Aurat March began in Pakistan last year to observe International Women’s Day with the purpose of expressing solidarity with women. With the rise of feminism wave in recent years, many organizations have voiced about women rights and empowerment. It is a much-needed voice.
The March of this year grabbed my attention and I observed many pictures from Karachi and Lahore with women holding banners, posters, and placards. Yes, there were some important messages about honor killing, domestic violence, and individual freedom. But much to my surprise, most of the messages looked like a crusade against men. Although a few were exceptional and spot on, but I think the participants of the march missed the chance to raise the country’s many critical issues related to women. Some of the issues or events which the women should have raised and notified to the government.
There is every possibility that the issues below have been raised by a few but not many and can be voiced the next time such event is organized. Therefore, I am raising a few issues which deserved to reach the advertisement boards and I felt were more important issues than cooking together or finding socks:
01. MINORITY RIGHTS UNDER HUDOOD ORDINANCE
This has been a subject of controversy over the years about Hudood Ordinances (HO) which criminalizes rape and extramarital sex. The HOs which were enacted back in 1979 as the part of General Zia Ul Haq‘s Islamisation process is applied on both Muslims and non-Muslims in Pakistan. These ordinances are of two types; one is Hadd (punishment under Islamic Law) and the other is Tazir (punishment decided at the discretion of the judge or ruler of the state).
But the problem of this never amended 1979 HO law is that it is unilateral towards Muslims and discriminative towards the minorities. The Muslim man will not be convicted under the HO if he rapes a non-Muslim woman.
Under clause 8 of the Chapter of Zina under HO (VII OF 1979), the proof of Zina or Zina-bil-jabr is liable to Hadd only if at least four MUSLIM witnesses are produced to the case. The court is satisfied only when the requirement of Tazkiyah-al-shuhood (TS) is on the table. TS simply means that the witnesses are truthful persons and abstain from major sins. While applying TS, the law indirectly considers the non-Muslims as witnesses untruthful and unreliable.
Due to this reason, the non-Muslim women are not able to register their statement and has to visit the magistrate under section 21. The worst possible damage for a non-Muslim woman getting raped is her pregnancy. The DNA tests will decide if the illicit child is of the rapist. Only then there is a possibility of her getting justice which is by then exhausting and humiliating if she really survived to that day.
In the first place, HO introduced ambiguity into the law by recognizing rape with fornication/adultery in the same frame which is exquisitely horrible. Fornication or adultery is a ‘voluntary’ sexual intercourse between the two but rape is when the one indulges by forcing the other. Former is sin by religion, the latter is a crime by law.
Imagine how many non-Muslims are imprisoned due to the confusion and mess created by these laws. We do speak of minority rights but what about those who are jailed for wrong reasons?
02. LOW PAY SCALE OF SPORTSWOMEN THAN SPORTSMAN
I am not aware of the other sports but let’s not expect any good about women earning some respectable amount as compared to men in any sports because the situation in this matter is worst in cricket.
Among the 4 categories, the players under the top category which is A were to get Rs. 800,000/month. This followed by players under category B, C, and D to get Rs. 500,000, Rs. 350,000 and Rs.200,000 a month respectively.
Four months prior, when PCB announced a central contract for 21 women, the board was paying an extremely small amount. As compared to men under A category paid Rs.800k, the women were paid only Rs.100k. Yes, eight times less!
The same case with the women under B, C and D categories were paid only Rs.80k, Rs.60k and Rs.40k a month.
I am not saying that the women should demand equivalent to the amount men are paid in Pakistan cricket. I understand the global marketing, advertising, organizing tours and fixtures, ticket sales fetch more of the board’s budget in men’s cricket than women’s. But paying eight times lesser to women is not justice at all.
Not many families can afford their daughters to step out and play the sports they love as they have to tackle many domestic and social issues. Coming from tough and difficult background stories, physical fitness and health is a huge focus for these sportswomen and I don’t think that most of the sports will facilitate them enough. Maybe cricket in Pakistan but the figures in the contracts above are discouraging.
The central contracts for women were announced a few months ago without mentioning the amount in figures. But what change will there be? And this is cricket I am talking about. You decide yourself what women are paid in the other sports.
03. WORKFORCE AND PAY GAP
As per the new Global Gender Pay Gap (GGPG) released by the World Economic Forum in December 2018, it will take 202 years to close the gap or in other words, men and women will earn the same figure of money in any given position across the globe after 200 years have crossed. This has improved from the 2017 report which predicted 217 years. Furthermore, women today are paid 63% of what men earn.
149 countries were ranked in this report. Iceland topped the list with women there earning 85% of what men earn. And guess where Pakistan ended up. They were 148th and above Yemen. Women in Pakistan are earning only 55% of what men earn. Yes, it indeed is embarrassing that the poorest countries in the world like Chad ($919 per person a year) and Mali ($917 per person a year) have a better ranking (145 and 143 respectively) than Pakistan. This disappointing percentage of Pakistan has increased by only 1% since the 2006 report.
The most disappointing factor is that Pakistan is consistently the second-lowest in GGPG for the past five years. So no step has been taken to escalate the rank in the last few years.
