The “State of Human Rights in 2011,” the annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), a non-governmental organization, examines, among other issues, various problems affecting the women in Pakistan. The report noted the increase in cases of domestic violence against women, honor killings, and atrocities against women at police stations, work places and educational institutions. It also noted the rising suicide rate among young Pakistan women aged 15-30.
“At Least 943 Women Have Been Killed In The Name Of Honor”; “Nearly 4,500 Cases Of Domestic Violence Against Women Were Reported”
Some main points:
“* At least 943 women were killed in the name of honor, of whom 93 were minors. Among the victims were seven Christian and two Hindu women.
“* 701 women committed suicide and 428 tried to end their lives.
“* Nearly 4,500 cases of domestic violence against women were reported.
“* The country’s first woman ombudsperson was appointed to receive and examine complaints of sexual harassment and other grievances….”
“Not all women suffer social vulnerability in quite the same manner or extent, and their situations may differ in accordance with their social positioning in terms of class, religion, education, economic independence, geographical location – inclusive of distance from urban centers – caste, educational profile, marital status, number of children, and so on.
“So, while all women continue to do poorly in terms of their status as citizens of the state, a fact reflected in the poorer statistics for women’s education and health, for instance, and discriminatory laws that make them socially vulnerable, their vulnerability is experientially different according to their social position and their access to avenues of empowerment.
“Over the year 2011, the social indices of development such as educational opportunities, employment, and health pertaining to women remained dismal, with 65 percent of the workforce engaged in low paid and unrepresented home-based work.
“The floods continued to affect women and children adversely, with 120,000 pregnant women suffering from trauma, fatigue, malnutrition, and poor hygiene. The health indicators for women, particularly in rural areas, remained abysmal, with breast cancer being amongst the highest in South Asia and 40,000 deaths recorded annually.”
“In Urban Centers, Drug Addiction Amongst Women With School and College Degrees Was Recorded, and the Rate of Attempted Suicides… Rose, With Up To Five To Six Teenage Suicide Attempts Daily In Karachi Alone”
“In urban centers, drug addiction amongst women with school and college degrees was recorded, and the percentage of attempted suicides by ingesting poison – the most discreet form of suicide – rose, with up to five to six teenage suicide attempts daily in Karachi alone.
“The education indicators for women suffered from cultural practices, and in some strife-riddled parts of the country – particularly in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa –girls’ schools were targeted by the militants, leading to prolonged closures.
“Meanwhile, in urban centers, a number of cases of sexual harassment came to view in institutions of higher education, and perpetrators were brought to book in accordance with the new laws.
“Incidents of domestic violence seemed to have increased in the Punjab province, or perhaps were more adequately reported, while Sindh showed a downward trend and cases in Baluchistan remained largely unmonitored and unreported. Parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remained under threat of religious militancy, and the state of Afghan refugees, particularly the condition of women, was inadequately monitored.
“The most vulnerable women of the population were religious and sexualized minorities. There were a number of cases of rape and murder of young women in domestic labor who belonged to the Christian minority. The governor of Punjab [Salman Taseer] lost his life trying to save Aasia Bibi, a working class Christian woman, from capital punishment on a trumped-up case of blasphemy.
“Women from sexual minorities – the hijra or transgendered community who mostly identify themselves as women – were granted the status of citizens of the State, but the only employment opportunity provided to them by the State was as tax collectors out to harass defaulters. This official gesture not only demeaned them as people and reinforced cultural biases… but also set a precedent for how they were to be treated socially.
“In November, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to include transgendered people on the voters’ list; a division bench directed the federal authority of NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) to issue this community with computerized identity cards; and the Sindh government pledged a piece of land to building a colony for them. The Court appreciated this and asked the other provinces to follow suit.”
“The Assassination Of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer… By A Religious Zealot, Ostensibly For Supporting The Amendment To The Blasphemy Law And Pleading On Behalf Of Aasia Bibi, Led To The Silencing Of The [Legislative] Assemblies”
“Women as citizens: the legal and political status
“Although a number of court rulings and political events signified the deteriorating status of women as citizens, the death penalty for [Christian woman] Aasia Bibi under the blasphemy law, and the acquittals in Mukhtaran Mai’s gang-rape case were perhaps the worst rulings of the year. However, 2011 was marked by the legal activism of women parliamentarians who vociferously put women’s issues in the forefront and succeeded in getting a number of legislations adopted.
