PAKISTAN: Break the barriers and speak out 

The open debate about the denial of equality between men and women may be seen as historically recent. However, the reality of gender imbalance has been a factual data for centuries and unfortunately, when we look at countries like Pakistan, the journey towards gender equality appears to be a long and insidious odyssey.

The relationship between men and women in Pakistan, as well as in other Asian countries, has always been unbalanced and characterized by male supremacy and female suppression. In no point in time, women have enjoyed acceptable degrees of freedom and emancipation, and their status in society has always been determined by what male family members have set for them.

Women continue to live under the supervision of men, before marriage under the supervision of brothers and fathers and after marriage under the supervision of husband and sons. They are still living under the norms made in male dominated societies. From the early ages male dominated and misogynist societies created barriers and strict societal norms in order to restrict the rights of women and limit them by the means of four boundaries. They are discriminated on the basis of sex and different types of atrocities are imposed on women including honor killing, domestic violence, bounded labor, selling of girls, burning, bride burning, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, acid attacks, forced marriages, early age marriages, rape, sexual and physical harassment, stoning to death, marriage to the holy book (a medieval method of preventing women from obtaining their inheritance), breast ironing, killing on giving birth to baby girls, and so on.

Discrimination against women is wide spread and they face violence, despite the country being Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia or the USA. Violence against women takes place in every corner of the world from developed to underdeveloped countries depending upon the cultures and laws. In some countries laws are strong and in some counties they are weak to the point of being non-existent.

A survey conducted by UNICEF found that the percentage of women aged from 15–49 who think that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife under certain circumstances is as high as 90% in Afghanistan and Jordan, 87% in Mali, 86% in Guinea and Timor-Leste, 81% in Laos, 80% in the Central African Republic. In Pakistan the conditions are much similar in that a husband can beat and rape his wife and not feat that a case will be registered against him as no one considers marital rape to be a crime.

A report published by UNIFEM defines that approximately 100 to 140 million girls have experienced genital mutation, more than 60 million girls are married under the age of 18 years (South Asia 31.1 and Sub- Saharan 14.1 million), 150 million girls under the age of 18 faced sexual violence in 2002, one out of four women face sexual violence during pregnancy causing different problems and complications. Ms. Alicia, a writer and director working at AZTECH TV as a producer of “What women don’t say” reported that two out of three women suffer violence from men in Mexico and 70 percent of them remain silent.

An article which was published in the Tribune news explained that in Pakistan from January 2012 to September 2013, there were 90 cases of acid attacks on women, 72 cases of burning, 491 cases of domestic violence, 344 cases of gang rape, 56 cases of giving birth to girl babies and 835 cases of violence in that 56 women were killed in 2013 for giving birth to girls.

In reality the cases are more than this statistic because many cases are not registered due to a number of problems. Like in some cases the police simply do not support the woman victim. Some cases are hidden by the families in order to save the family’s honour. In some cases girls are blackmailed and pressurised by the culprits to keep their mouths shut.

Witch hunting which was practiced in early ages still continues in many parts of the world. It is reported that around 768 women have been hunted in India since 2008. In some countries breast ironing is a common practice and the elder female members of a girl’s family burn the breast of girl in order to protect them from sexual assault. Genital mutation, which is the cutting of external female genital part, is practiced in 27 countries as a tradition. Honour killing is very common where having a relation with any male without legal contract is considered illicit. Marriage by choice is considered as taboo and the girl’s death is considered as the only way to restore the family’s honour. This practice is common in Muslim societies where people defend this practice under the shelter of Islam. Around 2 to 4 women are killed each day in an area of Pakistan called Ghotki. Brothers, father, husband or male cousins kill their sisters, daughters, wives or female cousins because of fear of dishonour. In the case of honour killings, special courts are held called Panchaet, based on the honourable men of the area who refer to the accused as karo (black) for the male and kari (black) for the females. Early marriages are also common in the countries of south Asia, west Asia, African, and so on.

In these countries there is no safe haven for women and they are equally as likely to be abused physically, mentally, and morally in the home or in their places of work. And this appalling situation will continue unless women stop remaining silent. Until this happens males will dominate females. A woman has to speak out against the violation imposed by the man. Dr. Rajat Mitra a famous Indian clinical psychologist attached to the Asian Human Rights Commission said that ”A woman should take action the first time she is harassed and violated, even by her husband. This means she has to take action and knock at the doors of the law”. In this way she can protect herself from future violations. A man who slaps his wife once will continue without hesitation in the future. So the sooner a woman takes action the sooner future incidents can be prevented.

The roots of all patriarchal norms, atrocities and violence against women are strong because of the lack of proper laws and in places where laws actually exist, the lack of enforcement of these laws, lack of education and lack of awareness regarding the laws. The law enforcement agencies have to enforce the laws and have to provide full protection to women against the violation itself. And women have to unite to fight against male dominated societies. They have to be independent and stand on their own feet because until and unless they break their dependency on men they will live under the mercy of men.

A woman is strong enough to break the barriers.

Break the barriers
Shake the mountains
You are enough strong
To give birth to a life
You are enough talented to handle all as a wife
You can change the world
You can make the world
You can beat the man
Don’t shy don’t cry
Stand up and shout
Yes I am a woman
I am proud as a sister
Shelter as a mother
Bless as a daughter
Supporter as a life partner
And change the world as a leader
Because I am a woman
I can break the barriers
I can shake the mountains.

(A poem by Nida Nida)

Nida Paras is working on the youth issues in Pakistan and is office bearer of Progressive Youth Forum, she can be reached at;

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Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-145-2013
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Judicial system, Right to education, Rule of law, Violence against women, Women's rights,