Women’s Rights in Pakistan

Women’s right in Pakistan is a prominent issue, but many activists such as the National Plan of Action for Women and the All-Pakistan Women’s Association are working hard towards equality.

    The literacy rate of females in Pakistan is at 39.6 percent compared to that of males at 67.7 percent. The objectives of education policies in Pakistan aim to achieve equality in education between girls and boys and to reduce the gender gap in the educational system. However, the policy also encourages girls, mainly in rural areas of Pakistan, to acquire basic home management skills, which are preferred over full-scale primary education. The attitudes towards women in Pakistani culture make the fight for educational equality more difficult. The lack of democracy and feudal practices of Pakistan also contribute to the gender gap in the educational system. This feudal system leaves the underpowered, women in particular, in a very vulnerable position. The long-lived socio-cultural belief that women play a reproductive role within the confines of the home leads to the belief that educating women holds no value.

    Women in elite urban districts of Pakistan enjoy a far more privileged lifestyle than those living in rural tribal areas. Women in urbanized districts typically lead more elite lifestyles and have more opportunities for education. Rural and tribal areas of Pakistan have an increasingly high rate of poverty and alarmingly low literacy rates. In 2002 it was recorded that 81.5 percent of 15-19 year old girls from high-income families had attended school while 22.3 percent of girls from low-income families had ever attended school. In comparison, it was recorded that 96.6 percent of Pakistani boys ages 15–19 coming from high-income families had attended schooling while 66.1 percent of 15-19 year old boys from low-income families had attended school. Girls living in rural areas are encouraged not to go to school because they are needed in the home to do work at a young age. In most rural villages, secondary schooling simply does not exist for girls, leaving them no choice but to prepare for marriage and do household tasks. These rural areas often have inadequate funding and schooling for girls is at the bottom of their priorities.

In 2008, it was recorded that 21.8 percent of females were participating in the labor force in Pakistan while 82.7 percent of men were involved in labor. The rate of women in the labor force has an annual growth rate of 6.5 percent. Out of the 47 million employed peoples in Pakistan in 2008, only 9 million were women and of those 9 million, 70 percent worked in the agricultural sector. The income of Pakistani women in the labor force is generally lower than that of men, due in part to a lack of formal education.

Karo-kari is part of the cultural tradition in Pakistan and means “black male” (Karo) and “black female (Kari), standing for adulterer and adulteress. Once labeled as a Kari, male family members get the self-authorized justification to kill her and the co-accused Karo, ‘to restore family honor’. In Pakistan’s rural areas, male tribal councils (Jirgas) decide the fate of women who bring dishonor to their family. This centuries old custom for dealing with women is protected by powerful feudal landlords and tribal elders. In 2009, 472 cases of honour killings were reported – 91 in Punjab; 220 in Sindh; 32 in NWFP; 127 in Balochistan; 2 in Islamabad. Tragically, only in the rarest cases are the perpetrators brought to justice.

Undocumented and unreported killings in the name of honour are often bolstered by governmental indifference, discriminatory laws and negligence on the part of Pakistan’s police force and judiciary.

    Vicious incidents of acid attacks on women in Pakistan have been a cause of great concern and recent data shows that this heartless crime against women is reaching an all-time high in the country, where little help is found for acid victims from the law enforcing entities. The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) Pakistan recorded 48 cases of acid attacks in 2009. This is up from about 33 cases in 2007. 2010 does not seem to be any better for disfiguring women by acid attack.

These cases are only tip of the iceberg because many cases are unreported in Pakistan because of social stigma or desperate fear. In many such attacks the culprit is either a husband or other close relative such as brother or father, prompted by male egoistic sense of “protecting honour”, to throw acid on their women who they suspect either dishonoured the family by any of their action or just make these women victim of abysmal treatment. Though such acts of violence are banned in Pakistan no practical implementation has been seen so far. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2010 tabled in the National Assembly on January 26, 2010 seeks to establish control mechanisms over the production, sale and distribution of acids, besides seeking increase in criminal sentences for the perpetrators of such crimes. But the lax implementation of such laws is a worrisome aspect for the victims and human rights groups that are struggling for the justice.

    The Highest Increase in the Number of Reported Cases i.e. from 280 in 2008 to 608 in 2009 was in Domestic Violence. It is a cause for concern that a nation of over 90 million women and girls, does not have a domestic violence law. Different forms of domestic violence include beating, torture, disfigurement, burning, shaving and murder. In-laws abuse and harass married women. Dowry and family-related disputes often result in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.

    According to a 2008 HRCP report, 80 percent of wives in rural Punjab feared violence from their husbands, and nearly 50 percent of wives in developed urban areas admitted that their husbands beat them. The HRCP reported 52 cases of women doused with kerosene and set afire. Women who tried to report abuse faced serious challenges. Police and judges were reluctant to take action in domestic violence cases, viewing them as family problems. Police, instead of filing charges, usually responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile. Abused women usually were returned to their abusive family members. Women are reluctant to pursue charges because of the stigma attached to divorce and their economic and psychological dependence on relatives. Relatives are hesitant to report abuse for fear of dishonoring the family.