their careers and even hold public office. However, many continue to follow these restrictions due to social pressure or because of their own choice.

Women usually accept the rules of purdah. Charles Lindholm, a professor of anthropology at Boston University, wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Women are the wombs of patrilineage , which is the source of all honor and continuity. They must be kept secure and chaste, so that lineage itself remains pure...In maintaining the household and staying in seclusion a woman shows her own pride and honor, since she too identifies with the patrilineage of her father and then of her husband. For her, purdah is a badge of her status. She is content to let her husband do battle in public while she dominates the household.”

Pashtun Women and Honor

Pashtuns have very rigid rules about what is considered proper behavior involving women. According the concept of honor called nang things as mundane as staring at a woman, singing close enough that she can hear, a woman combing hair in public, can result in a loss of honor and require retribution.

If a woman returns a glance from a man, fails to adequately cover herself or talks too long to a male stranger she is accused of “encouraging” men and can be severely punished. If a woman acts dishonorably, she dishonors not only herself but her entire extended family. If a love affair dishonors a family both woman and her lovers and required to be killed to restore honor.

Cases involving a woman’s honor are called “tor” (black) and require the payment of “shaam namah” (shame money). If the case is considered egregious only blood can wipe out the shame and often requires the woman to be killed by the nearest mae relative to avoid a vendetta.

In February 1998 riots in Karachi that left two people dead were triggered by the elopement of a Muhajir man in his 20s and an 18-year-old Pashtun woman, against her family's wishes. Pashtun elders sentenced the woman to death because she dishonored the family. The man was shot three times with an AK-47 as he arrived at a court to address charges of having kidnapped his bride. He survived and went into hiding. The couple were called the Romeo and Juliet of Pakistan. From a prison cell he said, "We loved each other and they would not allow us to marry, s we did it anyway. I will not leave here, come what may."

Sindhi Women

Sindhis are the natives of the Sindh province, which includes Karachi, the lower part of the Indus River, the southeast coast of Pakistan and a lot of desert. The custom of purdah — the seclusion of women in the the house — has traditionally been common among upper class Sindhis but has not been practiced by rural women who have had to work out in the fields and in urban areas. If the upper class women left the house, they had to be covered from head to toe to avoid the gazes of men. In some places when veiled women left the house they were escorted by boys who rang bells and yelled out “Pass” so that people would move out the way when they approached. [Source: Sarwat S. Elahi, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: “Women largely communicate within their own caste, within which they marry exclusively. Opportunities for meeting women of other castes become more restricted with higher status. Rajput women observe strict purdah (seclusion) while poorer Bajeer, Bheel, Menghwar and Kohli are freer to undertake their field tasks. They are victims of centuries-old customs like Karo Kari, marriage with the Holy Quran and latter occur specially in the Upper cast in Muslims or most conservative families. But it is very hopeful that this custom is very low. Tribal system is more powerful and implementation of laws is another question. [Source: D. O. Lodrick “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Sindhi women live in either Hindu or Muslim societies, both of which are patrilineal in nature. As a consequence, they are generally prohibited by law from inheriting property and see their role in society as wife and home-maker, subservient to the wishes of their children, husbands, and in-laws. Marriages are typically arranged, according to local customs, and — even though it is illegal in India (Pakistan has no legal proscriptions against the practice) — dowry is usually given. Bride burnings are commonly reported in both India and Pakistan, and the press occasionally reports "honor" killings in Sindh. In 1998 the adult sex ratio (i.e. among people over 6 years of age) in Sindh was 891:1000, indicating the importance of males in Sindhi society. The low number of females is explained largely by sex selective abortion and neglect of young girl children. *\

“Even though Sindhi women have emigrated to other parts of the world where they may be involved in business, Sindhi attitudes towards the role of women in society are mirrored in a marked lack of ambition. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of education, and cultural attitudes are the greatest problems faced by women in Sindh. *\

Baloch Men and Women

The Baloch, also know the Balochi, Baluch or Baluchi, are an ethnic group that live primarily in the sandy plains, deserts and barren mountains of southeast Iran, southwest Pakistan and southern Afghanistan.

Baloch society is organized along patrilineal lines. The eldest son is usually in charge of the extended family and inherited property is passed from father to sons. Males and females remain part of their patrilineal group for life — even for women after marriage. A woman’s “real” house is regarded as that of her father’s house. Her rights in her husband’s home are limited.

Both sexes are involved with taking care of animals. Women are generally responsible for collecting water and firewood, gathering wild foods and threshing and winnowing grain while men do the planting and plowing The men in Balochistan talk about things like camels gone lame, their pride or disappointment in their first born sons or chieftains who travel to London for medical treatment.

Baloch women are seen as inferior to men and are expected to be obedient to their husbands. Women are expected to take care of the house and raise lots of children, preferably boys. The customs towards women are similar to those of the Pashtuns. Society is segregated by sex and women are expected to do what they are told and obey tribal customs. the punishment for a adultery for a woman is death.