According to a 2012 conducted study in the agricultural sector, female workers were earning only 170 rupees a day as compared to male workers earning 300 rupees a day. The women earned 32% in skilled agriculture which was less than half of men (67%).
Pakistan, which is still amongst at least 60 countries with fewer women population than men, constitutes only 24% of the female labor force which is three times lesser than men labor force (82.7%).
04. RIGHTS FOR LESBIANS
(Here I will try to focus only on the lesbians out of LGBTs to stick on the points I am raising in this blog to a certain length)
With the awareness of globalization and increase in liberalization, one cannot ignore the rights of people from a different sexual orientation. Finally, after decades, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled in favor of civil rights for the transgender citizens in 2009. And last year, the country’s parliament passed the Transgender Persons Act 2017 which established protection for transgender people.
Which indicates that there is hope for the homosexual community to get civil rights just like the transgender citizens. Because so far, the same-sex marriages are not permitted and the matter is not generally brought in discussion in fear of the moo-law fascism.
The country still strictly prohibits homosexuality. Forget about the rights of the lesbians, it is considered a crime by law and anyone involved in the carnal intercourse with the same gender are to be punished for at least two years and maximum ten years with a fine according to the article 377 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC).
It is quite weird to realize that PPC is actually inherited and renamed from the Indian Penal Code, an Anglo-Saxon law written by Lord Macaulay in the colonial era in 1860. Why Pakistan still follows an almost 120-year-old article 377? The amendment was made in A and B of article 377 but the article itself was not amended.
Moving towards the globalization, the country is the least accepting the community of homosexuals and are hostile towards them. Homosexuality is still a taboo subject in Pakistan. There was a spark of controversy when the private news channel broke the news of two Pakistani girls tying the knot in the UK.
So what about the people in such minorities then? Either they live as compromised or settle down to a certain country where LGBT is tolerated to live with freedom. Speaking of which reminds me of a case of a lady from Karachi who moved to the UK because of the tormented years of her beatings and discrimination for her being a lesbian.
As per the 2013 survey report of the Pew Research Center, 87% Pakistanis rejected the recognition of homosexuals in the society. But four years later, ILGA–RIWI mutually conducted a global attitude survey under which 45% Pakistanis agreed that such people should enjoy the rights as straight people.
A very minor percentage of lesbians in Pakistan are not able to stand up for their rights. If the women marching on the streets or sharing support in the social media believes in women rights and freedom, then they should step further and speak about this specific minority. Let them live in peace and others live in their peace.
05. WOMEN IN OLD-AGE HOMES
I think the most haunting imagination of life has to be when you think about getting old. And when I say old, I mean when you cross over 65 or say 70 at least. And what if I add a further misery or a jingle of torture to send you to a center where people of same age live for God knows how long.
It is torture, no? Keeping in mind that you are old and not long enough is the remainder of life to live with a decline in health. And you expect that your young ones will take care of you but they rather prefer to drop you there.
Some actually are okay to end up there because they suffered enough by their own to decide to move there in peace which is also a tragic fate. Enough of haunting? A man in Pakistani society may survive but what about a woman? Her case is more sensitive.
Abdul Sattar Edhi once admitted that the number of old-age homes dramatically increased in Karachi alone which rose from six to ten centers between 2006 and 2010. A few of those centers were sheltering more than 150 people. Do read the stories of the then 67-year-old Fehmeeda and 84-year-old Darakhshan.
Let me clear a very important point here. On a few occasion, their young ones or the relatives are not at fault. Many of the old generations have to move welfare centers because there is no other solution to survive. The pensions at most of the sectors and the companies are not enough to maintain a healthy life. With age comes diseases and the expensive medical bills shape to become a will paper. Should I expect better public toilets especially facilitated for old-age people at all in Pakistan or at least in a few metro cities?
It is the duty of the state or the welfare organizations to raise the bar of building more centers with enough facilities to help them live a better life. At the same time, the women need to voice the awareness of taking the domestic responsibilities of protecting the rights of their old ones especially the women. Imagine the life of people living in rural areas or slums. Those female sweepers, cleaners, maids and servants who spent their life serving the others and stay in their extreme poverty. What are they when they get old? Some measures should be adopted to lead them towards a healthy life above the poverty line before they feel isolated and rejected.
06. VOICE FOR RAPE VICTIMS
Whenever we discuss the rape cases in Pakistan, the first victim who comes in the mind is Mukhtaran Mai, a villager from Meerwala who survived a gang rape ordered by the tribal clan in Muzaffargarh. She broke the headlines in the Pakistan media for some time and even hit the global media including BBC and Time Magazine.
The tragic popularity of Mai has now dimmed with the death of a 7-year-old girl from Kasur, Zainab Ansari, who was raped and murdered last year in January. And there are dozens of rape incidents which became seasonal headlines and disappeared. Many cases didn’t meet justice.
Kainat Soomro was 13 when she was kidnapped and gang-raped for four consecutive days. Her brother was murdered three years later when she voiced for justice. Her father was beaten with iron rods and the local tribunal determined her to be a Kari (the black female who loses the virginity outside marriage). She fought for her right for several more years.
