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Violence, Discrimination Against Women Rises in Pakistan


Women hold lighted candles during a rally condemning the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, in Karachi, Pakistan, October 11, 2012.

Women hold lighted candles during a rally condemning the attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, in Karachi, Pakistan, October 11, 2012.

A local women's rights group in Pakistan says the number of incidents of violence against women in Pakistan has increased at least seven percent over the past year. The impact of violent gender discrimination is being deeply felt in a number of ways in Pakistan.

Thousands of women are kidnapped, murdered and raped in Pakistan every year, says Pakistan’s Aurat Foundation, a group that monitors media reports for acts of violence against women.

According to Aurat’s latest report, Pakistan’s infrastructure problems and ineffective justice system, together with age-old cultural practices, means that violence against women is not being addressed.

Domestic violence left unchecked

In recent years the government has instituted regulations protecting women’s rights. But there are no laws criminalizing domestic violence, says Aurat director Naeem Mirza, and laws against honor killings and other forms of gender violence are not being not addressed forcefully enough.

“Despite some efforts by a few voices from civil society organizations and parliamentarians there is no, as I said earlier, no serious attempt by the authorities, by the government to stop it,” said Mirza.

Gender Studies professor and human rights advocate Farzana Bari says violence is just one facet of gender discrimination in Pakistan. She says discrimination exists in all sectors, from education to business.

For example, programs like micro-loans aimed at helping women in Pakistan appear to be missing their target. A recent World Bank statement notes that between 50 to 70 percent of microfinance loans to women in Pakistan may actually be used by their male relatives.

Devastating impact on future generations

According to the Global Gender Gap report released this week by the Global Economic Forum, Pakistan now ranks 134th out of 135 countries on women’s economic participation.

The consequences, Professor Farzana Bari said, are negative.

“Women are growing up as very disempowered, dependent human beings. So they are forced to be dependent on men for financial support, for economic support. Unless the state itself becomes more engendered, and I suppose it can only do that when there is more gender perspectives integrated in government structures and processes, only then we can move to gender equality,” said Bari.

Anis Haroon, chairwoman of the government-backed National Commission on the Status of Women, did not address the new report specifically but did say that violence and discrimination against women in Pakistan have increased over the last three decades. She attributes the trend in part to the increasing Islamization of the nation and the rise of violence as a whole.

Haroon said that in the last three years, six laws have been passed to protect women against attacks such as acid-throwing. But she acknowledges it is a struggle to defend women’s rights.

“We have been able to maintain some of our spaces, and are trying our best, and we are pushing all the time to increase our space, but it is a tough fight, and I am not saying one should give up hope, but it is no doubt very tough,” she said.

But Mirza said a new generation of youth, such as the teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, are already defying structural and cultural restrictions. Many in Pakistan were outraged when Yousafzai was shot and wounded by the Taliban for her views.
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    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

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