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PAKISTAN: Women Have Little to Celebrate

PAKISTAN: Women have little to celebrate on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza

Today, in recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, it is incumbent upon the international community and the government of Pakistan to examine with greater concern the status and future of Pakistani women. This day may in some nations commemorate significant accomplishments for women's rights and gender parity, but, in Pakistan, today must serve primarily as a reminder of how much Pakistan has yet to do to protect its women from gender-based violence and to ensure their safety.

In particular, this day should inspire consideration of the circumstances faced by women in Pakistan with regard to overwhelming barriers to legal access and assaults perpetrated by representatives of the state. For example, in a recent case a woman who received a stay order from court over a dispute on ownership of her house was picked up by policemen and their informers and taken to a private detention centre where she was gang raped for more than 50 days. The rape victim's cases against the accused policemen and their henchmen were withdrawn due to the controversy of the geographical jurisdiction of the police. The medical report of the rape was not issued even after one month following the medical examination. The victim and her family are in hiding because of continuous police threats to withdraw the case. The deputy inspector generals of the two districts of Karachi metropolitan city refused to entertain the complaints of the victim on the grounds of jurisdiction.

In another recent tragic case, a 13-year-old girl became the victim of abduction and gang rape as a punishment for an unrelated love marriage between a member of her tribe and that of her assailants. Six armed men abducted Naveeda Kalhoro and gang-raped her, leaving her by the roadside. The Sindh police stopped the investigation into the case because of the assailant’s ties to the ruling party. A doctor also affiliated with the ruling party blocked the completion of the medical report, which confirmed the rape. The journalists reporting on the case were threatened by the provincial ministers to stop reporting on the involvement of the lawyers. In retaliation, the perpetrators of the gang rape filed a case of abduction against the victim’s father. The district executive health officer (DEO-Health) has shown his inability to issue the provisional medical report, which was already prepared by the government hospital.

Women who are members of religious minorities are most vulnerable to both discrimination and violence. These groups lack fundamental rights and the prerogative to exercise those formal rights that have been granted by the state. Religion functions as both a primary motivation for crimes and as a determinant of criminal complaint outcomes. Women and religious minorities face complex, pervasive forms of discrimination, from social to judicial. For example, a 45-year-old Christian woman, Asia Bibi, asked to fetch water while working in the fields was then told by Muslim women that she should not be allowed to touch their water bowl. They later accused Bibi of blasphemy, and a lower court sentenced Bibi to death.

In another example, this year, Christian teacher Julia Austin suffered harassment and physical at the hands of Muslim colleagues before she was dismissed without notice or severance on false ground in clear violation of her rights as an employee. Already having difficulty finding a new job, Ms. Austin was unwilling to file an official complaint for fear of repercussions--such as being accused of and prosecuted under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

There has been an increase in forced marriage and forcible conversion by Muslim extremists that may owe in part to the aversion of the state to protecting the rights of religious minorities. A young Hindu woman, Gajri (15), was abducted by a neighbor from the home of her Hindu parents in Katchi Mandi, Liaquatpur, in Punjab's Rahim Yar Khan district. Soon after her disappearance the station head officer of the local police station, Saddar Circle Police Station, Liaquatpur sub-district received a letter and an affidavit from a Madrassa that said that Gajri had embraced Islam and had married the neighbour, a Mr. Mohammad Salim. In January the parents tried to file a case of abduction against their neighbor and the Madrassa but report being refused help by District Police Officer Mr. Imtiaz Gul. He allegedly told them that he had no power to intervene in matters of religion conversion, and that their daughter was now the property of the Madrassa. He stated that Islam was a religion that could be entered, but not exited

Today should also serve as a reminder of all those cases that remain unresolved. A young deaf girl has been missing since June 2006, and police have refused to investigate the case. The 17-year-old was hired by a well known politico-religious family in Punjab to assist during a marriage ceremony and has not been seen or heard from since. Her family was told that she had been sent to the house of a relative of the employer -- a military officer -- but all further attempts to find her have been thwarted by the former employers and local police. The mother and her three daughters have moved to shelter due to continuous threats, and report being warned against filing a legal case. Although the case was recently filed at the request of the Chief Minister, it was quickly closed by police officers. The girl remains missing to date.

While progress toward the passage of legislation against domestic violence and acid terrorism is encouraging, such legislation is far from passage and implementation. For today women continue to experience unmitigated abuse and to be targeted in vicious, disfiguring attacks as well as to be the victims of sexual assaults, abductions, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, and murder.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

ENDS

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