Drowned To Be Cleansed – A Tale Of The “Honourable” Women In Pakistan
Pakistan, for 69 years, has experienced the role of the formal judicial law (comprising of the common law and the Islamic Sharia law), as well as the tribal and customary law in various vicinities within its boundaries. It is unfortunate however, that having a Constitution extensively based on the teachings of Islam, and being greatly aware of the prestigious ranking acquired by women in Islam, the high incidence of domestic violence, economic exploitation, acid attacks and recent honour killings, have resulted in Pakistan being ranked as the third most dangerous country for women (Source: Thompson Reuters Foundation expert poll 2011).
The regulatory bodies of Islam are too formally inclined to be abiding by the rules of the indigenous committees such as jirgas, yet too traditional to be abiding by the internationally set conventions. The question that is raised here is that if Islam is what they’re spreading, then why isn’t their wife permitted to have an income when Islam teaches us about Hazrat Khadija who was a successful entrepreneur throughout her lifetime? Why are the capabilities of their daughters confined to a single stove when Islam teaches us about Hazrat Ayesha leading an entire army? When Zaynab, the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), played a vital role in the massacre at Karbala and had the audacity to deliver a powerful speech in the Royal Court in Damascus, resulting in the release of prisoners at Karbala and herself, why isn’t a Muslim woman in her house permitted to raise her voice at the dinner table?
The fungated mindset of certain dominant male figures in the society is responsible for the deep-rooted issue of certifying them with the right to dictate the acts of the women in their family, especially their physical form. In such households, if a woman is seen to transgress or make individual choices that seem to overlap with the standards set by the society, the only corrective measure includes harming her in a brutal way for disregarding the family’s honour. These verdicts are results of uncodified law which neither abides by the Constitution, nor by the Holy Quran.
Crimes of honour therefore depict the most petrifying facet of Pakistan, where episodes of domestic and sexual violence, honour killing, acid burning, forced marriages and many more distressing incidents are only going unpunished and thus, feeding onto the society. Where qatl-e-amd (deliberate murder) as well as juroor-al-amd (deliberately causing harm) are so common especially in terms of honour, women who are raped or dragged into forced abuse by other men face the same consequences i.e. death penalty by a male relative, in order to restore the reputation and honour of the family.
Over a thousand girls who exhibit their choice of marriage, make a career decision, or decide to take an initiative to bring change in the society as they think right, are killed in the name of honor in Pakistan every year. A few of the most recent cases include that of Khalida Bibi and her cousin Mukhtar who were hanged from a tree in Mian Channu on September 15, 2016 by Khalida’s husband, brother and father. Similarly, in June 2016, Zeenat Bibi, 16, was killed in the hands of her own mother on her wedlock with the man of her choice; and these occurrences seem to be continuous.
Pakistan is a member state to a number of UN treaties including the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Declaration on the Violence Against Women (1993), and many more where the fundamental focus is to deter exploitation of women. Aiming towards the crimes of honour, it is clearly stated under Article 6 of the ICCPR that the right to life is essential to every human being. In addition, since the subject of marriage is the causal factor mostly in case of honour killing, CEDAW mentions under Article 16 the same right for men and women in terms of marriage and family life. Regrettably, there is still a great amount of threat that is faced by every woman in the country due to violation of these treaties, thus leading to a failure of the state in terms of compliance of the human rights conventions under international law.
Under the Constitution of Pakistan itself, section 4, subsection 2(a) states any action that is detrimental to life and liberty is strictly prohibited in accordance with the nation’s law. A woman’s independent choice of career has often also led to opposition from the society, and precisely her own family, rebelling against which has caused her to lose her life in the name of honour. According to Section 18 in the Constitution however, every citizen has an equal right to enter into a lawful occupation of his or her choice. The law of the land also consists of codes referring to the equality of citizens without any discrimination on the basis of sex, while any person abusing the nation’s laws is subject to punishment.
More importantly, the Criminal Amendment Act (2004) was brought into operation for the purpose of penalizing individuals convicted of crimes in the name of honour. According to the law, the killer was to face a maximum of twenty five years of imprisonment or pay monetary compensation. This was apparently a more severe punishment than any other category of murder. Due to the flexibility of this Act however, honour killing conviction had been close to zero percent as pardoning by the deceased person’s heir and the excessive role of influential parties had been a common means of escaping punishment.