Baloch women have traditionally been less restricted than women in other Muslim groups in South Asia. Traditionally, the custom of purdah (seclusion of women) was not followed except among some upper-class families. Women in Balochistan remain are often illiterate and bound by tribal, patriarchal codes but some are active in politics and run businesses and play other influential roles in society. “Honor killings" — in which a woman is killed for bringing shame to her family by doing things such as marrying a non-Baloch or having pre-marital sex — is sometimes practiced by Baloch tribes. Even in urban areas, girls face difficulties going to school and getting an education. Domestic vioelnce and Sexual and physical abuse by male family members are also problems. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Brahui Women

The Brahui are a Dravidian language group of tribes that live mostly in Balochistan and the Sindh. D. O. Lodrick wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”: ““Brahui women face the same gender discrimination that women do in all Muslim societies. Brahui women, for instance observe purdah, i.e. the segregation of women to ensure that family honor is maintained. This means that women live in compounds behind mud walls where they are virtually hidden from view. Women must avoid being seen by strangers, especially strange men. Access to compounds is restricted and a woman's mobility outside the compound is controlled by her husband and male relatives. [Source: D. O. Lodrick, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

“Most Brahui women are engaged in agricultural labor. During the productive season from March through mid-November, a woman may spend as much as 60 percent of her time in her agricultural role. A typical day for a Brahui farmer's wife is seventeen hours long, but her work is sheer drudgery because the labor she performs is merely repetitive and requires no decision-making as to how land and other resources are to be utilized — this is the prerogative of the males in the family. Women are responsible for transplanting, weeding, harvesting, and collecting fuel and water. Official statistics grossly under estimate the contribution of women to the agricultural gross domestic product (GDP) in rural areas of Pakistan. Very few government departments or even projects collect gender disaggregated data, and most development projects are geared towards men. *\

“In addition to the payment of bride-price and the custom of purdah, Brahui women are subject to all the ills of women in Pakistan — domestic violence, rape, "honor killings," acid attacks, and trafficking. Proof of rape generally requires the confession of the accused or the testimony of four adult Muslim men who witnessed the assault. If a woman cannot prove her rape allegation she runs a very high risk of being charged with fornication or adultery, the criminal penalty for which is either a long prison sentence and public whipping, or, occasionally, death by stoning. *\

Education, Literacy, Women and Girls in Pakistan

At least in part because of traditionally subordinate role in Pakistani society, two thirds of boys ages 6 to 11 attended primary school in the early 2000s but only a third of girls did. Few rural girls receive any education. One survey in the early 1990s found only 14 percent of women had received any schooling at all and in 15 out of 75 districts less than on percent of women could read or write.

The illiteracy rates for girls and women are shockingly low. The female literacy rate in Pakistan in the early 2000s was officially listed at 23 percent, one of lowest in the world. Many educators say the real figure was even lower, perhaps around 15. In the province of Balochistan, for example only 2 percent of the women at that time were literate enough to read a book and write a letter. A civil rights in lawyer in Lahore said poverty is not the only reason for high rate of female illiteracy. "I see rich landlords and powerful feudal chieftains, whose daughters are totally illiterate," she told Newsweek. "Their fathers don't want them to be taught."

Things have improved in recent years but still lag far behind the rest of the world. Literacy (percentage of population age 15 and over that can read and write): total population: 59. 1 percent; male: 71. 1 percent; female: 46.5 percent (2015). [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Comparison of data for men and women reveals significant disparity in educational attainment. By 1992, among people older than fifteen years of age, 22 percent of women were literate, compared with 49 percent of men. The comparatively slow rate of improvement for women is reflected in the fact that between 1980 and 1989, among women aged fifteen to twenty-four, 25 percent were literate. United Nations sources say that in 1990 for every 100 girls of primary school age there were only thirty in school; among girls of secondary school age, only thirteen out of 100 were in school; and among girls of the third level, grades nine and ten, only 1.5 out of 100 were in school. Slightly higher estimates by the National Education Council for 1990 stated that 2.5 percent of students — 3 percent of men and 2 percent of women- -between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one were enrolled at the degree level. Among all people over twenty-five in 1992, women averaged a mere 0.7 year of schooling compared with an average of 2.9 years for men. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

History of Women’s Education in Pakistan

Muslim reformers in the nineteenth century struggled to introduce female education, to ease some of the restrictions on women's activities, to limit polygyny, and to ensure women's rights under Islamic law. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan convened the Mohammedan Educational Conference in the 1870s to promote modern education for Muslims, and he founded the Muhammadan Anglo- Oriental College. Among the predominantly male participants were many of the earliest proponents of education and improved social status for women. They advocated cooking and sewing classes conducted in a religious framework to advance women's knowledge and skills and to reinforce Islamic values. But progress in women's literacy was slow: by 1921 only four out of every 1,000 Muslim females were literate. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The discrepancy between rural and urban areas is even more marked. In 1981 only 7 percent of women in rural areas were literate, compared with 35 percent in urban areas. Among men, these rates were 27 and 57 percent, respectively. Pakistan's low female literacy rates are particularly confounding because these rates are analogous to those of some of the poorest countries in the world.

