The Platform

A young Pakistani woman in Gilgit, Pakistan in 1988.

Pakistan has done little to tackle gender-based violence. The country ranks just above Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report.

Noor Mukadam, the daughter of a former diplomat, was kidnapped, tortured, raped, and then beheaded in July of 2021. One of the reasons her tragedy gained notice is Mukadam’s social standing as a member of the country’s elite.

According to advocates, many women who are victims of gender-based violence are from the country’s lower and middle classes, and their deaths are frequently ignored. Women’s lives in rural areas differ significantly from those in urban areas like Islamabad, where they are relatively safe.

Women face harsh and dominating male attitudes not only at home but also in towns and villages. Every day, walking on the streets or taking buses and other forms of public transportation is an emotionally draining experience. Virtually every woman who is “allowed” to travel on buses and walk on the streets has witnessed or experienced daily occurrences of being victimized by men.

When these instances are reported to family and friends, the advice is to remain silent. In some households, women are even urged not to travel alone but to travel with a male escort to avoid emotional and physical trauma.

Around 90% of women in Pakistan have experienced some form of domestic violence at the hands of their husbands or families, while 47% of married women have experienced sexual assault, particularly rape. Only 0.4% of women file lawsuits, whereas 50% of women who experience domestic violence remain silent about their suffering. Some 28% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have experienced physical abuse, and 6% have experienced sexual violence, according to government statistics. Almost 7% of pregnant women report having experienced violence at some point. Physical violence is the second most prevalent form of spousal abuse after emotional violence. Only 2.5% of all cases that make it to court result in a conviction.

In Pakistani media today, reports of violence against women and children are common, however much of it is disregarded along with other types of public unrest. On September 30, 2021, Dr. Maria Saeed, a doctor whose body was found hanging from a ceiling fan, was strangled in Lahore by her husband Rashid; on July 21, 2021, Noor Mukadam was raped and murdered in Islamabad by her friend Zahir Jaffer; and on July 15, 2021, Qurratulain, a mother of four, was tortured to death in Hyderabad by her husband Khalid Umar after years of abuse.

The fault lies with Pakistan’s criminal justice system, which is still mired in patriarchy, and gender bias. Women have been harassed, intimidated, and silenced by law enforcement officials. Women’s voices are frequently silenced, and their allegations are dismissed by police as a “family concern,” allowing violence to become normalized. Women who boldly speak their stories of violence are stigmatized and dismissed.

The biggest shortcoming arises from ineffective police investigations. According to activists, many officials do not even warn victims that they must undergo medical examinations within 96 hours and consent to them. The prosecution’s case is eventually weakened as a result of this.

In incidents of gender-based assault, particularly sexual harassment, the judiciary takes a strongly protective stance. Instead of recognizing sexual harassment as a crime, modesty, and character are put on trial. Another type of harassment is focusing on the victim’s inhibitions, honor, and embarrassment.

The criminal justice system must evolve, and more effort must be done to hire more female police officers. Global evidence suggests that women in policing leadership roles can serve as role models and respond to complaints more effectively. The police’s public image must be enhanced, and officers must be made more sensitive to gender issues so that they can address women’s complaints with empathy and the investigating process can be made more human.

When I read the news about domestic and street violence and see the “number” of cases published in the media and elsewhere, my heart skips a beat, my nerves shrink, and tears stream down my cheeks. I think about the women who have faced these atrocities silently in their homes, on public transportation, and on the streets, demanding their rights on the streets, at police stations, and in court, and those who are signing online petitions and sharing their experiences and emotions through social media posts.

Women in Pakistan have legal protection in theory but not in practice. Almost all human rights advocates and attorneys agree that the increase in domestic violence is the result of a lack of implementation, enforcement, and a lack of leadership. Pakistan must enhance internal checks and balances in the police and other state agencies to reduce the strain on the courts.

The law and judiciary in Pakistan must be feminized. A feminine viewpoint on how the judicial system judges gender-based violence must also be developed and nurtured. Laws must be revised from a feminine perspective, as Judge Ayesha A. Malik did in January when she prohibited the two-finger or “virginity” test, calling it “humiliating” and having “no forensic value.” The landmark decision ruled the test to be a violation of human rights, shifting the attention from the victim to the perpetrator.

Through training in sex education and anti-harassment, religious, community-based, and educational organizations and businesses need to raise awareness of the need to combat domestic and street violence in young children and people of all genders and ages. These will aid in increasing awareness of gender-based violence and helping people learn the skills necessary to speak out against it. Parents and families need to stop “blaming” their daughters, spouses, sisters, and friends for the violent crimes they witness on the streets, at the workplace, and at home and support them in speaking out in public.

The social order must also change if we want to move forward. Home is where women’s empowerment must begin. Additionally, there is a need for an active campaign that emphasizes the unacceptable nature of violence and women’s constitutional right to leave toxic and abusive marriages.

Humair Chaudhary is a student at the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology, where he studies Social Sciences. Humair is interested in the dynamics of human civilization and social ties. His goal in this multidisciplinary field is to comprehend how people connect with one another, behave, evolve as a culture, and influence the globe.