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.

It is ironic that women rule or ruled the countries of Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, where the status and literacy rates of women are among the lowest in the world. Even though women have occuppied the highest offices, there are still few women in middle and lower level government positions and the education levels, economic status and health of women is still very low.

Pakistan ranked second to last in 2012 in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, which evaluates the degree of gender-based disparities in things like political empowerment, education and health. The only country that scored worse was Yemen. In some places women are largely confined to the home and excluded from the marketplace and the testimony by a woman in court is only half that of a man. Women’s organizations have been harassed by police.

In a survey by the U.S. Stare Department in 2000, 48 percent of Muslims said there should be some restrictions on men and women working together. After the judge made his decision a women's activist was quoted in Time, saying, " "While nations around the world are preparing to enter the 21st century, Pakistanis are being herded back to the Middle Ages. With one stroke of the pen, the judge may have declared tens of thousands of people illegitimate because their mothers might have married without securing their father's consent."

Some people suggest that Islam is at fault for the discrimination of women. But this is not born out in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia where women play a major role in their county's economies. The precedent for discrimination against women in Pakistan is based more on tribal traditions pre-Islamic religions than Islamic law, which demands certain rights for women, including an education, something that Christianity doesn’t do.

Alexis Okeowo wrote in The New Yorker: In Pakistan “those in power, most notably General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who ruled from 1977 to 1988, have eroded women’s rights, often in efforts to enforce a conservative, Islamic ideology. Although many Pakistani women attend college and pursue careers in the arts, law, and politics, they also face an entrenched patriarchy that dictates their choices when it comes to schooling, work, marriage, and self-presentation. Poor women have even less freedom. More than half of Pakistani women are illiterate, and many suffer domestic violence. They struggle to have their legal rights upheld, and face accusations of bringing dishonor upon their families if they report a rape or file for a divorce. [Source: Alexis Okeowo, The New Yorker, April 9, 2018]

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.

“Millions of women across South Asia — not just here but in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka — suffer at the hands of unfair systems every single day. There is no force that doesn’t make its impact felt against women — political, economic, social and even familial inequities are a daily battle. We imagine that violence towards women only counts if it’s physical, if it’s brutal, but there are those silent, terrifying violences too.

“To be a woman in Pakistan... you have to be a fighter. You cannot be anything else. Pakistani women are often cast as docile, weak, secondary figures by those who know little of the country. There is a singular impression of the hunkered down, frightened woman — but I don’t know any women like that here. Many years ago my friend Sabeen was stopped by apolicemen in Karachi for being a young woman out at night. They thought they could scare her, threaten a bribe out of her. But Sabeen, whose political activist father was assassinated by the police when she was a teenager, was unafraid. She noted down their badge numbers and visited the local police station in the morning to complain. She had a right to be free, to move without fear, to live unimpeded by her age or her gender. No city — not even one as terrifying as Karachi can be, with its gang warfare, daylight shootings and corrupt police force — can take that away from women like Sabeen. And this is a country made up of women like Sabeen.

“In 1996 the Government repealed the Execution of the Punishment of Whipping Ordinance, which prescribed the flogging of convicts, but the Government didn’t repeal the punishment under the Hudood Ordinance — so women convicted of adultery or the crime of premarital sex can still be whipped in Pakistan. There is no safety for women under the laws in Pakistan, none. You learn how not to speak, how not to share, how to keep your thoughts hidden under lock and key because even the walls have ears here. To misspeak — to criticise the wrong man, to love the wrong faith, to follow the wrong god — can be a death sentence in Pakistan. You learn to distrust each other, to fear each other and no feeling remains free of suspicion — not love, not belief, not even bravery. This is the same country where 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot for demanding girls’ rights to education. Yet only a country like this could have produced a Malala, unbowed by the terror around her, imbued with a courage to carry on her fight no matter the odds.

“An Indian friend, Karishma — another country whose women are warriors — once told me that to her, Pakistan personifies resilience. Against all that is stacked against it, against the backdrop of indiscriminate, continual violence, Pakistan perseveres. And it does so on the shoulders of extraordinary women.

