Women in Pakistan - Victims of the social and economic desecration
By Sadaf Zahra
The South Asian subcontinent is the least gender sensitive region in the world.
It is the only region in the world where men outnumber women. The sex ratio is
105.7 men to every 100 women. In Pakistan, women are not only subjected to
financial discrimination, but they are also victims of inhuman customs and laws
such as Karo Kari, Hadood ordinance, Qasas and marriage to the Quran and half
witnesses according to the state law (whereby in court a female witness is only
worth half a male witness).
In the rural areas, women are like slaves subject to drudgery. They are there
just to obey their fathers, brothers and husbands. They do not have the right
to decide about themselves because women are considered as foolish creatures
according to the dominant social and cultural norms. Likewise marriage is also
a sort of trade between different families both in the rural and urban areas.
They are highly vulnerable to violation of their rights to life.
A woman's right to liberty is restricted in the name of modesty, protection and
prevention of immoral activity. In rural areas 90% of women work in the fields.
They work for the whole day with their male family members, but they still have
to face their wrath. Male family members keep a strict eye on the female family
members in the name of "honour". But one must understand the meaning of honour
because in our society honour does not have the meaning of its true sense. Here
it really means possession of women as a form of property. Not only are the
restrictions of women's liberty maintained in the name of this honour (ghairat)
but they also can be put to death if they lose their "honour".
Karo Kari is the form of honour killings. Last year 286 women were murdered in
the name of honour by the male family members (and these are only the
registered cases). On 11th June 2000, four women and one man were killed in the
Dera Jamali village in Sindh. Last year on the same dates a 13 year old girl,
Sara, was subjected to this honour killing in Goth Khosa. Two young boys Imtiaz
and Arshad were also killed in the same case. The boys had never met the young
girl in their lives. But the brother of Sara declared it an honour killing to
get less punishment in law. This law also gives some leniency to the killers in
such cases. He actually wanted to grab the land of these boys and used this
accusation to kill the boys along with his sister.
In the village of Moratha there was a case of Karo Kari(honour killing). The
motive of the killing was that the murderer wanted to marry a married woman. He
killed the husband of that woman and his own innocent sister and he was
released from jail after a few months.
Many of the cases of Karo Kari are related to love marriage. Recently a woman
with her little child of five months, husband and four other members of her
in-laws, was killed because she had committed the crime of love marriage. Most
of the women in Pakistan are not allowed to marry a person of their choice.
There are hundreds of such cases, that are not registered. But if we go to the
root cause of these honour killings we see that they are linked to the question
of land, water, money and property. But again, only the women of the poor
classes are victims of this inhuman custom of Karo Kari. This custom is seldom
implemented against rich women.
In the Punjab brothers, fathers and husbands subject 82% of women to domestic
violence. The incidence of wife-battering is so common that it is not even
recognised as a pernicious form of violence against women. Even in the cases
where women receive serious injuries and want to file complaints, they are
advised by the police to reconcile with their husbands, as any matrimonial
dispute would bring dishonour to them.
This violence against women begins in their childhood. They are not allowed to
play games like boys that can help in their speedy mental and physical
developmentment. Another practice common in Pakistan, is cutting off a women's
nose if she is suspected of having an extra-marital relationship. Sexual
assault on women, including rape, remains one of the most common crimes. The
Human Rights Commission estimated that rape occurs every three hours. No
estimate, however, can be made of the numerous cases that go unreported.
The Islamic Penal Law "Hadood Ordinance" repealed the provisions of the
Pakistan Penal Code related to rape cases, in 1979. The Islamic Law of evidence
applicable to cases of rape requires the evidence of four adult male Muslims,
in order for the penalty of hadood to be imposed upon the accused. Being a half
witness by law the raped woman can't even testify against the crime committed
against her. According to these laws, testimony of the victim requires strong
corroboration for conviction by the court. On the other hand, where sexual
intercourse is established but the absence of consent cannot be proved, the
presumption that such intercourse occurred with the woman's consent can place
her at the risk of prosecution. In both cases, adultery or rape, a woman is
kept in jail pending the ruling of the court. 52% of women languishing in the
jails of Pakistan are waiting for their fate in these cases. In the case of a
woman marrying without the consent of her family, the marriage can be declared
invalid and the couple would then be accused of the offence of zina (adultery).
If the women victimized by the offenders contact the law (the police) and the
other investigating agencies, the women of the oppressed classes are subject to
police brutality and crimes like rape are often carried out while in custody.
The incidence of sexual assault on women in police custody increased after the
implementation of these Islamic laws.
Another law, "Qasas", is also used to victimize women, because under this law
if a person kills somebody and the family of the victim compromises with the
killer then they are paid an agreed amount of money, land and of course women
by the assassin's family.
Marriage to the Holy Quran (the holy book of Islam) is also common in Sindh.
Under this law a woman has to live without a husband throughout her life. But
this law is only applied among the class of landlords. They use this only to
keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.
But if we look at the history of Pakistan, we find several women's movements
against these criminal laws and customs. But these movements are mostly
dominated by the NGOs (Non Government Organisations). And the tragedy of the
NGOs is that they believe in this system, its state and its laws. They respect
the Judiciary as well as the state. They do not have a way out except. they
simply appeal to the ruling elite and their state to pass such laws that can
abolish discrimination against women within society. But the oppression of
women is rooted within the system itself. In ancient times the women produced
food for the family. In that era women had learned how to cultivate the land.
