In the past few decades, the role of women in our society has been drastically changed. Women can be fighter-jet pilots, educationists, customer services heads, company executives, admin heads, banking, HR and telecom sector leaders. Women are making a tremendous contribution in all areas. Men are no longer considered as the only breadwinner of the house; women are now also financially supporting their families. Though the number of working women is increasing day by day, there are still many barriers that they have to cross to prove themselves in the job market.
Women workers face challenges in the workplace such as – gender based discrimination, harassment, domestic restrictions, work and family issues and unequal pay.
Women in general have less opportunities for quality education resulting in a lack of knowledge regarding technological advancement. Men as well as women from less wealthy backgrounds are victim to a poorer quality of life with insufficient opportunities and exploitative conditions. The status of women can be elevated only through the overall progress and development of society. In some cases, however, women are the only or main victims. Better governance, the proper implementation of laws and policies and a balanced progress in all sections and areas of society would reduce the problems faced by all members of society, especially women.
For women and girls to fully participate in their communities and enjoy their rights, they need protection from gender-based discrimination, a life with the opportunity to be educated, to work in safe, secure jobs with adequate and equal pay, proper health care and the freedom to participate in all aspects of public life. However, women are frequently subjected to gender norms that limit their opportunities, defining them as mothers, caregivers, or homemakers.
All women deserve these things yet in every country in the world, women and girls live within the confines of rigid gender norms, frequently resulting in inadequate access to essential services and major violations of their human rights. Women have the right to live without fear of violence, to access affordable, quality education and health care, to hold any job they wish and to lift their families out of poverty. The status of women in Pakistani society is not homogenous, there is great diversity across various classes, regions and areas (rural/urban), due to the different socio-economic construct of each distinct section of society.
National policies, as well as social construct, do not help women to play their due role in the society; investment in developing their human capital is lower, and the economic and cultural aspects of social life are not adjusted to their needs and requirements.
In the health sector, there is a lack of basic facilities in all areas and regions, for the whole population in general, but women and children in the rural areas suffer the most. Inadequate community outreach and the remoteness of health services centres add to the problems caused by lack of proper care and non-availability of qualified medical staff. Unhygienic environments, widespread poverty and the insufficiency of clean drinking water are among the main reasons for poor health and a high death rate. The lack of awareness in general further aggravates the already pitiable situation.
Similarly, the availability of educational facilities and their poor standard is far from adequate. The educational infrastructure is unsatisfactory and social conduct, traditions and perceptions are not always in favour of female education. Poverty is yet another reason for low enrolment figures and a high dropout rate, especially among female students. The misconception about the purpose of education, as being a tool for earning, adds another dimension to the problem and since females are not expected to work as the main wage-earner, parents feel less motivated to provide them with facilities for higher education.
Living free from the fear of violence is a human right, yet millions of women and girls suffer disproportionately from violence both in peace and in war, at the hands of the state, in the home and in the community; across the globe, women are beaten, raped, mutilated and killed with seeming impunity.
Gender-based violence stems from the failure of governments and societies to recognise and practice the human rights of women. It is rooted in a global culture of discrimination which denies women equal rights with men and which legitimises the appropriation of women’s bodies for individual gratification or political ends. Every day, all over the world, women face gender-specific persecution including genital mutilation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution and domestic violence. At least one out of every three women worldwide has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.
The South Asian subcontinent is the least gender sensitive region in the world. It is the only region in the world where men outnumber women; the ratio is 105.7 men to every 100 women. In Pakistan, women are not only subjected to financial discrimination, but they are also victims of inhuman customs and laws such as Karo Kari, Hadood Ordinance, Qasas and marriage according to the Quran and half witnesses according to the state law (whereby in court a female witness is only worth half a male witness). The Islamic Penal Law, Hadood Ordinance, repealed the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code relating to rape cases, in 1979. The Islamic Law of evidence applicable to cases of rape requires the evidence of four adult male Muslims, in order for the penalty of Hadood to be imposed upon the accused. Being a half witness by law, the raped woman can’t even testify against the crime committed against her. According to these laws, testimony of the victim requires strong corroboration for conviction by the court. On the other hand, where sexual intercourse is established but the absence of consent cannot be proved, the presumption that such intercourse occurred with the woman’s consent can place her at the risk of prosecution. In cases of adultery or rape, a woman is kept in jail pending the ruling of the court. 52% of women languishing in the jails of Pakistan are awaiting their fate in these cases. In the case of a woman marrying without the consent of her family, the marriage can be declared invalid and the couple would then be accused of the offence of zina (adultery).
Many of the cases of Karo Kari are related to love marriages. Recently a woman with her little child of five months, husband and four other members of her in-laws, were killed because she had committed the crime of marrying for love. Most of the women in Pakistan are not allowed to marry a person of their choice and there are hundreds of such murders that go unregistered. If we go to the root cause of these honour killings we see that they are linked to questions of land, water, money and property. But again, only the women of the poor classes are victims of this inhuman custom of Karo Kari. This custom is seldom implemented against rich women.
A woman’s right to liberty is restricted in the name of modesty, protection and prevention of immoral activity. In rural areas 90% of women work in the fields. They work for the whole day with their male family members, but they still have to face their wrath. Male family members keep a strict eye on the female family members in the name of “honour”. But one must understand the meaning of honour; in our society honour does not have the meaning of its true sense. Here it really means possession of women as a form of property. Not only are the restrictions of women’s liberty maintained in the name of this honour (ghairat) but they also can be put to death if they lose their “honour”.
Karo Kari is the form of honour killings. Last year 386 women were murdered in the name of honour by the male family members (and these are only the registered cases). In the village of Lucky Marwat last week there was a case of Karo Kari, the motive being that the murderer wanted to marry a married woman. He killed the husband of that woman and his own innocent sister yet he was released from jail after a few months. Many of the cases of Karo Kari are related to love marriages. Recently a woman with her little child of five months, husband and four other members of her in-laws, were killed because she had committed the crime of marrying for love. Most of the women in Pakistan are not allowed to marry a person of their choice and there are hundreds of such murders that go unregistered. If we go to the root cause of these honour killings we see that they are linked to questions of land, water, money and property. But again, only the women of the poor classes are victims of this inhuman custom of Karo Kari. This custom is seldom implemented against rich women.
In the Punjab, brothers, fathers and husbands subject 82% of women to domestic violence. The incidence of wife-battering is so common that it is not even recognized as a pernicious form of violence against women. Even in the cases where women receive serious injuries and want to file complaints, they are advised by the police to reconcile with their husbands, as any matrimonial dispute would bring dishonour to them.
States have the obligation to prevent, protect against, and punish violence against women whether perpetrated by private or public actors. States have a responsibility to uphold standards of due diligence and take steps to fulfil their responsibility to protect all individuals from human rights abuses yet such violence is often ignored and rarely punished and too often no one is held accountable for these crimes.
With your help, we can hold states and perpetrators responsible and put an end to this cycle of violence against women.
Writer: Dr. Sahar Khattak
The writer hails from Nowshera. She is a medical officer (ophthalmologist) at PIMS, Islamabad.
THE PASHTUN TIMES