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

Laws That Criminalize Pakistani Women on Sex Issues

Laws that criminalize sex outside marriage are harshly and unfairly applied to women, sometimes when no sex outside of marriage has even occurred. Hundreds of women are in jail because they filed rape charges and then were accused of willingly have sex, a crime in Islamic Pakistan. In the early 2000s, mullahs in the North-West Frontier province encouraged local men to forcibly marry (i.e. rape) women working for aid agencies.

Mary Jordan wrote in the Washington Post: Husbands angry at wives who want a divorce, and parents angry at daughters who reject their choice of a husband, are yearly filing hundreds of criminal complaints of illegal sexual behavior, according to legal aid lawyers. "Husbands and brothers are using these laws to take revenge on women" who are not behaving as they want, said Noor Alam Khan, a lawyer who represents prisoners in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan. "Maybe one in 100 charges are true," he said. [Source: Mary Jordan, Washington Post, August 21, 2008]

“A recent study by the Aurat Foundation, a leading women's rights organization, found that about three times a day somewhere in Pakistan, relatives file complaints with police alleging that a daughter or wife has been "abducted with the intent of illicit sexual relations," one of the various laws governing sexual behavior. Mirza said that in many of these cases, the woman in question has left the house on her own free will.

“In 1979, military dictator Gen. Mohammed Zia ul-Haq enacted the Hudood Ordinance, a set of laws based on a strict interpretation of the Quran that included laws on rape, adultery and sex before marriage. By 2006, under pressure from human and women's rights groups at home and abroad, Parliament amended the laws. The most notable change was that women alleging rape were no longer required to provide four male witnesses, a virtually impossible task. But at the same time, conservative religious factions succeeded in inserting into the penal code laws against "fornication," including the "abductions for sex" charge. "These laws opened up abuses against women that we were trying to close," said Jilani, who has argued cases before Pakistan's Supreme Court.”

“Men are also arrested on illicit sex charges, but human rights lawyers say that the laws' impact is typically harder on women. The stigma attached to having an affair is far greater for a woman, and even an accusation of such behavior can mark her for life. The aim of these charges is often not a successful prosecution, said Hina Jilani, one of the nation's leading female lawyers and founder of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Rather, she said, "it's to harass and intimidate women." "Even if a woman is finally acquitted," Mirza said, "the price she pays through social retribution and honor is heavy."

“The Muslim clerics and conservative politicians who most vocally support Pakistan's laws governing sexual morality argue that they are protecting traditions and guarding against what they call the "free sex" culture of unwed mothers and widespread divorce in the United States, Britain and other countries. Maulana Rahat Hussain, a senator in the Pakistani Parliament from the religious party Jamiat e Ulema e Islam, said in an interview that the laws criminalizing extramarital sex also defend God's will: "Islam has its special laws about adultery and extramarital sex, and nobody has the authority to bring any sort of change in those laws."

“When asked if the laws came down harder on women than men, the senator said, "Many good laws can be misused." He dismissed critics of the laws as "nonprofits and Westernized women working for so-called women rights." These people, he said, were motivated by "getting funds from international donors and invitations for free foreign trips."

Pakistan Girls Seeking Divorce and Forced to Marry Cousins

Mary Jordan wrote in the Washington Post: “Farazana Zahir, a 20-year-old woman from Lahore, said she was forced to marry her cousin — a common traditional practice — and now wants a divorce. "I strongly believe I should have choices — of whom I marry, how I spend my time," she said in an interview. After seeing a television ad placed by a local female legislator offering help to women, she called the woman's office and was put in touch with legal aid attorneys. [Source: Mary Jordan, Washington Post, August 21, 2008]

“Zahir needed a lawyer because her family told police she was "abducted" for sex by a man she met at a family party. Zahir calls the charge a sham, retribution for her asking for a divorce, something women are traditionally not supposed to demand. "If I were a boy, this wouldn't be happening," Zahir said, an olive-colored head scarf pulled over her young, determined face. "But I am going to divorce."

“As she sat in the busy Lahore law offices of Jilani and her sister, Asma Jahangir, two dozen other women waited in the corridor. Many were seeking divorces; others were fighting criminal cases they said arose from conflicts with husbands or parents. Some were older and wore black veils; most were young and wore head scarves in bright oranges, reds or floral patterns.

