Jul 7, 2010 - published work, Society, women    15 Comments

Being a woman in Pakistan

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It is not easy being a woman anywhere in the world but it is a tad more difficult being a woman in Pakistan. Last week, we saw two gang rape victims in headlines again for all the wrong reasons.
Mukhtaran Mai was reportedly threatened by a sitting MNA from treasury benches, Mr Jamshed Dasti, to settle the ‘dispute’ outside the court and let go of the criminals who have been sentenced earlier. For starters, it was not a mere dispute. It was a heinous crime, perpetrated against a helpless woman. The criminals were awarded punishment after a long probe yet the parliamentarian justifies defending them by saying that the court awarding the punishment were pressurised by anti-Islamic lobbies. Forget taking any serious action, the sad reality is that although the MNA is in contempt of court, neither the government, nor the opposition parties issued condemnation against his threats to a victim who has been battling it out for eight long years against all odds.
Kainat Soomro, a minor who was gang raped three years ago, is still fighting her case in the court of law. Her older brother, who was fighting the legal battle with her and was abducted three month ago, was found dead a few days back. The murder clearly was a message from the culprits to Kainat Soomro and her family that they too will face a similar fate if they do not take back the case.
Crimes against women are not exclusive to Pakistan, what makes them more painful and inhumane is lack of judicial recourse for the victims. There are no systems and procedures in place where women can access justice without spending a lifetime and fortune in courts, facing a multitude of threats and social ostracisation.
Aqsa Parvez was a high school student in Toronto who was murdered by her father and brother for not wearing a headscarf in 2007. Similar crimes go unpunished in Pakistan but not in a country where rule of law exists for all its citizens, including underage girls. The prosecution was taken up by the state and Aqsa’s father Muhammad Parvez and her brother Waqas Parvez, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, were sentenced to life imprisonment, with no eligibility for parole until 2028.
Those who have seen Harry Potter films would be familiar with the character of Padma Patil, a witch at Hogwarts. The character was played by an actress of Pakistani origin Afshan Azad. A few weeks back, Afshan was beaten and throttled by her father and brother because she was heard talking on the phone with her Hindu boyfriend. Although they used violence against her, Afshan still loves her family and is pleading for violence charges to be dropped against her father and brother because she does not want them to go to jail. However the prosecution services in England takes these matters very seriously and intend to proceed with the case even if the victim retracts the statement.
Our penal code is inherited from the days of the Raj, if they can modernise the legal system and ensure that no pressure on the victims can retract criminal charges, so can we. If our laws had been friendlier to the victims, Kainat’s brother may still be alive. If we had sent better people to the assemblies and not people who openly flout the law and threaten rape victims, we may have been able to come up with better legislation. If we had better legislation, we may have made an example out of some criminals like Canadian courts did with Aqsa Parvez’s father and brother. If only.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 7th, 2010.
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15 Comments

  • Gosh – a pretty depressing state of affairs. It’s upon hearing stories like this I feel guilty, being one of the thousands of Pakistanis who chose not to live there.

    Pakistan needs people who are educated and who have experienced life in ‘liberal’ societies to return to the country to cultivate real change. The state of affairs in Pakistan is so appalling, on so many fronts, that this option is unappealling to most.

    I’m just an outsider, looking in. You guys will know better… what will it take for the country to change?

  • Afshan Azad is of Bangladeshi, not Pakistani, background. Not that this detracts from the cogency of your argument

  • This is so scary. Absolutely horrendous.

  • It gets worse day after day.

  • @CitiBitch
    Actually, living in a ‘liberal’ society doesn’t necessarily help. After all, Aqsa Parvez was living in a liberal society. Sometimes it backfires, making people think they need to protect their way of life by heading towards fundamentalism. My boyfriend-type was a conservative here, somewhat. Then he went to Canada and stopped listening to music, started praying 5 times a day, developed major problems with me (secular, woman) and my presence in his life, decreased tolerance for alternative world views, and basically became a missionary intent on converting everyone else by becoming some sort of poster boy for Islam. And he’s still not as conservative as I’ve seen others get.
    That feeling of being under fire by the values of liberal society–that leads to an aggressive bent towards traditions and conservatism, which starts with taking away the freedom of ‘their’ women.

