Government policies in Pakistan responsible for marginalising women

Government policies in Pakistan responsible for marginalising women

‘Even the uneducated women in this country have such a wisdom about them; and that is because they have to deal with a hostile environment around them from the day they are born. It has made them realize that they really have to fight. Women in Pakistan are survivors.’  (Asma Jahangir: Human Rights lawyer, co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission Pakistan)

Pakistan ranked 151 out of 153 countries in its Global Gender Gap Index Report by the World Economic Forum in 2020, and 164 out of 167 countries in the Women, Peace and Security Index in 2019, only above Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen.

Similarly, the annual reports published by Human Rights Watch in 2018, 2019, and 2020 have been roughly consistent depicting the gender gap that is embedded in the structure of Pakistani society. The country ranked 113 out of 129 on Sustainable Development Goals Gender Index marked with the low literacy rate of women as compared to men. These statistics present a very bleak picture of Pakistan as far as gender equality and women’s situation are concerned. 

The Pakistani authorities should consider involving women in the political and decision-making process, as part of broader structural reforms, to end violence against women.


Political Participation 

As an Islamic ideological state, Pakistan got its independence from British colonial rule on August 14, 1947. The political right to vote for women was inherited from the colonial legacy of the nascent state. The introductory organisations specified for women were, however, formed by the Prime Minister’s wife Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali, and one of the notable organisations among these is the All Pakistan Women Association (APWA).

The struggle for women's rights, as well as their political participation, was exalting till 1979 as far as the statistics in the stated context are related. Moreover, the Ansari Report of the Council of Islamic Ideology, Shariat Law, and Hudood Ordinance marginalised the women from participation in politics, economy, and other progressive fronts. The anti-women governmental acts were countered by the foundation of the Women Action Front (WAF) by a group of women. WAF, in no time, gained international recognition for their heroic efforts against the establishment.

Speaking of political participation of women, Farzana Bari, a Pakistani feminist scholar, notes that the improving statistics of women (because of women quota in national and provincial assemblies) in political corridors might not necessarily mean that women get more ‘say’ in the decision making processes, rather they are compelled to align with the decisions of their male-dominated political parties either by harassment or by the political partiality. The frail representation of women at the national and local political avenues is thus diffused and has a spill-over effect on society in general.


Domestic violence

The year 1979 was a watershed moment for the whole world and Pakistan as well. The regional politics pronounced with the Iranian Revolution, Cold war, and the Afghan war translated the future domestic environments of the involved states. In the case of Pakistan where military dictator General Zia-ul-Haqq had taken over, a process of Islamisation in the backdrop of Talibanization and regional politics was started and continued throughout the 1980s. The societal faction that was adversely affected by the Islamization process were the women who continue to suffer even in today’s Pakistani society. Zia tried to restructure the legal frameworks to create discrimination against women. Of the many laws that were reformulated, Qisas and Diyat law is the most significant that defended the perpetrators of honor killing.

Although efforts were made to revert the damage done by the Islamization process, it has been injected into the societal pores and is deeply rooted in the patriarchal structure of Pakistani society irrespective of the social classes. The amalgam of patriarchy and conservative religious norms are the emphatic underlying reasons for violence against women as they are the translated attitudes and behaviors of those norms. Human Rights Watch in its 2021 World Report noted that domestic violence against women increased by 200 percent in Pakistan from January to March in 2020. About 1000 women are killed each year in Pakistan based on honor killing. The cases of acid attacks, forced marriages, harassment, rapes, and child marriages, and the high illiteracy rate among women is the problems that have remained approximately consistent in recent years despite the formulation of new laws.

The weak legal frameworks and the institutional inadequacies for the implementation of formulated laws have further strengthened the patriarchal norms. Pakistan is indeed endeavoring to fill the gender gaps and fighting against anti-women elements through the establishment of new laws and regulations. From 2011 to 2017, many laws at the national and provincial levels have been designed to stop the violence against women. For example, The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act 2011, Hindu Marriage Act 2017, Punjab Women Development Policy 2018, and many more. Pakistan also commits itself at the International level to fill the gender gap and has an association with several organizations and conventions.

Apart from the institutional weaknesses and poor implementation of these laws on women, the major problem for Pakistan is to deal with the issue of religious extremism and patriarchy at the structural level. The evidence of this patriarchy lies in many events that are a routine matter in its society. The case studies of Mukhatara Mai, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, and Malala Yousufzai are very interesting to note in this particular context. Malala. who enjoys a good reputation throughout the world, is despised by most of the Pakistanis given their extreme nationalist sentiments that disregard a vocal feminist attributing it to the Western agenda thought to be invasive. 

The evidence of dangers posed to women's rights is exposed in the fanatic religious tendencies of the Islamists who acted in violence against women marchers of the Women March and burned their play-cards and posters referring to them as anti-Islamic and Western agenda setters. This mindset needs to be changed at every level in society.

Thus, ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies calls on the Pakistani authorities to consider involving women in the political and decision-making process, as part of broader structural reforms, to end violence against women. Unless the structural reforms are made, the national narrative is reconstructed, religious extremism is dealt with, institutions are made more proficient, and above all a critical thinking is developed among women related to their rights through education, a stable society inclusive of all genders cannot be formulated. The women with a patriarchal mindset might be the trailblazer to act against structural patriarchy only if they are instigated to perform this role.


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