“Women interviewed there said men complain they are being influenced by promiscuous Western ideas. But the women say they are hardly looking for the lifestyle depicted in Hollywood movies. One young woman mentioned "Sex and the City" — available on the black market here — with obvious horror. "Why can't I talk to a boy?" asked Rashida Khan, 17, a student interviewed in Islamabad. "Why are my brothers allowed outside in the evenings and I am not? All I want is more freedom."

“Nazir Afzal, a top British legal expert on "honor" crimes in which men have killed daughters and sisters for flirting or dating, said it is not only older people who believe that women must hold to a different standard in sexual conduct. He said a young man had explained his reasoning this way: "A man is like a piece of gold and woman a piece of silk. If you drop gold into the mud you can polish it clean, but if you drop silk into mud, it's stained forever."

629 Pakistani Girls Sold as Brides to China

Reporting from Lahore, Kathy Gannon of Associated Press wrote: Page after page, the names stack up: 629 girls and women from across Pakistan who were sold as brides to Chinese men and taken to China. The list was compiled by Pakistani investigators determined to break up trafficking networks exploiting the country’s poor and vulnerable. But since the time it was put together, investigators’ aggressive drive against the networks has largely ground to a halt because of pressure from government officials fearful of hurting Pakistan’s lucrative ties to Beijing. The biggest case against traffickers fell apart. In October 2019, a court in Faisalabad acquitted 31 Chinese nationals charged in connection with trafficking. Several of the women who had initially been interviewed by police refused to testify because they were either threatened or bribed into silence, according to a court official and a police investigator familiar with the case. The two spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution for speaking out. [Source: Kathy Gannon, Associated Press, December 4, 2019]

“An AP investigation revealed how Pakistan’s Christian minority has become a new target of brokers who pay impoverished parents to marry off their daughters, some of them teenagers, to Chinese husbands who return with them to their homeland. Many of the brides are then isolated and abused or forced into prostitution in China, often contacting home and pleading to be brought back. The AP spoke to police and court officials and more than a dozen brides — some of whom made it back to Pakistan, others who remained trapped in China — as well as remorseful parents, neighbors, relatives and human rights workers.

“Christians are targeted because they are one of the poorest communities in Muslim-majority Pakistan. The trafficking rings are made up of Chinese and Pakistani middlemen and include Christian ministers, mostly from small evangelical churches, who get bribes to urge their flock to sell their daughters. Investigators have also turned up at least one Muslim cleric running a marriage bureau from his madrassa, or religious school. Investigators put together the list of 629 women from Pakistan’s integrated border management system, which digitally records travel documents at the country’s airports. The information includes the brides’ national identity numbers, their Chinese husbands’ names and the dates of their marriages. All but a handful of the marriages took place in 2018 and up to April 2019. One of the senior officials said it was believed all 629 were sold to grooms by their families.”

An “official said, “the lucrative trade continues. The Chinese and Pakistani brokers make between 4 million and 10 million rupees (US$25,000 and US$65,000) from the groom, but only about 200,000 rupees (US$1,500), is given to the family,” he said. The official, with years of experience studying human trafficking in Pakistan, said many of the women who spoke to investigators told of forced fertility treatments, physical and sexual abuse and, in some cases, forced prostitution. Although no evidence has emerged, at least one investigation report contains allegations of organs being harvested from some of the women sent to China.

“In September, Pakistan’s investigation agency sent a report it labeled “fake Chinese marriages cases” to Prime Minister Imran Khan. The report, provided details of cases registered against 52 Chinese nationals and 20 of their Pakistani associates in two cities in eastern Punjab province — Faisalabad, Lahore — as well as in the capital Islamabad. The Chinese suspects included the 31 later acquitted in court. The report said police discovered two illegal marriage bureaus in Lahore, including one operated from an Islamic center and madrassa — the first known report of poor Muslims also being targeted by brokers. The Muslim cleric involved fled police.