  • Yeah, that’s our country. There was also the case of the Daewoo Hostess getting gang raped by two men. However one of them was arrested the next day and action was taken promptly. I guess the change is coming, however the way things work it will be atleast another half a century gone by and number of victims having lived their life without justice being served to them.

  • oh don’t worry, Taz. Hindustan doesn’t lag too far behind.

    pick up any news daily and you will read articles about foreigners (white/gora-asian only..Indians havent gotten over their gora-fetish as yet.) getting raped, college girls getting molested in broad day-light. No one is caught, no one is jailed.

    And the govt has the nerve to market India as a ‘spiritual’ country to the gullible tourists.

  • What about women against women crimes? What were the mothers and sisters of these victims doing when they watched the males in their family make a victim of their sister/daughter? What is it that prevents the female bystander from taking a stronger stance to protect/ prevent crimes as the ones we read about. Justice – it’s need and its enactment cannot be gender based.
    A great post Tazeen, on a subject that gets way less attention than it should….for reasons unknown!

  • it’s a sad state of affairs. Aqsa’s case was a timely reminder to muslims here in Canada. Speeches in mosques were full of how to raise kids (most notably non-Pakistani dominated mosques such as West Indian or African mosques) and NOT beat them to death.

    I wish people who love to cite rape statistics in the West as proof of the value of hijab not resort to such simplistic (and wrong) views.

  • @F – thanks F – that’s an interesting point. Of course the other problem with liberal societies is venturing too extremely in the direction opposite to what you’ve described, i.e. forcing ‘liberal’ (usually AKA Western) principles in a non-Western world, in a bid to make the latter ‘civilised’ (whatever that means). I’ve written about this same issue indirectly on my blog under ‘Lilo, Liberty and the Law’. So you’ve pointed out an important issue – the need for balance: an educated or at least informed mind with an awareness of liberal principles, without an agenda to convert or radicalise (either in the crazy fundo way or the forced liberalism way). A very difficult balance which, as I’ve mentioned in my own blog, even the ‘West’ hasnt got right.

  • Proudly playing hosts to the most intolerance and illicit accomplishments. Excuse my Sarcasm and Bursting Disgust!

  • It is unfortunate that in many other instances people raise their voice and state that “X is against Islam” but in this cases there are not enough such cases. :\

  • The law of god i,e.. “Shariah” if implemented, tazeen will be out of topics and subject to write blogs highlighting such depressing state of affairs. such things happen because people wake up everyday in ignorance and try to apply their tainted minds to find a solution to problems. when Allah has already provided us with all the solutions in Quran in every aspect of life. we just have to fight to implement it. then u shall see Peace on this planet and tazeen blogging of not raped or molested women but women who succeed in their fields everyday. its just to see if tazeen hearts to blog good or bad stuff. and as for the status quo, a great post indeed. the victim should be provided with necessary security until the guilty is convicted. fast courts shud be set up wch deal with ‘crime or oppression against women’ only.

  • Intersting prospective,it look like citizen of Pakistan are brain washed by these nerve breaking news.No one care about problems of common people:electricity,jobs,safety.

    Do you know Presidency,Parliment,COAS,any beauricrat get load shedding? nope.

    They don’t care,they have dual citizenship,their children are live in foreign countries.

    Why we ave given them Right to rule our country?

    There should be a constitutional ammendment to block people with living in foreign countries10 years before or after seeking any government position to bar them. that’s it !

  • I guess the problem lies in most South Asian nations… Pakistan, India, Bangaldesh and maybe even Sri Lanka.
    There are laws in India which are meant to help the women, but either the ignorance level or the corruption is so high, it takes decades for justice – if it ever happens.
    I can only dread how much worse the situation is in Pakistan.
    I hope you do not get into much trouble for being a strong voice. Good luck!

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