PAKISTAN: World’s third most dangerous country for women

A statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Gender based violence continues to show an upward trend in Pakistan, which has been ranked as the third most dangerous country for women by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll. The past four years, with the formation of civil governments, have seen the promulgation of many laws against gender based violence such as honour killings, acid attacks, sexual harassment, as well as property rights of women and exemplary punishments for rapists, women traffickers and perpetrators of domestic violence. The country’s ancient criminal justice system and corrupt, gender biased, and incapable judiciary, particularly at the lower level however, have dismally failed to address or deter violence against women. In fact, Pakistan’s judiciary does not see violence against women to be of great importance, leaving the brunt of the proof of violence/sexual abuse on the victims.

While these laws remain unimplemented, women in the country are facing spectacularly high rates of discrimination and multiple forms of violence, including honor killings, rape, acid throwing, forced conversion to Islam, forced marriages, restriction of freedom of movement, custodial torture, trafficking, domestic violence, dowry violence, abduction, forced prostitution, and enforced disappearances.

Despite the April 2004 decision of the Sindh High Court that clearly ruled all jirgas as illegal and exhorted law enforcement agencies to take effective action against them, Pakistan’s jirgas continue to lead the country in feudal practices contrary to legal and human rights principles. The practice of honour killings for instance, is an atrocious form of violence against women that is committed almost daily within the country. While the jirgas allow and support this practice, it has been almost impossible to take effective legal action against the perpetrators. In a tribal court, witnesses and hearsay are the main forms of evidence and a verdict often rests on the reputation or power of a witness. Women are considered sexually corrupt, and their testimonies are never given any weight. In fact, women are not allowed to participate in jirga proceedings. During a session spectators tend to gather, pick a side and heckle, putting pressure on the decision makers.

Islamic laws such as Diyyat and Qisas also provide strong support to the rapists, killers and abusers of women. Under Islamic law, Diyyat allows for financial compensation to be paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in the cases of murder, bodily harm or property damage. In this way, perpetrators are granted impunity. Diyyat is an alternative punishment to Qisas (equal retaliation). Muslim women victims have typically been compensated at half the rate as Muslim male victims, while non-Muslim compensation rates have varied between 1/16th to half of a Muslim.

Honor killing and gender based violence has increased by 15 percent according to statistics from the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan The police are often unwilling to enforce the law due to the overwhelming social acceptance of the act and the influence of power holders. The 1997 Retribution and Compensation Act allows a victim’s legal heir to close a case at any point in the court, take monetary compensation for the honor killing and pardon the accused. Removing the possibility of compromise, waiver, and compensation between the victim’s family and the perpetrator would make the law more stringent; legally settling the case with a jirga gives the offender a clean chit to perpetuate violence. The state should be empowered to register such cases in court, not the victims’ families.

Such ‘cultural, tribal and religious practices harmful to women, including acid attacks, child and forced marriage and punishment or retribution by stoning or other physical abuse’, was cited by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Poll as the reason for Pakistan’s ranking as the third most dangerous country to women, after Afghanistan and Congo. The report also stated that 90 percent of women in Pakistan face domestic violence. The Sindh provincial police registered 1,261 cases of kidnapping of women for forced marriages in 2014. There were 114 cases of acid attacks in Pakistan, involving 159 victims. While the proposed Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2014 aims to curb and criminalize the act, but to be truly effective it also needs to be combined with legislation that imposes strict controls and checks on the sale and distribution of acid.

The murder of 25-year-old Ms. Farzana Iqbal, three months pregnant, on 27 May 2014 by her angry family members is a classic example of how patriarchy has engulfed the collective psyche of the entire nation (see On a busy street outside the Lahore High Court, Farzana was bludgeoned to death with bricks, as she was marrying a man without her family’s consent. Farzana had arrived at the Court to defend her husband Mohammed on charges of her abduction brought by her family. The police witnesses reportedly did nothing to stop the savage beating. The case sparked an international outrage, and in November 2014, the Lahore High Court pronounced the death penalty for the four accused indicted in her honor killing.

Although her father was not involved in her stoning, he surrendered himself to the police and confessed that he was involved. The purpose was intentional; after being tried in court, he would compromise with his sons to settle the issue under Diyyat. Exposing his intentions, civil society and the media forced the police and government to prosecute them. 

Another such case is that of a police officer orchestrating the killing of his daughter, Arifa Babbur, 21, in the name of honour for economic gain through a jirga. The murder was facilitated by three brothers: one is in charge of a police station, the second is a notorious criminal wanted in several cases of murder, rape, and robbery, and the third is the father-in-law of the victim. Before her murder, while in illegal detention, Arifa telephoned a human rights activist, telling her that she is set to be murdered any time today. A total of 30 bullets were fired, 22 of which hit Arifa’s body, while the rest hit the walls of the room where she was detained for five days.

The police from two districts have tried to deny the incident but with the intervention of rights activists and ranking police officers, the conspiracy has unraveled. The father and other murderers had planned to implicate a university student for having an illicit relationship with his daughter, so that they can get property, cash and a minor girl in compensation from the student’s family through a Jirga.

A session court’s judge has disassociated himself from the case after receiving threats inside the court. A Sindh High Court bench has granted protective bail to the father of the murdered woman in the month of July, which still continues to apply illegally (see

The Constitution of Pakistan guarantees women equal rights and status, but customs and social norms dictate otherwise. Under Articles 25, 34 and 35 the Constitution guarantees women of Pakistan that their rights will be protected, but the state remains a silent spectator when a woman is brutally murdered on the pretext of honor. The general attitude of “Zan, Zar, Zameen” (woman, money and land) as the source of all evil”, reflects an utter disregard for women and her commoditization.

The recent 18th amendment to the Constitution has granted greater autonomy to the provinces in matters related to the advancement of women. As with other social sectors in Pakistan however, the perennial problem of policy implementation has also plagued this sector. Without implementation, laws such as Muslim family Laws Ordinance (MFLO) of 1961, Dowry and Bridal Gifts Restriction Act, 1976, Protection of Women Act (2006), Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace, Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection), Act 2012 do little to improve the status of women.

Pakistan’s women continue to suffer the effect of customs and practices that deem women as chattel or property to be treated as their owner wishes. The state must play an active role in implementing laws to ensure that women in Pakistan are able to lead a dignified and empowered life that is the basic fundamental right of every human being. To begin, the Government of Pakistan must take immediate and effective steps to implement the 2004 decision of the Sindh High Court eliminating jirgas. Without these measures, Pakistan will continue to be dangerous for its women, allowing them neither justice nor basic rights.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-186-2015
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Democracy, Judicial system, Legislation, Sexual violence, Violence against women, Women's rights,