“China has been a steadfast ally of Pakistan for decades, particularly in its testy relationship with India. China has provided Islamabad with military assistance, including pre-tested nuclear devices and nuclear-capable missiles. The demand for foreign brides in China is rooted in that country’s population, where there are roughly 34 million more men than women — a result of the one-child policy that ended in 2015 after 35 years, along with an overwhelming preference for boys that led to abortions of girl children and female infanticide.

Woman Unjustly Jailed for Adultery in Pakistan

In Pakistan, women charged with adultery face prison sentences. Reporting from Rawalpindi, Mary Jordan wrote in the Washington Post: “Naheed Arshad, her bright green head scarf framing dull, brown eyes, had just endured nine months in prison on a charge of adultery. "My husband accused me of having an affair," said Arshad, 35, her hand covering her mouth as she spoke quietly of the serious criminal charge that has disgraced her. [Source: Mary Jordan, Washington Post, August 21, 2008]

“After a judge acquitted her in May, she joined thousands of other women living in a growing network of government and private shelters. She spends her days cooking, sewing and sad; despite the judge's verdict, the shame of the charge has narrowed her already-limited options in life....Arshad spoke freely about once taboo subjects, saying repeatedly, "I have done nothing wrong....Why do I suffer?It is just not fair." She has no way of seeing her young boys unless she returns to her husband, no money and little opportunity to start over at 35. Most people in Pakistan do not deem it socially acceptable for a woman to live alone outside the home of their family or husband.

“Increasing numbers of Pakistani women are becoming aware of gender inequities as the communications revolution brings cellphones, satellite television and the Internet to the poorest villages. “"More women are aware of their rights," said Naeem Mirza, program director for the Aurat Foundation, As more women join the workforce and assert their independence, he said, there is growing conflict between men and women.

“Arshad is from a village outside Rawalpindi. She said her misery began at 14, when her mother insisted she marry her first cousin, who was five years older. "My mother said he had no one to make bread for him, no one to look after him," she said. She said she protested that she was "too small" to be a wife but was given no choice. They married. He complained that she was not working enough and was going out of the house too much, and beat her, she said. As the years passed, she said, she grew less tolerant of him. Then one day, he accused her of having an affair with their children's teacher, which she denies.

“Her home village is located at the end of a narrow, zigzag path in lush green fields. Her husband, Arshad Mehmood, 40, lives with their three children in a small house made of mud and bricks. In an interview, he insisted his wife did have an affair with the prayer leader of the village mosque. "She has committed a mistake, and she has been punished for that," he said. Mehmood said he, his brothers and his wife's brother all searched for her with the police, and when his wife and the teacher were found together, they were jailed. "I am even now ready to accept her and allow her to live along with her children in this same house," he said. "But she is not willing to return." A tall, slender man with a mustache, he said he has treated her fairly and did not beat her. Men and women are equal, he added, but women have a duty to manage their homes and "stay within the four walls."

Domestic Violence in Pakistan

According to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: “Sources indicate that domestic violence in Pakistan — including torture, forced marriages, physical disfigurement, amputation, the denial of food, rape), and shaving hair and eyebrows — is a "serious problem". The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and US Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 indicate that perpetrators of domestic violence can be the victim's husband, or men or women in the victim's family or her husband's family. The AHRC states that victims are often stigmatized and blamed for the gender-based violence that they have experienced, and have often been labelled as the "false accuser". The AHRC adds that when a woman is beaten, society portrays it as being because the woman cannot take care of her husband's needs. [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

Country Reports 2011 states that domestic violence is "widespread". The Research Directorate, the Secretary General of the Women Employees Welfare Association (WEWA), a Pakistani women's rights organization, indicated that domestic violence is a "common practice". The Thomson Reuters Foundation said that, after consulting "213 gender experts from five continents to rank countries by overall perceptions of danger as well as by six risks: health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking."

“According to the AF statistics, from 2010 to 2011, there was a 25 percent increase in domestic violence cases, a 49 percent increase in sexual assault cases, and a 37.5 percent increase in incidents of acid-throwing. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a national, independent human rights organization, reports that, based on its media monitoring, there were 366 domestic violence cases reported in 2011, and 357 of the victims were married women. The HRCP indicates that the perpetrators were mostly husbands and other close relatives. According to the HRCP, in 2011, incidents of domestic violence "seemed to have increased" in Punjab, decreased in Sindh, and were "largely unmonitored and unreported" in Balochistan.

