Dec 20 - 26, 20

The status of women in Pakistan varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women's lives.

In the rural areas, women are like slaves subject to drudgery. They are there just to obey their fathers, brothers, and husbands. They do not have the right to decide about themselves because women are considered as foolish creatures according to the dominant social and cultural norms.

A woman's right to liberty is restricted in the name of modesty, protection, and prevention of immoral activity. In rural areas, 90 per cent of women work in the fields. They work for the whole day with their male family members, but they still have to face their wrath. Male family members keep a strict eye on the female family members in the name of "honour". But, one must understand the meaning of honour because in our society honour does not have the meaning of its true sense. Here it really means possession of women as a form of property. Not only are the restrictions of women's liberty maintained in the name of this honour (ghairat) but they also can be put to death if they lose their "honour". Honor killings are pronounced against women who marry against their family's wishes, who seek divorce or who have been raped.

Karo Kari is the form of honour killings. The male family members have murdered a number of women in the name of honour (and these are only the registered cases). Many of the cases of Karo Kari are related to love marriage. There are hundreds of such cases that are not registered. But, if we go to the root cause of these honour killings, we see that they are linked to the question of land, water, money and property. But again, only the women of the poor classes are victims of this inhuman custom of Karo Kari. This custom is seldom implemented against rich women. This practice is more common in Sindh and Balochistan. In December 2004, the government passed a bill that made karo kari punishable under the same penal provisions as murder.

The Islamic Penal Law "Hadood Ordinance" repealed the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code related to rape cases, in 1979. The Islamic Law of evidence applicable to cases of rape requires the evidence of four adult male Muslims, in order for the penalty of hadood to be imposed upon the accused. Being a half witness by law the raped woman can't even testify against the crime committed against her. According to these laws, testimony of the victim requires strong corroboration for conviction by the court.

Another law, "Qasas", is also used to victimise women, because under this law if a person kills somebody and the family of the victim compromises with the killer then they are paid an agreed amount of money, land and of course women by the assassin's family.

Child marriage/(Vani): Although the Child Marriages Restraint Act makes it illegal for girls under the age of 16 to be married, the instances of child marriages can be found often. Vani is a child marriage custom followed in tribal areas and the Punjab province. The young girls are forcibly married off in order to resolve the feuds between different clans; the Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet, to other clan.

Watta satta is a tribal custom in which brides are traded between two clans. In order for you to marry off your son, you must also have a daughter to marry off in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son's spouse, a cousin, or a distant relative can also do.

Marriage to the Holy Quran is also common in Sindh. Under this law, a woman has to live without a husband throughout her life. But, this law is only applied among the class of landlords. They use this only to keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.

If we look at the history of Pakistan, we find several women's movements against these criminal laws and customs. These movements are mostly dominated by the NGOs. And, the tragedy of the NGOs is that they believe in this system, its state and its laws. They simply appeal to the ruling elite and their state to pass such laws that can abolish discrimination against women within the society. But, the oppression of women is rooted within the system itself.

Land and property rights: Men head around 90 per cent of the Pakistani households and most female-headed households belong to the poor strata of the society. Women lack ownership of productive resources. Despite women's legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, there are very few women who have access and control over these resources.

Trafficking of women is on the rise in Pakistan. Foreign women from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are brought to Pakistan and sold.

Many cases of bride burning due to dowry issues have been reported in Pakistan. In some cases, accidents are engineered (such as the tampering of a kitchen stove to cause victim's death) or the victims are set ablaze, claimed to be yet another accident or suicide. According to a 1999 report, of the sixty "bride-burning" cases that made it to the prosecution stage (though 1,600 cases were actually reported), only two resulted in convictions. However, dowry abuse cases are low after 2001.

In the rural areas brothers, fathers, and husbands subject 82 per cent of women to domestic violence. The incidence of wife-battering is so common that it is not even recognised as a pernicious form of violence against women. Even in the cases where women receive serious injuries and want to file complaints, they are advised by the police to reconcile with their husbands, as any matrimonial dispute would bring dishonour to them. Another practice common in Pakistan, is cutting off a women's nose if she is suspected of having an extra-marital relationship. Sexual assault on women, including rape, remains one of the most common crimes. The Human Rights Commission estimated that rape occurs every three hours. No estimate, however, can be made of the numerous cases that go unreported. Domestic violence is not explicitly prohibited in Pakistani domestic law and most acts of domestic violence are encompassed by the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance.

The police and judges often tend to treat domestic violence as a private or family matter or, an issue for civil courts, rather than criminal courts.

At the present time, capitalism has created a society of want and greed in which human beings have to live a life of cut-throat competition in order to survive. Like many countries, Pakistan has also failed to bridge the gap between the rural and urban areas. Basic needs such as education, health water supply and transport, etc., are inadequate. On the other hand, there is the penetration of all forms of the latest technology, like satellite television, which has distorted the patterns of social and cultural development of these areas. Social life in the countryside and the urban centres has not changed in any spectacular way. It has actually worsened. Even in the advanced countries the exploitation and harassment of women on the basis of gender is rampant.

But, the question arises: how long will this continue? Will the women's movements only confine themselves to mere appeals and demonstrations or will all the existent order have to change?

The domestic labour of women, looking after the children, cleaning the house, cooking, washing, and the many other forms of labour in which women are involved is a full day's work. But, this system does not reward this human labour. Hence, the cultural, social, moral and ethical roots of society are devised in such a manner that this system gets the labour of women in running society for free and is taken for granted.

Using this social insecurity, alienation and the pressures on women, the capitalists exacerbate the exploitation of women workers in the factories and mills. It has been seen in general that women work with greater dedication and more meticulously than men do. For example in Pakistan, women are 28 per cent of the total workforce yet they generate 40 per cent of production. At the same time, it is a general law of capitalism that women workers are paid less than their male counterparts all around the world.

The tragedy with the women's movements is that women from the upper classes, who mostly dominate them, have never had to suffer the same ordeals as the women of the oppressed classes. Hence, the struggle for the rights of women and their liberation have different meanings for women of different classes.

President Asif Ali Zardari on January 29, 2010 signed the 'Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009', which the parliament had adopted on January 21, 2010. The objective of the bill is to create a safe working environment for women, free of harassment, abuse, and intimidation. The bill was part of a comprehensive bill originally moved by former information minister Sherry Rehman when she held the additional portfolio of Women's Development. The House had passed the punishment section of the bill in November 2009, which was also adopted recently by the Senate.