Pakistani women are subjected to physical and verbal offences, psychological and sexual abuse, rape (including marital rape), assaults, forced conversions and forced marriages, honour killings. In the majority of cases, perpetrators are male family members.
This is a result of the extremely conservative and patriarchal mindset embedded in society and which cuts across social classes.
Abuses such as battery and murder occur among upper middle-class families as well as among working class people. Even a comparison between the trend in urban and rural areas, proves that numbers are not that different in big cities. The reasons behind the perpetuation of discrimination and violence against women of any age are to be found in the religious fundamentalism, in the conservative sexist mindset pervading even urban areas, in the very feeble rule of law and in the widespread corruption within the civil policing system.
Women’s freedom of speech, movement and choice is extremely restrained and rests in the hands of fathers, uncles, brothers and cousins. Women are seen as inferior humans, second-class citizens and mainly as a male commodity. Their opinion is of no one’s interest or concern, and the integrity of their body is out of their control. Rape is a customary practice not only to satisfy male instincts, but also to regulate tribal disputes: by violating the enemies’ daughters, sisters and wives, tribes “teach” their opponents a lesson.
In female chastity lies the honour of a family and raping a woman is a powerful tool of offence and revenge.
When the concept of honour is taken to its extreme and it is combined with the custom of blaming the victim, non consensual sexual intercourse is considered paradoxically the same as pre-marital or non-marital sex, and this further compromises the safety of women.
Annually, Pakistan counts hundreds of women that are victims of honour killings, most of which occur on the simple basis of suspicion or because of a minor event which is instead seen as an extremely shameful behavior. Women have been and still are killed in the name of honour because they went out without their husband’s approval, because they did not agree to marry the person chosen by their father, or because they have been suspected of being in love with a man professing another faith. Often, behind the decision of proceeding with such murders, there are the verdicts of the Jirga, the traditional assembly of elders that dispenses sentences according to Islamic law, and that, although declared illegal in 2005, people still keep consulting and trusting.
The observance of basic human rights (right to life, right to safety, freedom, equality, health, etc) continues to be systematically violated in Pakistan. The mentality of blame to the detriment of the victim, together with the pervading inequality and discrimination, permeate though all spheres of societies, from the private life to the public level. The protection of women from unequal treatment and the prevention of violence are successful when forces from the top and from the bottom meet at the middle ground of justice, fairness and tolerance. In Pakistan, none of these fundamental principles seems to inspire equality either in personal relationships, or in public relations.
Legislation is an essential factor.
Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1996. Later on, the Government issued the Protection of Women Act in 2006 and the Criminal Law Act in 2009.
The Acid Crime Prevention Bill, and the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, are still pending in Parliament. These acts are all supposed to be efficient legislative tools to protect women from assault, rape, discrimination in the work place and other forms of violence. However, laws are too often issued to remain in writing only, and it is hard to see their proper implementation.
An efficient legislation requires a strong political will which instead appears to be lacking in Pakistan. The insubstantial enforcement of the rule of law compromises the efficacy of many institutions, police bodies in particular, where the lack of training and gender sensitization among the officers, the habit of abusing the victims themselves, as well as the pandemic level of corruption, makes it difficult for women to even have their cases filed. The discouragement, or often the refusal, to proceed with the completion of the FIR, makes the police officers complicit in the perpetuation of violence and, together with the fear of reporting for many victims, it is responsible for the inaccuracies in the national statistics concerning these crimes.
If cases dealing with gender-based violence eventually come to the attention of the Court, women have to face the impudence of judges, who often treat them with inequality and disrespect. Listening and assisting the victims in a professional way is not only required to efficiently support those women who have experienced violence and discrimination, but it is also an indispensable way in which to raise the issue, talk about the problem and stress its gravity in the public domain.
The silence of the victims and the “invisibility” of the survivors, together with impunity, leave women in a condition of abandonment and increase the risk that more women – and girls- can go through the same torment.
Legislation is essential but not enough, especially if it is rarely implemented. A cultural change must also occur.
A violence-free world is an utopia which even the most developed countries are struggling to achieve.
However, circumstances can be sensibly improved if tolerance, understanding, acceptance, innovation and open mindedness accompany people in their private spheres, and governments in their mandates.
A Father in Dadu Kills His Own Daughter
A police officer orchestrated the killing of his own daughter, Arifa Babbur, 21, in the name of honour to get property, cash, and a minor girl in compensation through a jirga, an illegal parallel judicial system. The murder has been facilitated by three brothers: one is in charge of a police station, the second is a notorious criminal wanted in several cases of murder, rape, and robbery, and the third one is the father-in-law of the victim.
Before her murder, while in illegal detention, Arifa telephoned a lady human rights activist, telling her that she is set to be murdered any time today, as her father had told her to recite Quranic verses, as the day would be the last day for her life. A total of 30 bullets were fired, out of which 22 hit Arifa’s body, and rest hit the walls of the room where she was kept in illegal detention for five days.