According to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada: Sources indicate that many cases of violence against women are not reported. The AHRC indicates that domestic violence is the most under-reported crime in Pakistan. The HRCP says that, at a discussion organized by "Insani Haqooq Ittehad," a conglomerate of civil society organizations in Islamabad, it was reported that, of the 80 percent of women subjected to physical or psychological domestic violence, five percent took "concrete steps" against the violence. The AHRC indicates that victims of gender-based violence are discouraged from lodging complaints. According to Country Reports 2011, relatives of domestic violence victims were reluctant to report abuse because they did not want to dishonour the family. Sources indicate that domestic violence is considered to be a private matter. According to the Atlantic, a Washington-based news magazine, if a woman speaks up about her physical or sexual abuse, she is considered to have lost her dignity and that of her family. Freedom House states that, at times, female victims of sexual violence have been urged to commit suicide by their families. Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Justification of wife beating (female) (percent): 41
Justification of wife beating (male) (percent): 37
[Source: UNICEF DATA data.unicef.org]

Lightly Beating Wives Okay, Pakistani Islamic Council Says

In 2016, the head of a powerful Islamic council in Pakistan proposed make it legal for husbands to “lightly beat” their wives. Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “Speaking to reporters, the chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Muhammad Kahn Sherani, said a “light beating” should be a last resort. “If you want her to mend her ways, you should first advise her. … If she refuses, stop talking to her … stop sharing a bed with her, and if things do not change, get a bit strict,” Sherani said, according to Pakistan’s Express-Tribune newspaper. “If all else fails, he added, “hit her with light things like handkerchief, a hat or a turban, but do not hit her on the face or private parts.” [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 27, 2016]

“The council, also known as the CII and made up of Islamic clerics and scholars who advise Pakistani legislators, said it was “un-Islamic” for women to leave an abusive relationship and seek refuge in a shelter. The CII strongly opposed Punjab’s law, and said it wanted to weigh in with its own proposal. Before the bill is expanded from Punjab to other areas of Pakistan, the council said it wanted to weigh in with its own proposal.

“A draft of the proposal reads like an appalling misprint: Husbands should be allowed to “lightly beat” their wives, the CII recommends. “A husband should be allowed to lightly beat his wife if she defies his commands and refuses to dress up as per his desires; turns down demand of intercourse without any religious excuse or does not take bath after intercourse or menstrual periods,” the report states, according to Pakistan’s Express-Tribune newspaper.

Anti-Woman Agenda of the Pakistani Islamic Council

Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: ““The CII, which claims that its recommendations are based on Quranic teachings and Sharia law, also seeks to legalize domestic violence if a woman refuses to cover her head or face in public, “interacts with strangers; speaks loud enough that she can easily be heard by strangers; and provides monetary support to people without taking consent of her spouse,” the Express-Tribune reported. [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 27, 2016]

“Although the recommendations are nonbinding, the 163-page document does provide a window into how the most conservative strains of Islam still view the role of women. The document would ban women from appearing in television or print advertising and would prohibit female nurses from treating male patients. It also would give a husband permission to forbid his wife from visiting males other than relatives.

Light Wife Beating Proposal by Pakistani Islamic Council Ridiculed

The “lightly beat” wives proposal was widely condemned and ridiculed. Tim Craig wrote in the Washington Post: “Some Pakistani leaders and activists slammed the proposal, calling it a national embarrassment. They hope it will persuade Pakistanis to rally for the council to be permanently disbanded. “In an interview, Farzana Bari, an Islamabad-based human rights activist, said the proposal should persuade Pakistanis to rally for the council to be permanently disbanded. “It shows the decadent mindset of some elements who are part of the council,” Bari said. “The proposed bill has nothing to do with Islam and it would just bring a bad name to this country.” [Source: Tim Craig, Washington Post, May 27, 2016]

“Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission, which estimates 70 percent of Pakistani women have suffered domestic violence, said in a statement it’s “difficult to comprehend why anyone in his right mind would think that any further encouragement or justification is needed to invite violence upon women in Pakistan.” The Human Rights Commission “would like to know why the CII’s obsession with women,” the statement said. “We hope and expect that … the draft bill will be condemned unreservedly by all segments of society,” it added. Bari notes that even if finalized, the proposal has almost no chance of becoming law.