The reason for highlighting a few is to bring awareness to this serious matter which is, unfortunately, happening for decades in this country especially in the rural areas. Can you ever believe that some village councils in Pakistan rules ‘revenge’ rape in some cases?
Most of the rape cases are registered from Punjab province where around 3000 rapes reached the police station in 2017. Almost the similar figures of cases were registered in 2016 too. If I only term crimes against the women instead of saying ‘rape’, 5660 such cases were registered across the country in the first 10 months of 2017.
That year, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa reported the lowest number of crimes by any province in the first half (202 including 72 rape cases). Balochistan had 354 cases in the first 10 months including four rape cases.
Sindh also has terrible stats. In 2016, there were 2817 cases registered about crimes against women which included 165 rapes and 13 gang-rapes. Next year, the new yearly concluded figures increased to 2934 cases out of which 156 were rape cases in Karachi and other parts, and 47 were gang-raped.
According to the 2017 Pakistan Human Rights Report from the US Department of State, the rapes were frequent but the prosecutions were rare. So imagine the fact that will disgust you that the abovementioned figures from the years 2016 and 2017 are only the cases which are registered to the police station. How many of those cases were then investigated? How many of those files were opened? How serious was the police department to eradicate or reduce the crime? When Zainab Ansari was lost and the case was reported to the authorities, they did nothing. In fact, the CCTV video footage was discovered by the family members when no response came from them.
I wonder such negligence has cost how many scores of lives in Pakistan. According to the Aurat Foundation in the same report (page 38), NGOs alleged the police that sometimes they abused or threatened the rape victims and demanded to drop the charges after receiving a bribe from suspected perpetrators. Some police demanded a bribe from the victims to register the case. According to the 2018 Pakistan Human Rights Report from the US Department of State, three Balochistan police officials were arrested for pressuring a rape victim to withdraw her allegations.
Yes, there were voices against the rape in the Aurat March but what about the rape victims? Who demanded justice for any rape victims? I may have missed some placards if there were but still not on a scale the participants of Aurat March should have.
07. PROTECTING WOMEN FROM ACID VIOLENCE
My final point of concern is about the women’s disfigurement by acid throwing mostly attempted by men. According to the Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) of Pakistan, there are up to 150 cases of acid throwing in Pakistan every year due to the domestic abuse. Some other possible reasons can be her ‘inappropriate’ dressing or rejecting the marriage proposal. Imagine, around 150 women in Pakistan are the unfortunate victims of acid attacks with the consequences of possibly permanent skin damage.
Speaking of which reminds me of the case. Almost seven years ago, Alex Rodriguez of Los Angeles Times covered an incident about a gang of four men throwing sulfuric acid on a 10-year-old Zaib Aslam and her mother Parveen Akhtar. One of the four men was recognized to be the ex-fiancé of Parveen’s older daughter.
Naila Farhat was the first prominent name of this century to suffer the acid attack. At 13, Naila was punished by her teacher’s friend for refusing the proposal by throwing acid while coming back from school in 2003. Punishment to the culprit? 12-years imprisonment and 1.2 million fine by the sessions court. So when the culprit appealed in the High Court, he was released with the condition of paying the fine.
Due to Naila’s courage to take the matter to the Supreme Court and the efforts of ASF Pakistan in 2011, the parliament decided to pass the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill on acid violence. But the unfortunate part is that maintaining reliable data about the cases were not taken seriously by the federal and provincial governments and due to the reason, the number of cases is extremely low. Based on the monitoring of the media, 96 cases were recorded in 2012, 67 in 2013, and 84 in 2014.
In 2008, the New York Times covered the story of Shahnaz Bukhari, founder of the Progressive Women’s Association (PWA). This organization came to existence to help the female victims of social and domestic violence. In 1994, the PWA began to work on the acid and burn cases. Through this coverage, Bukhari has claimed that PWA has documented nearly 8000 acid attack cases during the period 1994 to 2008 only in Islamabad area. That is a huge jaw-dropping figure from none other than the capital.
The reason to write about all these acidic references is to emphasize that Pakistan badly suffers this type of violence. Throwing sulfuric acid on the body is a serious degree burn with much certainty of the skin to be never normalized or women not surviving the pain or committing suicide. And throwing for the most ridiculous reasons. Even if there are strong reasons, then this should not be the case. This is death before the real death.
The punishment of the last two points should be severe so that the crime rate drops somehow. Many laws have begun to shape in favor of women but there is still time for swift justice. I cannot imagine what and how most of the women especially in the rural areas have suffered in the 20th century.
In my opinion, the ideal government and nation are which advocates the liberty and religious, social, domestic and economic freedom of a woman. I believe that the woman should enjoy her rights and must be served/facilitated with her just demands.
Abdul Sattar Edhi once said that Humanity is the biggest religion. Indeed it is humanity which all the religions emphasize on by different teachings and principles. There has to be no existing religion which does not focus on the importance and rights of the women.
Concluding my blog with the hope that people in Pakistan understand the significance of the critical issues and raise awareness. Sharing is caring.