Moreover, the Punjab Assembly approved the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (2016) which took into account the awfully rising number of occurrences of violence against women in Pakistan, and not only did it provide aggrieved persons with a toll-free dialing number to report any abuse, but also delivered psychological as well as physiological assistance to the victim throughout the duration of conflict. The religious parties, on a separate front, have triggered opposition towards this pro-women Act. The Jamat-e-Islami for instance, pointed out a western agenda behind this law for the abolishment of family systems. This gender-biased mindset, results in stripping the women of their right to life and security, and to silence them during any acts of violence.
On the other hand, there is an extensive absence of trust that women have on relief programmes due to the corruption that exists at the official level. Laws need to be adopted in order to eradicate the ill behavior possessed by immoral officers and new regulatory bodies need to have on board educated and empathetic individuals. Moreover, where women make up to 50% of the population of Pakistan, they make less than 1% of the police force and so, victims are hesitant to reach out for assistance. Female figures should be incorporated in the national security forces allowing more women to be able to seek justice and fewer abusers of law from going around unpunished.
In July 2016, the scandalous assassination of Qandeel Baloch, a social media celebrity, undertaken by her younger brother, finally called for serious modifications in the law that was prevalent. The significant loophole in the previous law on anti-honour killing was rectified and according to the new law that came into action in October 2016, the notion of forgiveness was confined to capital penalty, making lifetime imprisonment mandatory for the assassin – a positive step expected to have a plummet in the rate of honour killing.
In order for any nation to grow it is indeed vital for its women to contribute and nurture it towards prosperity, for which they need to live in a space that doesn’t hinder their physical and mental mobility. The focal necessity for the adherence of this role in Pakistan is to eradicate ignorance of the basic human rights and women’s rights set by the international bodies as well as the Constitution of Pakistan itself for the purpose of fortifying its nationals. The Pakistani newspapers and especially the Pakistani radio networks all over the country, even in the tribal, most secluded of areas, can reiterate the concerns based on women’s rights in every corner of the country. Educating both men and women of the rights and the status of women, quoting charges against the violators of law, and citing get-aways for women under threat, would surely enhance the safety for women as well as warn the potential abusers of the strict penalties that exist.
As per 48/104 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Article 4 (j), each of the member states should “adopt all appropriate measures, especially in the field of education, to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women and to eliminate prejudices, customary practices and all other practices based on the idea of the inferiority or superiority of either of the sexes and on stereotyped roles for men and women.” In case of Pakistan, where the implementation of law is an enormous issue that cannot be disregarded, it is also true that the law alone is less likely to be able to have an impact on the population of more than 180 million and so, the gap between social norms and the modern notions of justice needs to be abridged. While some women living in Pakistan are exposed to favorable opportunities, for the majority it is still challenging to pursue any dream while residing in a male-oriented environment, as women are most of the time subordinated to the men in their household. There is a common state of objection and resistance stemming from social pressures that causes an overall absence of support for girls who intend on doing more than just fulfilling their matrimony duties. A lack of education as well as a low socio-economic status of dependent women further puts them at a higher risk of violence.
With the purpose of bringing at ease the cultural fences, it is necessary to form a committee of the actors belonging to the formal legal structure, human rights activists, religious scholars, as well as dictators of the various tribal areas so that all the different mindsets are brought together to come to a specific consensus. Regular meetings of this committee should be undertaken to form policies for increased employment and education opportunities for both the genders and leaders should be encouraged to report their progress systematically.
In order to transform the authoritative mindset from the root however, boys and girls in schools should witness equality and the idea of manliness should more commonly be associated with protection instead of violence. Slogans once mentioned in a UN meeting such as “real men don’t hit women, real men protect women” and “men of quality are not afraid of equality” should be promoted using celebrities and popular role models in advertisements. Furthermore, the motto “see something, say something” should be deeply engraved into the minds of both boys and girls. These few imperative changes in the society can prevent acts of violence from scratch, making the country a safe habitation for our women.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which she might be associated.