“According to Newsweek Pakistan, Bhutto’s son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, responded to the CII proposal by saying its members are the ones who should be given a “light beating.” Even the CII, however, appears to be trying to moderate some of its views. The draft document includes provisions endorsing women in government and says a girl should be able to marry without her parents' permission, according to the Express-Tribune.

“On one matter, the CII appears even more tolerant than religious conservatives in the United States. It is proposing to wait up until 120 days after conception before abortion is declared “murder.” But Bari hopes the Pakistani public sees the document for what it is: a cringe-worthy example of why the CII should be disbanded. In national elections, Islamist parties with close links to CII members generally receive no more than 10 percent of the total national vote. Absent political support, the CII has become a vehicle for allowing extreme views to remain entrenched in public policy, she said. “Violence against women can’t be accepted, and it’s time for the nation to stand up to people who come up with such proposed laws,” Bari said.

“One of Pakistan’s leading English-language newspapers, Dawn, used humor to fight back against the CII. On Friday, it published “a comprehensive list of things you can 'lightly beat' other than your wife.” It includes an egg, a carpet, a ketchup bottle, ice trays, bed sheets, a podium, remote control and “It” — as in the late pop singer Michael Jackson’s hit song “Beat It.” Using a GIF of Homer Simpson smacking his forehead, Dawn also concluded that someone one can just lightly beat themselves.

Useless Anti-Domestic-Violence Legislation in Pakistan

Pakistan’s domestic violence abuse laws are vague, and rarely used even inthe most heinous cases. The usual strategy among authorities and police is get to husband and wife to reconcile. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2009, according to Human Rights Watch, attempts to "prevent violence against women and children with a network of protection committees and protection officers and prompt criminal trials for suspected abusers," requiring that court dates be set within three days of receiving complaints, that court proceedings take place within 30 days, and prescribing incremental punishments for successive breaches of a protection order. [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

“Sources indicate that the Domestic Violence Bill was passed in the National Assembly in August 2009; however, the bill lapsed, as the Senate failed to pass it within the three months required by the Constitution. Sources indicate that the Senate passed the Domestic Violence Bill in early 2012. However, sources also indicate that, due to the "18th Amendment to the constitution," domestic violence is in the jurisdiction of the provinces of Pakistan. Sources indicate that the only jurisdiction to pass the bill has been Islamabad Capital Territory.

“A South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch expressed the view in January 2010 that, for victims of domestic violence, there was "no protection from the government". According to a 2012 human rights report by the AHRC, although many laws related to women's rights have been passed by Parliament, there have been "no significant changes" in the status of women in Pakistan. The Secretary General of WEWA stated that domestic violence being viewed as an internal matter provides protection for perpetrators. Other sources speak similarly of impunity for perpetrators of violence against women.

Poor Police and Judicial Action on Domestic Violence in Pakistan

According to the representative of the HRCP, it is "very difficult" to lodge a complaint at a police station because police officers do not take domestic violence victims seriously, and, in the view of the representative, police believe that husbands have the right to beat their wives . Country Reports 2011 states that "abused women usually were returned to their abusive family members". [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

“The AHRC reports that women have to deal with "corrupt" police and other justice officers who do not carry out their duties in an "ethical manner," adding that police accept bribes from suspected perpetrators to discourage victims from reporting . Sources report on victims being pressured by police to drop charges. Country Reports 2011 indicates that some police officers demanded bribes from victims before registering rape cases.

“Sources indicate that sometimes police do not intervene in cases of domestic violence, as they consider this to be a private family matter. The WEWA stated that there is no procedure in place for registering First Information Reports (FIRs) for domestic violence cases. Sources indicate that police are reluctant to register complaints and the AHRC indicates that police "mis-record statements" . Other sources have labelled investigations as "faulty," "intentionally carried out with feebleness", and "sometimes superficial". According to the AHRC, perpetrators rarely receive punishments because police are not effective .

