By Afsheen Jahan
The real failure of the Pakistani society is not in its failure to counter terrorists, provide basic necessities for its citizens, become an inclusive society as its founding fathers had envisioned but in the colossal failure to save women, almost half of its population (48 per cent), from untold amount of violence and discrimination, even before they are born into the world.
For most women in Pakistan, being a Muslim and a patriot, offer no respite from honour killings, torture, rape, discrimination and violence. For those who are not Muslims, life is even more hell.
Statistics tell only half the story but even then, it is horrifying. Every second woman in Pakistan is a victim of violence. Most of this violence takes place at home. More than 70% women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime by partners and 93% women experience some form of sexual violence in public places in their lifetime. More than a thousand women fall to “honour “ killings. The number of young girls falling victim to rapists and killers have risen in the recent past. Female infanticide, even in modern cities like Karachi, is on the rise.
The latest report of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission summed up the grim situation thus: “Pakistan observed its 70 anniversary in 2017, with the women and girls of Pakistan left wondering how many more decades it would take before they were treated as equal citizens, as envisaged above in Article 25 and others of the Constitution.“ Stating that violence against women and girls remained `pervasive and intractable in 2017`, the report highlighted the society’s deep-rooted proclivity to violate women in unspeakable manners. For instance, the report pointed out the prevalence of jirgas and panchayats where “women and girls are seen to disproportionately bear the brunt of the unjust, cruel, barbaric, and very often inhuman verdicts…This is especially true in cases of ‘badal-e-sulah’ (giving away of little girls and young women in compensation for blood feuds among men), ‘honour’ killings, and land disputes, among others.“ In one of its recent reports, The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, expressed its deep concern about “ the persistence, among others, of child and forced marriages, “karo-kari”, stove burning and acid throwing, marriage to the Koran, polygamy and honour killing.“
Howsoever startling statistics be, the reality is far more grave. The human rights commission rightly commented that the figures mentioned by the government and various national and international NGOs were at best merely the tip of the iceberg. Stark reality of female infanticide is one issue which rarely gets the media and public attention it deserves; perhaps both the media and the public are guilty of complicity in many ways in this gruesome act of violence against a girl child who is not yet born. The English newspaper, Express Tribune, recently carried an edit on the issue of female infanticide in Karachi. “ Yet in this day and age, we find instances of female babies being asphyxiated and buried at the will of parents. The age of barbarism has perhaps descended upon us again.“ The edit pointed out that in the four months of this year alone, in Karachi, the well-known NGO, Edhi Foundation, buried 72 bodies of female babies discovered in garbage cans and other places. This is only the first of the barbaric acts a woman in Pakistan has to face. Rest of her lives, if she survives, is full of mine pits even more gruesome. Violence against girls is no less horrific. The incidents of rape of girls have been reported from different corners of Pakistan in the recent times. In 2017, a total 3445 child abuse cases were reported in newspapers from all four provinces including Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit Baltistan (GB), and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In a day more than nine children were abused during the year. The major crime categories of the reported cases are, abduction 1039, missing children 517, rape 467, sodomy 366, attempt of rape 206, gang sodomy 180, gang rape 158 and 109 cases of child marriages. Of these, 60 per cent of the victims were girls, rest were boys. What makes these crimes against girls more gruesome is that majority of the abusers are acquaintances or family members. A database of abuses, Cruel Numbers, showed that in the last seven years 78 out of 100 times, the abusers were acquaintances, five were immediate family members and only 17 were strangers.
For the girls of minority communities, the trouble is even more severe. They have to cope up with the perpetual danger of being kidnapped, raped and forced into marriage by Muslim men. The number of such incidents have risen in the recent times with the state often complicit in the crime by not registering a criminal complaint against the accused, failure to prosecute and general apathy towards the suffering minority community. According to a report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace, an NGO in Pakistan, at least 1,000 girlsfrom Christian and Hindu communities were forced to marry Muslim men every year. The state is also guilty, as much as the accused, of not pushing in legislation to ensure justice to the victims. A few years ago, the Sindh government made a move to deter enforced conversion of local Hindu girls but the bill never saw the light of the day. In other provinces, similar attempts have also met the same fate. The principle reason for this failure was the strident opposition from religious groups and their political patrons.
The honour killings have been so many every year that it no longer shocks anyone; in most cases it is not even reported in the media and hence are not documented by any state or non-governmental agency. Other forms of violence like bride burning, acid attacks and community-ordered rapes rarely get any attention in the media or from the civil society.
The well-known English magazine, Herald, summed up the status of women in these words: “Burdened by poverty, ignorance, the bondage of a repressive system and now, the aggressive onslaught of born-again fundamentalism, the Pakistani woman bears a heavy cross. What hope does she have of breathing through to a new order?
(The author is socio critic and normally writes on plight of women all over the world.)