The police from two districts have tried to deny the incident but with the intervention of rights activists and ranking police officers, the conspiracy has unraveled. A session court’s judge has disassociated himself from the case after receiving threats inside the court. A Sindh High Court bench has granted protective bail to the father of the murdered woman in the month of July, which still continues to apply illegally.
The whole family, including the women of the family, had been suspecting that Arifa had inclinations towards a young student of Jam Shoro University, Mr. Manthar, and this was used as an excuse to eliminate her.
The plan of the family was to bracket the victim with Manthar, for having an illicit relationship, and kill her. Following the murder the plan was to call a jirga of the local tribe, to get property, cash, and a minor girl in compensation. It was decided, according to the victim’s aunt, that property would be given to her father, while the father-in-law would get the cash amount, and the minor girl in compensation would be handed over the notorious robber, to be married to his eldest son, who is mentally disabled, someone who cannot use the toilet without assistance.
According to information collected by ranking police officials, on July 10, 2015, the 21-year-old Arifa Babur, resident of Jam Shoro District, Sindh Province, daughter of Ghulam Abbas Babur, the Station House Officer (SHO) of City Police Station, Dadu District, was murdered by her uncle, Ali Nawaz Babbur, a notorious robber, who killed his niece along with his henchmen. They did the shooting in the presence of her father, who came all the way from Dadu District, where he was in charge of a police station, so that the operation could be swiftly conducted, without interference from the local police.
Her father locked Arifa in her room at her in law’s house in Jamshoro District for five days. This was to confess that she had illicit relationship with Manthar, so that this could then be used an as excuse for killing in the name of “honor”, and to get compensation through the jirga.
One of Arifa’s aunts, the sister of her father, whose husband was also killed by Ali Nawaz for not marrying their daughter to his mentally disabled son, telephoned her, and asked her to contact one human rights activist, Bushra Sayed, CEO of Ajrak Welfare Organisation, who is well known for helping women victims of violence.
Arifa called Bushra and told her that she will be killed today (10 July 2015), as her police officer father had come with many criminals and asked her to recite verses from the Quran. Arifa also said that she had been detained in a room for five days. The human rights activist told her to contact the police help line, 15, and get help.
The victim told Bushra that the officer-in-charge of the Jam Shoro Police Station, Sub Inspector Allah Bachayo, is a good friend to her father, and he is well aware of all these things, so she cannot get any help from him. Bushra advised Arifa to run away, by jumping from her second floor building, and taking any vehicle headed for Karachi, from where she would help in every way. But, suddenly, the cell phone was switched off, and Bushra wondered if the battery of the cell phone had emptied. Next day, Bushra contacted Arifa again on her cell phone. This time it was picked up by another lady, who informed Bushra that the victim was shot and murdered the previous night and in the late hours she was buried in a local graveyard.
Arifa body received 22 bullets whereas eight bullet shots missed the target and hit the walls of the room. The incident occurred at her her father-in-law’s house, where she had been detained. It is alleged that when Arifa died, after being hit by two or three bullets, her father, Sub Inspector Ghulam Abbas Babbur, instructed the shooters to empty all the guns.
The house where the shooting occurred is not far away from the Jam Shoro Police Station but no one wondered about the sound of a rain of bullets, and the crying of women and children.
Activist Bushra immediately telephoned the SHO, Sub Inspector Allah Bachayo of Jam Shoro Police Station, inquiring about the murder and burial of Arifa in the late hours. The officer accused her of hallucinating and told her that no such incident has happened. The SHO argued with her that if she has the dead body of the victim, then she should produce it, and only then would the police will file a case.
Bushra Sayed then contacted Deputy Inspector General (DIG) police, Hyderabad Range, Mr. Khadim Hussain Rind, and Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), Mr. Tariq Willayat, who took immediate action and suspended SHO Bachayo from the post.
Bushra also contacted a famous human rights activist, Ms. Amar Sindhu, to ask her to reach the spot. Her presence changed the situation. In the meantime, the SSP also arrived and forced the police to file a First Information Report (FIR).
The police have taken in to custody one younger brother, Nadeem, one of the perpetrators, who informed the police about the details of the whole incident and took the police to point out where Arifa’s body lay buried. The police found pieces of the body in polyethylene bags.
The human rights activists, Bushra Sayed and Amar Sindhu are continuously receiving threats to their lives. A lady lawyer, Ms. Zarina Nawaz also began receiving threats and she disassociated herself from the case as well. Following the threats Zarina filed an application with the District & Sessions judge of Jam Shoro. And, a direction was issued for the protection of the female Advocate. However, the SSP did not take any action
The investigations conducted by the police have been purposely slowed down to spread the terror of the police. Arifa’s father is moving freely and intimidating the people of the area. At the time of submitting the final investigation report, the police officer placed 5 accused in Column 2 (i.e. innocent, not having committed an offence).