“Perhaps the two events of significance were the death threats and public harassment faced by a former information minister and PPP [Pakistan People's Party] parliamentarian [Sherry Rehman, now Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S.] after her proposed bill submitted to the National Assembly sought amendment to the blasphemy law.
“The assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January by a religious zealot, ostensibly for supporting the amendment to the blasphemy law and pleading on behalf of Aasia Bibi, led to the silencing of the [legislative] assemblies. Protests against Taseer’s killing and growing intolerance in society were again led by women parliamentarians who urged their male counterparts to voice their concerns.
“HRCP expressed grief and alarm at the growing intolerance and violence in society, and wanted the case investigated, since it was a member of the police force deputed to protect the governor that had fired on him.”
“Nine Years After A Very High Profile Case Of Gang Rape [Of Mukhtaran Mai] By 14 Men, The Supreme Court Of Pakistan Acquitted Eight Of The Accused… And The Death Penalty Handed Down To Six Others Was Overturned”
“Another major disappointment and loss of faith in legal institutions came because of the Supreme Court ruling in the Mukhtaran Mai case. Nine years after a very high profile case of gang rape by 14 men, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted eight of the accused on appeal, and the death penalty awarded to six others was overturned, with only one man serving a life term. The court cited insufficient evidence as grounds for the acquittal. The decision led to acquittal of the accused. HRCP expressed concern that the courts lacked the capacity and the sensitivity to appraise evidence in rape cases.
“A judicial observation with perhaps even more stark implications concerning women had been passed in December 2010, when a Federal Shariat Court [which parallels the Supreme Court of Pakistan] verdict declared some clauses in the Women’s Protection Act unconstitutional and un-Islamic. This effectively meant reinstating parts of the Zina [adultery] and Qazf [false imputation of immorality against a woman] ordinances promulgated by General Ziaul Haq [during the 1980s] that confused the difference between adultery and rape. In 2011, there was widespread protest by women and civil rights groups over this backsliding.
“The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) verdict that declared four clauses of the Women Protection Act as unconstitutional was criticized by members of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) on the grounds that it effectively reintroduced the overriding effect of Zina and Qazf ordinances, which the WPA had removed, and also confused the issue of separation of rape from adultery, that the WPA had established. They opposed the FSC’s aim to trivialize the rights of women through legitimizing discrimination against them. The FSC decision was also challenged and an appeal made to the Supreme Court (the Federal Shariat Appellate Bench) by a number of women’s rights organizations. The appeal was still pending at the end of 2011.”
“A Bill On Women’s Rights Of Inheritance, The Prevention Of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2008, Was Adopted By Parliament”; “In 2011, Six Women Were Awarded The Death Penalty By Different Courts Of Law”
“In October, the National Commission on Women Act 2011 was presented before parliament that argued for the setting up of an autonomous body to examine all policies and programmes of government for gender equity. (It was adopted in the New Year ).
“In the last few days of the year, a bill on women’s rights of inheritance, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2008, was adopted by parliament. The law aimed to protect women from child marriages, forced marriage to the Koran, the practices of Vani, Swara [women surrendered by family for compounding a murder case]. These and any other means of depriving women from inheriting property became punishable by law.
“In December, the provincial assembly of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa tabled a bill to protect and secure women’s rights to property termed the Women’s Ownership Rights Act 2011.
In the same month, the Acid Crime Prevention Bill was passed unanimously by the two houses of parliament. This defined the crime as “disfigurement” and “defacement” and enhanced the punishment from 10 years to life term and/or a fine of half a million rupees. HRCP strongly welcomed the adoption of the pro-women rights bills and asked for their early implementation as that would help change societal perceptions of women’s status and rights.
“In 2011, six women were awarded the death penalty by different courts of law….”
“Media Reports Emerged Of Alleged Sexual Harassment Of Female Students By Senior Teachers And Heads Of Various Departments Of The University Of Peshawar”
“(i) Harassment in educational institutions
“In January, the principal of a government primary boys’ school in Rawalpindi was suspended over allegations of sexually harassing a female teacher.
“In February, in order to combat sexual harassment in universities, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) sent an anti-harassment policy to all universities. However, it remained largely unimplemented.
“In April, media reports emerged of alleged sexual harassment of female students by senior teachers and heads of various departments of the University of Peshawar. In May, a lecturer in the university was suspended from service on such a charge. In Lahore, a Punjab University teacher was sacked for sexually harassing a student.