“Sources indicate that police officers try to encourage settlement or reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator. Country Reports 2011 indicated that "instead of filing charges, police typically responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile" . The AHRC indicates that some victims are "invited" to withdraw complaints through settlement offers.

Sources say that the judicial system in Pakistan is biased against women. The AHRC indicates that courts are made up mostly of men, and that judges often make decisions based on Sharia law. According to the representative of the HRCP, it is "very hard" to get a perpetrator of domestic violence convicted . Plus News Pakistan reports that, according to a station house officer, although the women's police stations are committed to handling cases of violence against women, "major challenges" lie in the courts . [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

“According to the AHRC, women who take cases of violence to the judicial system are "more likely to find further abuse and victimization" . The AHRC indicates that in a rape case, the victim herself may be prosecuted, and the sexual history of the victim will be "thrown around" in court . The Secretary General of WEWA indicates that most domestic violence cases are withdrawn due to threats or family pressure .

Women's Police Stations

Sources note the existence of women's police stations that are staffed by female police officers. Country Reports 2011 states that these stations were created to address the stigma attached to reporting gender-based violence, and to provide a safe place for women to report complaints and file charges. Country Reports 2011 also indicates that men can also seek the services of women's police stations. [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

“Sources differ on the number of women's police stations in Pakistan, varying from 9, to 12 , to 19. The Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reports that women's police stations have been established in Karachi, Larkana, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Islamabad, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad, while County Reports 2011 indicates that there are three women's police stations in Karachi, and one each in Larkana, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Abbottabad, Quetta, and the Islamabad Capital Territory in Islamabad City . According to Plus News Pakistan, there are seven women's police stations in Gilgit-Baltistan, while in Balochistan there is a reporting centre but no women's police stations.

“The Punjab police indicate that "full-fledged women police stations" exist in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Faisalabad. The Punjab police indicate that these stations help female victims of crime and domestic violence, and provide legal advice and counselling to women. The Capital City Police Lahore indicate that the women's police station in Lahore was established in 1995. The Capital City Police Lahore also indicate that, although female officers are authorized to register and investigate cases in the women's police station, female police officers are not active investigation officers in police stations outside of the women's police station.

“The Islamabad Capital Territory Police indicate that they inaugurated their women's police station in 1994. They also indicate that this police station conducts all police work, but that it is the only station with female staff. According to the Islamabad Capital Territory Police, the women's police station is successful in handing cases "concerning female felons". The Islamabad Capital Territory Police state that women's police stations have been created to avoid the misbehaviour of male police officers towards female prisoners, and that Pakistani women are joining the police force to protect women from the violence and harassment that they face in police stations.

“The Lahore police indicate that there are women complaint centres in Gulberg, Muslim Town, Lower Mall, and Race Course Road, all of which are staffed with female police officers. APP reports that ladies complaint units have been set up in two police stations in Islamabad. The Sindh government indicated on its website plans for the fiscal year 2010-11 to create women complaint cells in Karachi, Sukkur, Larkana, Hyderabad, and Shaheed Benazirabad. These complaint cells were being set up for the "appropriate and timely disposal of complaints and speedy access to justice" and to provide medical and legal aid. The Sindh Minister of Women Development was reported in February 2012 as saying that five centres had been set up. Further information on women complaint centres in Sindh could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Shelters for Abused Women in Pakistan

Country Reports 2011 indicates that there are 26 government-funded Shaheed Benazir Bhutto centres for women, which provide temporary shelter, legal aid, medical treatment and psychosocial counselling. Country Reports 2011 indicates that victims are later referred to one of 200 provincially-run darul aman, which provide shelter, access to medical treatment, limited legal representation, and some vocational training. In the opinion of the Shirkat Gah representative, there should be more shelters. She also stated that shelters provide shelter for women and their children for "at least three months". [Source: Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, January 14, 2013]

“Sources say that there is abuse of women in shelters. According to Country Reports 2011, this abuse has occurred at government-run shelters in "some cases". Sources also report on the restriction the movement of women living in shelters. Sources indicate that when women are sent to shelters by court-order, they are prohibited from leaving the premises. The founder of Panah was quoted by the Pulitzer Center as saying that Panah must restrict the movement of court-ordered women at the shelter unless the court gives permission for them to leave. Cause of Death: Woman indicates that "several women who have stayed at Dastak have been murdered by their families when they have dared to venture out".

