Kofi Anan said, “Violence against women is the most shameful, pervasive human rights violation.” By beginning with a statement from one of the UN’s prestigious secretary-generals, I would like to remind all the readers that on 25th November, we were observing the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’, which involves 16 days of activism from 25th November to 10th December under the umbrella of the United Nations. Being a Pakistani, this day urged us to think about Pakistan’s position on Women’s protection and what vital steps we took on paper and on the ground to eradicate the worst form of violence.
If I talk about the legislative steps, our country’s constitution holds a strict position to provide justice to women in every aspect whether it is domestic violence, harassment, physical abuse, emotional torture, or personal integrity.
Here are some of the prominent acts. Section 375 under the Pakistan Penal Code states that whoever commits rape shall be punished with death or imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years or more than twenty-five years, and shall also be liable to fine. Section 496-A provides punishments for the offense of enticing or taking away or detaining with criminal intent a woman. Section 354-A is evoked whenever somebody assaults or uses criminal force on any woman and strips her of her clothes and in that condition exposes her to public view. Section 509 defines sexual harassment; it also extends the definition not only to the workplace, but also to private spaces such as homes, and public spaces, such as streets, buses, markets, and parks.
After reading some of the acts which I have mentioned, one can easily observe how Pakistan’s laws are strict towards women’s issues. If you are wondering how after having such harsh laws, why do we often witness acts of extreme violence against women?
One of the major reasons behind the failure of these laws is that the institutions which are obliged to give justice, such as law and order departments and judiciary, are unable to play the focal role because in many of the cases, culprits escape themselves by using the loopholes and political or monetary influence. The second major reason is unawareness of the rights. The majority of the women do not know even their basic rights such as the submission of the initial report in the police station. In rural areas, this basic understanding about rights is drastically low. This unawareness creates loopholes in the case which ultimately helps the sinners and strengthens the patriarchal mindset.
How long have our institutions made justice the priority for the oppressed without the media hype? We have all the benchmarks in the constitution; we just need to take the extra measures. The religious clerics could also play a vital role. We have an example of Bangladesh’s government, which asked clerics to support awareness campaigns about birth control and they got significant results. In our country, ulemas have significant influence too. The question then arises, why our government did not ask them to take part in educating people about the importance of women empowerment and curbing domestic violence.
Wajid Ali | Lahore