Men used to hunt only. That is why women had a particular recognition in
society. And over a period of time she became the head of the family. Even
goddesses outnumbered gods in religion.
With the passage of time men learned the cultivation procedure and became
dominant in the productive process. Thus matriarchal society, a society where
women dominated, withered away. The new forms of property changed the
inheritance to men and hence established male domination. After the
introduction of this system of private ownership woman gradually became a
commodity and hence possessed as private property. These forms developed over
time and the exploitation of women continued in different patterns.
It is only with the rapid advancement of technology that want can be abolished
and the psychology of dearth and greed can give way to a psychology of
possession free consciousness. This will ultimately free women from the bondage
of domestic labour and the stigma of being inferior human beings.
At the present time Capitalism has created a society of want and greed in which
human beings have to live a life of cut-throat competition in order to survive.
In countries like Pakistan it has also failed to bridge the gap between the
rural and urban areas. It has failed to develop different regions evenly and
penetrate modernity into rural sections of the population.
Basic needs such as education, health water supply and transport, etc., are
inadequate. On the other hand there is the penetration of all forms of the
latest technology, like satellite television, which has distorted the patterns
of social and cultural development of these areas. In villages we can see clear
forms of combined and uneven development. T.V and satellite is available but
tools and methods of farming are thousands of years old. These deformed
patterns of development have further aggravated the lives of women in the rural
areas. Social life in the countryside and the urban centres has not changed in
any spectacular way. It has actually worsened.
This intense social crisis manifests itself in the sharp rise in the
molestation of women, gang rape and violent crimes against women, both in the
rural and urban areas.
The same case applies to the third world countries where Capitalism has failed
to carry out any of its historical tasks. Out-dated customs are still practiced
and have not been eradicated. In the cities, out-dated customs have much less
of an influence, because of the fact that women are playing a major role in the
generation of family income. They do not carry out "unpaid labour" like rural
women. But they are also facing daunting challenges and problems in the cities.
Even in the advanced countries the exploitation and harassment of women on the
basis of gender is rampant.
But the question arises: how long will this continue? Will the women's
movements only confine themselves to mere appeals and demonstrations or will
all the existent order have to change? In this system of private ownership of
the means of production (i.e. capitalism), woman has been reduced to a
commodity. The rottenness of the system is evident from the fact that sex has
become the third largest industry in the world. The double exploitation of
women cannot be understood without analyzing its historical social and economic
basis. Only then can a strategy for its eradication be devised.
The domestic labour of women, looking after the children, cleaning the house,
cooking, washing and the many other forms of labour in which women are involved
is a full day's work. But this system does not reward this human labour. Hence
the cultural, social, moral and ethical roots of society are devised in such a
manner that this system gets the labour of women in running society for free
and is taken for granted. Hence this condition whereby women do not get back
the product of their labour, develops a psychology of alienation. This further
weakens and depresses women. Utilizing this situation the rulers of this system
create laws, customs and rotten cultural traditions to further oppress women.
The brutal military dictator Zia-ul Haq imposed the "Hadood Ordinance" and
other anti-women black laws to further facilitate the exploitation of women by
capitalism. Even a "democratic" government headed by a woman prime minister,
Benazir Bhutto, could not abolish these draconian laws because they were
inherent to the system and its state.
These pressures upon women further diminished their will, confidence, and
determination. These reactionary periods developed a defeatist psychology
amongst women. To abide by the ethics of this society, they are lured into
behaving as commodities with excessive use of cosmetics and make-up, with a
lust for jewellery and a psychology of decoration.
These traits are then further exploited by rich men into further subjugating
women and portraying them as "weaknesses" of women. Using this social
insecurity, alienation and the pressures on women, the capitalists exacerbate
the exploitation of women workers in the factories and mills. It has been seen
in general that women work with greater dedication and more meticulously than
men. For example in Pakistan, women are 28% of the total workforce yet they
generate 40% of production. At the same time it is a general law of capitalism
that women workers are paid less than their male counterparts all around the
world. For example according to the Office of National Statistics in Britain,
the average yearly income of male workers in 1999 was ?23,000 (pounds sterling)
while at the same time the average wage of a female worker was ?16,000. Hence
there was a difference of 42% in their wage earnings. In Pakistan and the rest
of the third world this situation is even worse.
At the same time the gender insensitivity is so severe that from the cradle to
the grave women are forced to lead a discriminated life. There are more infant
deaths among girls than among boys. Every year 135,000 women die during
childbirth in Pakistan. Only 21% of women have access to medical facilities
The tragedy with the women's movements is that women from the upper classes,
who mostly dominate them, have never had to suffer the same ordeals as the
women of the oppressed classes. The adverse conditions in important sectors
such as public hygiene, health and education, have a greater bearing on women
of the working classes. Hence the struggle for the rights of women and their
liberation have different meanings for women of different classes.
Without the overthrow of the bourgeois state and capitalist exploitation, the
emancipation of working class women (who constitute the vast majority in
society) is a utopia. Hence the ultimate liberation of women is linked to the
class struggle of the workers of all religions, nationalities, races, sexes and
colours. The ultimate destiny