Neshay Najam, writes:

“In Pakistan the story of a woman’s deprivations start even before her birth, because the girl-child is not a particularly ‘wanted’ child.  Her life is a journey of subordination.  When she is young her father decides for her on matters ranging from whether she will get any education, to the all important matters of whom she would marry.  After marriage, her husband and her in-laws get hold of her reins and decide matters on her behalf; like shall she or shall she not have a child every year, or whether she would produce only boys, or whether she can seek independent employment and so on.

Finally when she becomes old and her husband gets weak or may have gone already, it is her son or sons who decide her fate in the declining years of her life.  As if this is not enough, the whole society acts as an oppressor, browbeating her in to obedience.  Thus, the word ‘woman’ in Pakistan is synonymous with ‘endurance’.  She is simply forced to accept certain bare facts of life once she grows up to be a woman.  Be it on streets, or for that matter in restaurants, a woman is first and foremost required to be alert.  It is best to try and not notice, women are told.  According to Hina Jilani, Lawyer and Human Rights Activist, “the right to life of women in Pakistan is conditional on their obeying social norms and traditions.”

In addition to that, women in Pakistan face all kinds of gross violence and abuse at the hands of the male perpetuators, family members and state agents.  Multiple forms of violence include rape; domestic abuse as spousal murder, mutilation, burning and   disfiguring faces by acid, beatings; ritual honour-killings and custodial abuse and torture.

According to a report by Amnesty International released on June 15, 2000, several hundred women and girls die each year in so-called ‘honour-killings’ in Pakistan, in a backdrop to government inaction.  She is killed like a bird in family feuds to create evidence of “illicit” connections and cover them under the garb of “grave and sudden provocation” to escape severe punishment.

The practice of Summary-killing of a woman suspected of an illicit liaison, known as ‘Karo Kari’ in Sindh and Balochistan, is known to occur in all parts of the country.  Kari’s (the females suspected of illicit relationships) remain dishonoured even after death.  Their bodies are thrown in rivers or buried in special hidden kari graveyards.  Nobody mourns for them or honours their memory by performing their relevant rights.  Karo’s (the males suspected of illicit relationships) by contrast are reportedly buried in the communal graveyards.  The promise made by the country’s Chief Executive in April 2000, that all ‘honour’ killings would be treated as murders has yet to be converted into anything nearing reality.

Women who report rape or sexual harassment encounter a series of obstacles.  These include not only the police, who resist filing their claims and misreport their statements but also the medico-legal doctors, who focus more on their virginity status and lack the training and expertise to conduct adequate examinations.

Furthermore, women who file charges open themselves up to the possibility of being prosecuted for illicit sex if they fail to ‘prove’ rape under the 1979 Hudood Ordinance which criminalize adultery and fornication.  As a result, when women victims of violence resort to the judicial system for redress, they are more likely to find further abuse and victimization.  As far as domestic violence is concerned, it is the most under-reported crime because it is generally condoned by social customs and considered as a private family matter.

…Information technology, which has been supported to a great extent by our present regime for the economic uplift of our country has the potential to improve the status of women as this is a kind of technology that is making it easier to be a woman at home than a man…The information technology however, is changing all that.  Since it allows people to log on to their work while sitting at home and only coming in to their offices for meetings or for using confidential data that cannot be allowed to leave the office premises.  This means that a woman may sit at home and take care of their children and between the naps, feeding and diapers, take breaks to get work done.

But this is only possible when the women in Pakistan have the skills and the necessary expertise to use it.  This needs to be started from the grassroots level, as two percent of the country’s elite using this technology would not make much of a difference.  The ‘difference’ is badly required in this age of global communication and the competitive 21st century, as who ever will have the access to this knowledge will be the winner.

Unless and until women are given formal education, not only there would be no change in their status but also the country would suffer in terms of social and economic development.  Women no doubt are the backbone of any society and according to Amartya Sen; Nobel Laureate Economist, “Sustainable development cannot take place until women of a country get their due rights.”

Source: Najam, Neshay. “The Status of Women in Pakistan.” Lahore, Pakistan.


Next: Africa