The Platform

Magnus Wolfe-Murra/DFID

On July 20, the night before Eid al-Adha, Pakistan was shaken. A 27-year-old woman was tortured and beheaded, allegedly by Zahir Jaffer, the son of a wealthy businessman, living in a high-rise area of Islamabad.

Pakistan has a high rate of gender-based violence. The recent rise in violence against women also points to rape apologists and misogynists perpetuating a cycle of violence directed at women.

The Pakistan Human Rights Commission (HRCP) registered an increase in domestic and cyber violence last year, highlighting the vulnerability of women during the pandemic. The HRCP recorded hundreds of cases of honor killings in 2020. The Punjab police have reported dozens of gang rapes in the first four months of 2021. Those in power have a different view of the plight of women.

In April, Prime Minister Imran Khan was asked during an interview with the BBC about the increase in sexual harassment in the country, to which he replied that in an area like Pakistan women need to hide to protect the public from temptation. The statement was widely criticized by human rights groups, who called Khan a rape apologist. Khan also revealed on national television in another interview that sexual harassment is a product of pornography. A similar situation occurred earlier when Maulana Tariq Jameel, a powerful clergyman, stated during a television program, in which Khan was present, that the epidemic was caused by “the immodesty of women.” Many people have criticized both men as misogynists.

“Women are equal citizens and the state needs to protect their rights but the state is compliant,” said Roshane Zafar, a development activist working in the field of women’s economic empowerment.

Last year, a woman was raped in front of her children on a highway in Pakistan. The woman was waiting for help after her car ran out of gas when two men raped her and pointed guns at her.

According to the Aurat Foundation, in 2020, 2,297 cases of violence against women were reported in four provinces of Pakistan. These violent incidents included murder, kidnappings, rape, honor killings, and domestic abuse. In April, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Security) Bill was introduced in the National Assembly and passed on the same day.

However, when the bill came to the Senate, opposition parties demanded that it be referred to the standing committee for amendments. Following the amendments, the bill was referred back to the National Assembly. After being approved by the Senate, and awaiting the president’s signature, Babar Awan, Adviser to Prime Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, wrote a letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly requesting a review by the Council of Islamic Religions, which said the definition of “domestic violence” was too broad. The bill states that domestic violence includes all acts of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse perpetrated against women, children, or other vulnerable persons.

Awan’s appeal has caused a great deal of controversy in the country, with human rights groups and officials fighting for the passage of the law without the involvement of the Council of Islamic Religions. In the past, the Council of Islamic Religions came down on the side of allowing men to physically beat their wives.

Earlier this month, Shah Hussain, who was convicted of stabbing a female law student, Khadija Siddiqui, was released from jail early. After a major uproar by the community and some celebrities, Punjab police blamed the “technical exemption” as a reason for his premature release. Siddiqi stated that she had not been notified by the authorities of his early release. “I still think it is a big decision that my attacker was convicted and set an important example for other women,” Siddiqi said. “But for those arrested is there a psychiatric examination? Is his mental health available before his release? This remains a major question.”

Given the history of violence against women in the country, it is pretty clear that the state plays a key role in encouraging gender-based violence in Pakistan.

Laiba Imran is a law student at the Pakistan College of Law. She is also a social worker. She currently works with Youth General Assembly as a deputy-secretary general.