Archive for March 15, 2011

We oppose laws that discriminate

Ali Palh

One of my Japanese friends asked me how I would grade Pakistan on its efforts for women’s empowerment and rights’ protection. I responded ‘poor score.’ On March 8, 2011, United States’ Department of State honored Ghulam Sughra, a Pakistani a woman with 2011 Women of Courage Awards in recognition of her efforts for human rights and social justice.

We could not properly finish celebration of Ghulam Sughra’s achievement, as one of our member of parliament from provincial assembly proposed an idea to create a committee to stop the “mental torture” of men by women. This must have shocked the outside world but not to a Pakistani including me who are used to hearing such statements from our male law makers frequently. In 2008, one of our law makers also defended a decision of burying five women alive in Pakistan who wanted to exercise their right to marriage of their choice. Three of them were teenager, aged between 16 and 18, kidnapped by a group of men and murdered in Bab Kot, a remote village of Jafferabad district. Reports alleged that these women were still breathing as mud was shoveled over their bodies.

Israr Ullah Zehri defended the perpetrators and stated that these are centuries old traditions, and he will continue to defend them.” Is this not enough to show us how our parliamentarians, the government and state see a woman? Whether there is government (military or civilian) women’s participation in decision making is negligible. In military, commanders make decisions while in civilian, a group of men dominates both the decision making bodies and the process. Few women are taken in cabinets or in parliaments to try to show the world that now in Pakistan women have been empowered. However, the situation of women rights and their progress on the ground, in reality, is still same. “Situation was much better when Benazir Bhutto was alive. We were asked to be the part of every decision and policy making but now nobody pays heed to what we say. After Benazir Bhutto’s assassination we have become orphan and our security level has further decreased. She was one of us women, she understood our protection needs and issues but now all decisions are made by our male colleagues,” a women party leader from PPP, the ruling party stated.

We Want Education

In the male dominated political set up of Pakistan, after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, there were still a few women who were part of the decision making process of the current government.However, they were sidelined or removed from their positions because they declined to submit to the behaviors set out by their male colleagues who dominated both the decision making body and the process.

Sherry Rahman, was sworn in as Pakistan’s Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting on March 31, 2008; but unfortunately in period of just one year, she was asked to resigne from her office. The reason was not her capability or efficiency of handling the ministry but issue was her confidence with which she dissented with her male colleagues and opposed their decisions. Before joining politics, Sherry accomplished her career in journalism and remained editor of the Herald, a reputed Karachi based monthly.

In Sindh, the same thing happened to Shazia Mari, who was minister of information from April 2008 to January 2010; she was abruptly removed from the office apparently for not giving advertisements to selected media groups. In reality, the reason for her removal from information ministry was her popularity both among the masses and media. She was becoming more popular than the Chief Minister of Sindh. How can a man, especially when he is highest official of the province tolerate that a woman, his junior in politics and rank, excel him in politics. These examples are enough to prove how sincere male dominated governments are in the real empowerment of women in Pakistan.

These are the cases which have been reported through the efforts of civil society and NGOs. There is a huge number of incidents happening in excluded, remote and inaccessible part of the country which go unreported. In addition, social pressure, police obstruction and many other social and cultural factors discourage victims to file complaints of abuse and violations. Honor killing which is called ‘Karo Kari’ has also become ‘Karo Bari’ meaning ‘Business’ in Pakistan. Sources of earning for both those who kill women and those who resolve disputes can result from the honor killing incidents. Let me dwell a moment on it and explain how honor killing is becoming business in some parts of the country.

In many cases, relatives (brother, father, uncle) of a woman accused someone who posses land holding for having illicit relations with the female of their family or tribe and then kill their woman for bringing bad name for the family and tribe and demand money from the parents/relatives of accused man. Second aspect which promotes killing of women in the name of honor is the money accrues from fines when such cases are decided by tribal jirgas (councils). One journalist friend from northern Sindh shared that kitchen of Sardars are being run by the money earned from the Karo Kari cases. In this situation, the laws of the country and other institutions have failed to provide adequate protection to women against honor killing and other methods of torture including throwing acids and cutting noses and ears of woman declared Kari (woman of loose morals).

I asked one of my friends, who is a CSP (commissioned officer) police officer and is deemed a very honest official in Sindh, about the lack of enforcement of law. He shared that, “the government always transfer us or send them to difficult areas as punishment if we try to enforce law in these areas or take any action for prevention of human rights violations or crimes. These Sardars and waderas (land lords) are very influential. They are the one who are sitting in parliament and holding other important positions in the country. The moment we start investigation, we get transferred and sent to difficult places for service as punishment.”

