Women in Pakistan have witnessed rising cases of harassment in the recent years. There is a surge in domestic violence, rape, acid attacks, while forced conversions and marriages, discrimination in job opportunities have become a norm. Risks arising from the radical religious and traditional practices, including honour killings, have made life of Pakistani women harrowing, said rights activists. Every successive government has failed to ensure safe and open atmosphere for Pakistani women as none wanted to irk radicals who cited religious practices for suppression of women rights and even to deny basic liberties. The current Imran Khan- led government is no exception to it. Rather the problem appears to have worsened in his regime.
Interestingly, Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has joined hands with its bitter rival Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), in opposing Aurat March – an annual event held on International Women’s Day on March 8 to highlight women’s issues. 1
Even those from rich, educated families with high social status are not protected. A 27-year old woman who was a daughter of a Pakistani diplomat was killed brutally as she refused to marry. Violence and crimes against women have become a serious problem, warned Pakistani as well as international rights organisations.
Pakistan government has also failed to stop forced conversion of women from the minority communities. As per media reports, over 1,000 such girls are abducted in Pakistan annually and 70 per cent of them are minor. They are forced to change their religious identity and married off, often sold off 4. United Nations `Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women’ expressed concerns over “uneven” application of gender equality policies and programmes in Pakistan as well as raised alarm over violence against women, forced marriages and honour killings5.
The prosecution and judicial services in Pakistan have very little to offer for women victims as the loopholes in the law ensure the perpetrators are not punished and even charged, Rimmel Mohydin, South Asia campaigner at Amnesty International said. Each day when a victim doesn’t get justice or when a perpetrator walks free after adding to the haunting toll of women being killed or violated in this country should be a watershed moment for Pakistan 6 . In September 2020, a French woman stuck on the highway to Lahore after her car ran out of fuel. She called police helpline but there was no help. She was raped by two locals in front of her two children. It created a huge uproar in Pakistan over safety of women. However, Lahore’s top cop Umer Sheikh blamed the French woman asking why she did not take busier road.
Pakistani Prime Minister, who is an Oxford graduate, blamed women for the rising crimes against them. He asked women to cover up to prevent temptation in any society where vulgarity is prevalent and hence there are consequences. People turned angry as the top leadership of the country tried to wash its hands off when the assault on women was rising day by day. Several rights groups slammed Khan for being a rape apologist and said his statements were insensitive, dangerous, actively fostered and promoted rape culture. International groups too took cognizance. Such statements have the effect of further traumatizing and silencing survivors of sexual violence by placing the blame on them, instead of on those who carry out the crime and the system that enables rapists, read the joint statement issued by these groups. 7