Aug 5, 2009

Women rights in Pakistan

bY Yashfeen Zafeer
According to article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. When we talk about human rights and about all humans being equal, it seems that such declarations are only part of the charter of big human right supporting organisations in order to make there product look good and sellable as reality is much different and uglier.

In fact, there are various forms of discriminations on the basis of caste, colour, creed, gender, social class, etc and we find a good number of cases of gender discrimination and cases of acts of violence against women. Article 25 of the Constitution of Pakistan states that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone and that the state shall make provisions for the protection of women.” Despite all these assertions there are still a lot of inhuman traditions that exist and women rights are being violated every day. In the past and even now women are used as bargain commodities to compensate for offences done by their male kinfolk.

If we look at the history, in the Middle Ages Islamic legislation gave enormous rights to women and later on women got more rights in a patriarchal order, as time passed and we reached the point where we are today the Western world seems to have learnt what we initially introduced but have forgotten it. Women generally had more legal rights under Islamic law then they did under any other system. Today it is claimed that women suffer most violence in non-secular states and it’s most prevalent in Islamic cultures and Pakistan unfortunately has a fairly high share in such cases. Have we ever thought about what led us to a point where we have earned ourselves this reputation?

In the past cases have been reported where influential figures were found in support of such irrational cultural traditions (vani, sang chatti) which are used to sway the lives of common illiterate people and that too under the banner of Islam. Why do we forget that Islam categorically forbids all marriages made under any kind of compulsion? Why do we forget that Islam forbids honour killings and all such baseless laws? Pakistan is member to many such organisations where it is stated that consent of individuals is obligatory for the purpose of marriage and is also a signatory of the 1993 UN declaration of elimination of violence against women, which recognises honour killings as violation of international human rights but then again our leaders have lived up to all their past records of making empty promises and giving out meaningless statements with no determination whatsoever. Last year a case of sang chatti was reported where yet another young girl was victimised for a mere piece of land there was not even a single attempt by our authorities to get to the culprits and on top of that one of our senators had the audacity to stand up in the House and say that all these traditions are justified. He was awarded with a ministry in the cabinet for supporting this horrendous act. The psyche behind minor marriages, honour killings and marriage with the Holy Quran is brutally feudal. A woman is considered to be a property of men and is treated like speechless chattel where she is passed on from father to husband and in some cases is even deprived of this and is made to marry the Quran mostly to prevent her from claiming her share in the property. Name of a very prominent PPP minister is again associated with this violent act. There is a plethora of such examples where our leaders have been facilitating and in some cases carrying out such brutalities. The ancient forces of custom and tradition in the name of religion are entrenched in our system and the legislators of this country instead of dislodging them extend support to the miscreants. The government needs to realise that women rights is another front where the writ of the government is being challenged and the government needs to seriously get to work at this front as well.

How long will a woman have to suffer this torture and injustice at the hands of this male dominated society? Despite all the “Muslim family law ordinances” women protection bill” and other such legislations we have eight-and-a-half-year-old zahida who are married away without even knowing what the word marriage means. Statistics with regard to child marriage are implausible in a country whose founder introduced the Child Marriage Act, 1929. Where marriage with the Quran is concerned, a bill was placed in the parliament which is still pending and even if we have the legislation we do not have any mechanism to ensure its implementation.

The state needs to realise that the government has to fight another war on this front. We need proper authorities to check any such vicious acts which can be held accountable and which are independent enough to carry out investigations into such matters and then ensure that the culprits are behind bars. In our rural areas the situation is getting worse. If these women raise their voice and try to get justice their voices are suppressed and past records have shown that they are imprisoned on flimsy grounds without being proved whether they are actually guilty that is why a lot of women do not even raise their voice as they fear being jailed without being heard.

Our legal system and the courts and police stations are places where the environment is not very encouraging for a woman to go and ask for her rights. The women of this country also need to learn to stand up for their rights and fight for them and the authorities must also start acting towards making the systems better and rooting out all the “biggies” responsible for such events and steps should also be taken to break their influence rather then making these landlords more powerful. The authorities should finally be given the “authority” to act rather then stay suppressed. Its time that we realise and accept as Hilary Clinton stated in one of her very popular speeches at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing that “women’s rights are human rights”.

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