Apart from the weak enforcement of law, the nature of most Pakistani laws is also discriminatory. These laws discriminate against women. “Zina laws place Pakistani women in an unfair and disadvantage and inferior position, often at the mercy of men to prove their innocence,” a woman lawyer shared.

Given above statements of Member of Parliament reported in media, we should not expect much protection of women rights from law makers and laws made by them.

 Disaster and Pakistani Women

Disaster and conflicts both affect women more than men. The earthquake in 2005 and later floods in 2010 worst hit women in Pakistan. They further lowered their security and expose them to different threats. Women faced not only physical but cultural challenges in such situation. From health to education, food to security women suffered the most in everywhere. Men had options to take shower outside, walk a bit and find shelter and food but women didn’t have these options. In addition, purdah (wearing veil) and other challenges like not mixing with strangers in IDP camps are the biggest challenge of Pakistani women during these disaster. UNICEF recently reported that malnutrition in Sindh province among children is acute. According to the report hundreds of thousands of children are at risk. If we see this from a gender lens, will show female babies are more seriously affected than male babies due to lower standard of women in the society. Societies like Pakistan where boys receive more food and medical care than girls, the security, development and progress of women are always at risk. 

My Rights

International legal Commitments and Pakistan’s Record

Pakistan is party to all the main international conventions that can potentially protect human rights of women: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), International Convention on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention against Torture (CAT) under which Pakistan is legally obliged to take adequate steps for the fulfillment, promotion and protection of human rights.

Being a party to CEDAW, a specific convention dealing with women rights; it is Pakistan’s duty to take measure to eliminate discrimination against women in fields of marriage, family, jobs and other spheres of life. Article 16 of the Convention specifically obliges the State of Pakistan to end discrimination, allocate resources and make policies for the advancement of women in the society. The current scenario of women rights in Pakistan shows that Pakistan has not complied with its legal obligation and commitments it has made with the international community.

Pakistan has taken a few steps for the protection and development of women as its obligation under CEDAW through legal reforms aimed at eliminating discrimination against women and promoting gender equality. These include an amendment in the Constitution under the Legal Framework of Order to increase the women’s political participation and the adoption of the Criminal Law Amendment Act for the prosecution of “honor killing”, and amendment in some hudood ordinances. These steps have not shown any result on the ground. These steps have failed to bring any improvement in the condition of an ordinary woman in Pakistan.

Most of the time, Government officials and our elected representatives, here in our country, Geneva and other international forums use Islam as an excuse for the implementation of these laws. They forget that Indonesia is also a Muslim country with a larger Muslim population than any other country in the world, home of 202.9 Muslims. But the same laws and international conventions are being enforced effectively. In Indonesia, enforcement of 2004 Law on Domestic Violence and other laws which guarantee women’s protection, security, gender equality and empowerment have shown very positive result. If Indonesia, one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, can implement these laws and achieve progress why not Pakistan? 

It is not that Islam that is hindrance in the achievement of women’s rights. It has given equal rights to both men and women. Its society and we men have done that.

I want to ask a question to the whole Pakistani society and Pakistanis living abroad: why do we not recognize the hard, unpaid labor and leadership qualities of our women until it is recognized by someone from outside? I am really thankful to the US Department of State who identified and recognized a Pakistani woman’s work on human rights and social justice in remote area of Khairpur where Sughra was serving local people for more than a decade.  

Zahida Kazmi- Taxi drive Taxi in Pakistan

We in Pakistan need to be sincere in our country. The first step we should take is to implement all laws to protect and empower women, repeal all laws that discriminate against them, and formulate all government policies sensitive to gender and promote equality in the society. If we really want serious implementation of laws to protect and support women, we should empower female law makers and bring more women into the judiciary and bureaucracy. Until we achieve equal representation of women in all departments and institutions, we must identify honest, sincere and gender sensitive police officers and deploy them in tribal and feudal areas to prevent crime against women and create space for them in Pakistan. This will help women grow and advance without fear and insecurity and encourage them to participate in the development of the country.

Currently, I have seen that there is ray of hope, which is not result of government’s efforts but result of the Women Rights Movement in Pakistan which itself has created awareness among women and have succeeded educating men who have started supporting their women in education and other fields. This kind of environment is giving us strong hope that now chains of slavery, chain of fear, chain of lack of confidence are being broken across the country. Zahida Kazmi is one such example of a woman who decided to take her destiny in her hand and became a taxi sriver. In 1992 at the age of 33, newly widowed Zahida Kazmi decided to be the pilot of her own ship and bought a taxi to drive. (BBC Story available for more details:

Women in Pakistan have Started Riding Motor Bikes

Other Zahida Kazmis are following her foot prints and have made the decision that rights are not something women should ask someone for. Rights are not something they should get from someone. Rights are their entitlements: legal, legitimate and moral entitlements, they just claim them, stand for them and protect them.