Pakistan has never had a systematic, nationally coordinated effort to improve female primary education, despite its poor standing. It was once assumed that the reasons behind low female school enrollments were cultural, but research conducted by the Ministry for Women's Development and a number of international donor agencies in the 1980s revealed that danger to a woman's honor was parents' most crucial concern. Indeed, reluctance to accept schooling for women turned to enthusiasm when parents in rural Punjab and rural Balochistan could be guaranteed their daughters' safety and, hence, their honor.

“A number of computer training centers have been established for women and the government has opened "women development centers" that specialize in training community development workers in family planning, hygiene, sanitation, adult literacy, community organization, and legal rights. [Source: “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Women in Government in Pakistan

Year women obtained the right to vote: 1947 (compared to 1893 in New Zealand and 2011 in Saudi Arabia) 1947 is when Pakistan became an independent nation. [Source: infoplease.com ]

Proportion of seats held by women in national legislatures: 20 percent (compared to 53 percent in Bolivia, 20 percent in the United States and 3 percent in Kuwait) [Source: World Bank <a href="https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sg.gen.parl.zs"> worldbank.org</a> ]

It is ironic that women rule or ruled the countries of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where the status of women is among the lowest in the world. The women that have taken power in these countries are the widows or daughters of prominent politicians.

When asked why there are so many female political leaders in Asia, Benazir Bhutto — the assassinated former female prime minister of Pakistan — replied that women participated in he fight against colonialism and "because we are not as literate society people look to symbols. Thus, a female member of a family can become a symbol of the male's message. Indira was seen a symbol of Nehru's concept of India."

In May 2007: Nilofar Bakhtiar — one of the three women ministers in the Pakistani cabinet — was harshly condemned by a hardline Islamist cleric, who called for her resign, for hugging her parachute instructor in France. Reuters reported: “Bakhtiar, who heads the Tourism Ministry, embraced her elderly instructor after completing a jump in March to raise money for victims of an earthquake that killed 73,000 people in Pakistan in October 2005. A pro-Taliban cleric issued a decree, soon after Pakistani newspapers published a photograph of the hug, calling on the government to sack Bakhtiar for “obscenity”. At the time, she shrugged off the cleric’s criticism, saying she would do another jump for a good cause, but in early May she stepped down as head of the women’s wing of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. [Source: Reuters, May 23, 2007]

Criticism from radical clerics cannot to be taken lightly in Pakistan, given the influence wielded by conservatives in the male-dominated Muslim society. In February, a Muslim zealot shot dead a woman minister of the government of Punjab because he thought women should not be in politics. The gunman was sentenced to death in March.

Working Women in Pakistan

In the 1990s only 13.1 percent of women were in the labor force, but this figure did not include the large number of women engaged in agricultural and household work. According to “Countries and Their Cultures”: “The majority of Pakistani women are homemakers, and men are generally referred to as the breadwinners. The largest percentage of working women in Pakistan are nurses or teachers. Women are represented in government as ministers in Parliament and ambassadors. Benazir Bhutto was the first female prime minister and served from 1988 to 1990. [Source:“Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

The integration of women into the labor force has been a major challenge in Pakistan. Because of economic pressures and the dissolution of extended families in urban areas, many more women are working for wages than in the past. But by 1990 females officially made up only 13 percent of the labor force. Restrictions on their mobility limit their opportunities, and traditional notions of propriety lead families to conceal the extent of work performed by women. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Usually, only the poorest women engage in work — often as midwives, sweepers, or nannies — for compensation outside the home. More often, poor urban women remain at home and sell manufactured goods to a middleman for compensation. More and more urban women have engaged in such activities during the 1990s, although to avoid being shamed few families willingly admit that women contribute to the family economically. Hence, there is little information about the work women do. On the basis of the predominant fiction that most women do no work other than their domestic chores, the government has been hesitant to adopt overt policies to increase women's employment options and to provide legal support for women's labor force participation.*

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) commissioned a national study in 1992 on women's economic activity to enable policy planners and donor agencies to cut through the existing myths on female labor-force participation. The study addresses the specific reasons that the assessment of women's work in Pakistan is filled with discrepancies and underenumeration and provides a comprehensive discussion of the range of informal- sector work performed by women throughout the country. Information from this study was also incorporated into the Eighth Five-Year Plan (1993-98).*

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (tourism.gov.pk), Official Gateway to the Government of Pakistan (pakistan.gov.pk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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