Lip service to women’s rights was routinely paid yesterday by various political leaders from both the government and opposition yesterday on the occasion of International Women’s Day. The past year has been particularly hard for women in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan due the pandemic. More female workers lost their jobs as businesses made layoffs and those who were lucky enough to survive the axe had to juggle work and household duties from home. When Covid-19 first hit and lockdowns were placed, rates of domestic violence increased as expected.
Pakistan’s ruling parties continue to allow acts of grievous injustice against women like Karo kari, watta satta, honour killings and forced marriages to settle blood feuds continue to flourish. Women are gang raped at the orders of jirgas, raped to settle old scores with rivals, disfigured through acid attacks for rejecting a suitor and killed by in-laws through contrived accidents for bringing less than the demanded dowry.
Harassment in workplaces is not unusual. Under pressure from backward elements in certain constituencies, political parties sign secret pacts to deprive women from casting votes. The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) continues to oppose the bill against domestic violence while it has allowed husbands to ‘lightly beat’ wives who defy them, recommended abolition of co-education, endorsed under-age marriage and ruled out DNA as primary evidence in rape cases. It was a duty of the lawmakers during the democratic spells and of military rulers who had usurped power to make laws and ensure their application to abolish primitive customs, traditions and practices that have turned women not only into unequal citizens but also victims of heinous crimes. Major politicians have themselves been involved in misogynist remarks. Sheikh Rasheed, Khawaja Asif, Fazl-ur- Rehman and Amir Liaquat are just a handful of the lot. Women in modern history have got equal rights only through a resolute display of power. They got the right to vote through a painful and protracted struggle by the brave suffragettes in the developed democracies — 1918 in Britain, as late as 1945 in France. The ‘Aurat March’, which began in Karachi in 2018 on International Women’s Day continues to be held each year despite opposition from the typical misogynistic regressive mindset that has been allowed to exist and grow by an unjust system.
New laws need to be passed while some old ones need to be amended to make the country a safer place for women where they have equal rights. Passing legislation however is only part of the battle, its implementation is also crucial.