“In May, it was learned that none of the public sector universities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had complied with the Higher Education Commission’s policy guidelines to prevent sexual harassment on university premises.
“In June, a senior director of the King Edward Medical University was removed from his post after an incident of harassment of a female student.
“In July, a female student of Quaid-e-Azam University charged a faculty member of sexual harassment. According to her, when she resisted his advances, the teacher threatened her of grave consequences, including failing her in her exams. At the same university, the controller was accused of sexually harassing a student in his office. Both men were found guilty by a probe committee and relieved of their jobs.
“In July, the University of Peshawar decided to curtail the powers of internal examiners in the Bachelors of Science (BS) program in a bid to tackle harassment and exploitation of female students.”
“A Young Student At A Computer Institute In Wah Cantt Was Shot Dead By The Principal When She Refused His Sexual Advances”; “At A Girls’ College In Rawalpindi… 60 Masked Men… Beat Up Teachers And Students, Exhorting Them To Dress Modestly And Wear Hijab”
“In August, a young student at a computer institute in Wah Cantt [near the city of Taxila] was shot dead by the principal when she refused his sexual advances. Her body was found at an abandoned house and the man arrested. In the same month, a driver at a school in Islamabad was charged with harassing a female teacher. The federal ombudsperson decided the case in two hearings and the driver was removed from service.
“In September, a case was registered in Sialkot against a man who was harassing a teacher and had demanded a bribe to keep quiet about her academic documents which were reportedly forged. She lodged an FIR with the police and asked for protection.
“In October, the entire female staff of a medical college in Karachi resigned over the conditions of harassment they faced at work. The 250 doctors and medical practitioners of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Medical College in Lyari [area of Karachi] said they had been facing harassment and their complaints were not heeded.
“Sexual harassment of a different kind was reported at a girls’ college in Rawalpindi where 60 masked men entered the premises and beat up teachers and students exhorting them to dress modestly and wear hijab. Despite calls, the police did not respond to the situation and the media was informed unofficially that they were under strict orders to not do anything.
“In November, a ninth grader in Bahawalpur charged the principal of her school with attempted rape, but after investigation the police dropped the case saying there was insufficient evidence although there were two eyewitness accounts of teachers who came into the room upon hearing the girl scream….”
“Scores of Media Reports Covered Women… Harassed by Their Families in Collusion With the Police”; “A Woman Constable Accused Senior Officials of Lahore Police Of Forcing Junior Cops into Sexual Liaisons”
“(iii) Harassment by law enforcement agencies
“Police largely played the role of a coercive force against women. Throughout the year, scores of media reports covered women moving courts to seek protection after they married of their own choice and were harassed by their families in collusion with the police.
“In January, it was announced that in order to encourage women to lodge first information reports (FIRs) against violation of their rights, special Ladies Complaint Units would be set up in police stations. In March, police used batons and tear gas against women health workers protesting in Hyderabad and arrested several of them.
“In April, police officials in Dipalpur were accused of covering up the rape and murder of a 14-year-old housemaid, Khalida, by her employers. In the same month, it was announced that women complaint centers would be established at police stations of all four provinces under a project called Gender Responsive Policing.
“In June, 10 women workers were injured in a clash with city police during a protest against the attempted abduction of their fellow worker by some men in Muzaffargarh. It was announced by the government in June that Women’s Crisis Centers in Punjab, which provide essential services to victims of abuse and violence, may close down due to lack of funds.
“In July, a woman constable accused senior officials of Lahore Police of forcing junior cops into sexual liaisons and threatening them with punishment and defamation if they did not comply. In August, a parliamentarian from Chakwal was accused of sexually harassing a minor and then threatening to bring the Chakwal Police down on her if she said anything. The lawmaker denied the charge, calling it politically motivated. The case was dropped….”
“In February 2011, the Senate Was Informed That Over the Past Two Years, 8,433 Cases of [Domestic] Violence Against Women Were Registered in Punjab, and a Total of 11,798 All over the Country”
“Physical violence: the ultimate deterrent to women
“Domestic violence showed a marked increase in the first six months of 2011 as compared to the previous year, according to the monitoring cell of Aurat Foundation, with 4,448 cases reported. Abduction and kidnapping remained the most common crimes (1,137 cases), with murder (799 cases), rape and murder (396 cases) being the second and third most commonly reported crimes. The figures for the Punjab were higher than those for Sindh, which was a change from last year, but the figures may be a result of what is reported and what remains silenced due to cultural pressures.