“Sources indicate that shelters, both government and NGO-run, try to reconcile victims with the perpetrator of domestic violence. According to the Shirkat Gah representative, this occurs "sometimes," as managers of shelters often believe that it is "safer" for women to go home. She added that, depending on the nature of the case, such reconciliation attempts are also made at Dastak and Panah. Approximately 70 percent of the women that have stayed at Dastak reportedly return to their families after "mediation". Panah's website indicates that they assess the viability of reintegrating victims, including through mediation with their families. According to the HRCP representative, reconciliation attempts are made by shelters because it is "next to impossible" for a single woman to live alone in Pakistan due to prejudices against women and economic dependence .

Shelter for Women Accused of Adultery

Mary Jordan wrote in the Washington Post: “In a busy, noisy neighborhood of Rawalpindi, Arshad, the woman jailed for adultery, now lives in a shelter with guards out front and bars on the doors and windows. Even if she could get out, she said, she could not visit her home village because she feels threatened by her husband and brother. So she spends her days sitting on the shelter floor learning embroidery, peeling vegetables for dinner, watching TV and worrying about the future. “Judges send women here after their court proceedings to make sure they have a place to live that keeps them safe from enraged husbands or brothers. But the women can be virtual prisoners, forbidden to go out. [Source: Mary Jordan, Washington Post, August 21, 2008]

“More than 1,000 women live in these provincial government-run shelters, many of which have opened” in 2006 and 2007. In 2007 “more than 3,000 women sought help at a separate network of facilities, the national government's Benazir Bhutto Women Centers, recently renamed after the late female former prime minister who was assassinated in this city in December. In 2005, there were 10 of these centers for women fleeing abusive homes. Today, there are 25, and the federal government said it plans to raise the number to 55 in coming months.

“Back within the worn shelter's walls where she is now confined, Arshad cried when shelter director Tallat Shabbier asked whether she was considering returning to her husband for the sake of her children. "I will never go back to him," she said, dabbing her eyes with her green scarf. "Jail was better than being with him."

“According to shelter rules, women can be released only if they return to their husband, marry another man (often in ceremonies held inside the shelter) or are turned over to a blood relative. "But my family is so cruel, and I will not marry again," she said. She has initiated divorce proceedings. Sounding in turns defeated and defiant, Arshad said she would like to find a job, perhaps living in a house where she could clean or sew. But Shabbier shook her head. That was not option; women are to live with husbands or family, she said, reminding her of "social constraints." As a fan whirled overhead in stifling summer heat, Arshad sat and repeated the one thing that to her was certain: "I will not go back to my husband."

Women’s Movement in Pakistan

A melding of the traditional social welfare activities of the women's movement and its newly revised political activism appears to have occurred. Diverse groups including the Women's Action Forum, the All-Pakistan Women's Association, the Pakistan Women Lawyers' Association, and the Business and Professional Women's Association, are supporting small-scale projects throughout the country that focus on empowering women. They have been involved in such activities as instituting legal aid for indigent women, opposing the gendered segregation of universities, and publicizing and condemning the growing incidents of violence against women. The Pakistan Women Lawyers' Association has released a series of films educating women about their legal rights; the Business and Professional Women's Association is supporting a comprehensive project inside Yakki Gate, a poor area inside the walled city of Lahore; and the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi has promoted networks among women who work at home so they need not be dependent on middlemen to acquire raw materials and market the clothes they produce. [Source: Peter Blood, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The women's movement has shifted from reacting to government legislation to focusing on three primary goals: securing women's political representation in the National Assembly; working to raise women's consciousness, particularly about family planning; and countering suppression of women's rights by defining and articulating positions on events as they occur in order to raise public awareness. An as yet unresolved issue concerns the perpetuation of a set number of seats for women in the National Assembly. Many women activists whose expectations were raised during the brief tenure of Benazir Bhutto's first government (December 1988-August 1990) now believe that, with her return to power in October 1993, they can seize the initiative to bring about a shift in women's personal and public access to power.*

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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