“According to media monitoring by HRCP, there were reports of at least 366 women who suffered some form of domestic violence in 2011. Of these, nearly all victims were married women with only two of them unmarried, five widows, and two divorced women, and the perpetrators were mostly husbands or other close relatives. The families were nearly all of them from the working class, with only one victim being a female doctor. The reasons given for the violence were domestic dispute and the suspicion of illicit relations.
“Amongst the worst hit were 38 women who suffered from acid attacks, 47 who were set on fire, 81 who suffered attempted murder, 98 who were tortured, 10 women who had their heads shaved as part of public humiliation, and nine women who had their noses or other parts of the body amputated as punishment. In February 2011, the Senate was informed that over the past two years 8,433 cases of violence against women were registered in Punjab and a total of 11,798 all over the country.
“It was reported at a discussion organized by Insani Haqooq Ittehad, a conglomerate of civil society organizations based in Islamabad, that more than 80 percent of women were subject to physical or psychological domestic violence, which often went unreported since 66 percent women accepted it as their fate, 33 percent merely complained, while less than 5 percent took concrete steps against it.”
“The Purported Reasons Given For … [943 Honor Killings] Were Illicit Relations, In 595 Cases, and the Demand to Marry of Their Own Choice, in 219 Cases”; “The Majority of Cases (557) Were Of Married Women”
“Cultural justification of violence: the ‘honor’ crime chart
“Throughout the year, women were callously killed in the name of honor when they went against family wishes in any way, or even on the basis of suspicion that they did so. Women were sometimes killed in the name of honor over property disputes and inheritance rights.
“According to media monitoring and field reports from HRCP volunteers, at least 943 women were killed in the name of honour, of which 93 were minors. The purported reasons given for this were illicit relations in 595 cases and the demand to marry of their own choice in 219 cases. The murderers were mostly brothers and husbands, in 180 cases the murderer being a brother and in 226 cases being the husband of the victim. The majority of cases (557) were of married women.
“Before being killed, at least 19 women were raped, 12 of them gang raped, and the means used were mostly firearms but also blunt weapons and strangulation. Among the honor killing victims were seven Christian and two Hindu women. Only 20 women killed in the name of honor were reported to have been provided medical aid before they died.
“Women murdered for reasons other than these numbered 936, of which at least 532 were married and the killer was the husband in 259 cases, the victims’ brother (52 cases), father (18 cases) and other close relatives (92 cases). They were mostly shot dead or strangled.”
“701 Women Committed Suicide and 428 Tried to End Their Lives”; “Unlike the General Theories on Suicide, in Pakistan Suicide Is Not a Result Of Social Isolation Or Occurs from Feelings Of Alienation”
“Dying in anger
“According to newspaper reports, 701 women committed suicide and 428 tried to end their lives during the year under review. The numbers tend to be higher for the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, and more police reports were filed there.
“The absence of such reports from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa may signal a silencing of what is considered family tragedy, so it does not go on police records, nor is it reported in the press. Informal sources in hospitals confirm the suicide rate to be much higher, but fear of criminal proceedings prevents them from being registered. The high incidence of suicide points to an alarming social phenomenon.
“The profile of women attempting suicide or taking their own lives makes them between 15 to 30 years of age, and largely from the working classes. A large number of them were married, with only 133 suicides of unmarried young women and 173 of them minors, and the reason cited is generally domestic disputes, unemployment and financial problems. Among younger women, emotional despair on account of denial of the right to choose a life partner or maltreatment by an abusive or violent partner were among the reasons cited.
“Some suicides of married women with children also involved the children in their attempt. A very small number of suicides had to do with public humiliation of the victim. Most of the victims took poison, or shot or hanged themselves.
“Unlike the general theories on suicide, in Pakistan suicide is not a result of social isolation or due to feelings of alienation. Rather, the contrary may be true here, with the social order being over-determined by strong cultural mores governing the lives of both men and women and the family playing the regulatory authority.
“Suicides among women were generally not a result of abject poverty and hopelessness, as is the case in men, since women are generally not responsible as heads of households. It seems they are more a result of being denied the right to express themselves as human beings and a denial of bodily rights….”
(MEMRI June 3. 2012)