Women, despite being the backbone of a family and an essential being of society, are regrettably bearing the burden of poverty, repression, subservience, barbarousness, and pervasive sexism in Pakistan. A developing country that is striving hard to manage its internal affairs and is simultaneously confronted with numerous regional grievances is intensely lagging behind on gender-related issues. Although women constitute around 50 percent of the entire population, yet gender-inequality and disparity remained one critical issue since independence. A nation with a vision to empower women, support minorities, and respect all religions has endangered and suffocated the ones who constitute half of the entire population of this country.

The disparity and inequality in terms of gender or caste are not limited to Asia or Africa; it is a worldwide phenomenon. Its existence is visualised and experienced in the remuneration and opportunities offered to women in various classes and regions. Western countries realised the importance and capabilities of women in other fields (mostly male-dominated) of life earlier, so they tried their best to support them by providing security, liberty, opportunities, etc. In that case, Pakistan is an exception for the reason that for many years, it is constantly ranked on the third, fourth, sixth, and second-worst countries in the world with regards to its women. This is because gender discrimination and inequality are deeply rooted in society and has turned out to be an enormous threat which is also hampering the country’s progress.

The cases of domestic violence, sexual harassment, molestation, kidnapping, male chauvinism, honour killings, acid attacks, and rapes are on the rise. According to reports it is estimated that around 70-90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered physical, psychological, sexual, and emotional abuse. In one of the reports, the number of cases related to sexual violence between the years 2004-2016 was around 4,734, the registered honour crime cases were 15,000 while 5,500 and 1,800 cases were related to kidnappings and domestic violence respectively. However, the media reports the number of cases of violence against women from January 2011 to June 2017 was more than 51,241.

An enormous upsurge in the cases regarding child sexual abuse, rape, and violence was witnessed in the year 2018 and onwards. In the duration of only 8 months from January to August 2018, the provincial capital of Punjab reported 77 cases of rape of minor girls only. One of the most highlighted and devastating rape and murder case among all those was of Zainab-a six-year-old girl from Kasur, Punjab. Moreover, in 2019 the number of rape cases was 3,881; child sexual abuses were around 1,359; there were 1,758 cases related to violence against women, while cases concerning the kidnapping of women and honour killings were 12,600 and 197 respectively.

For several years, women have been facing one of the cruellest and unimaginable forms of violence that includes acid attacks by jilted lovers, former psychotic partners, or filthy family members. The records revealed the number of acid attack victims in 2010 was 30, while 75 in 2011, 96 in 2012, 67 in 2013, 84 in 2014, more than 49 in 2015, 71 in 2016-2017, and 62 cases in between 2018-2019. Furthermore, there are several recent cases of vitriol attacks in May and August this year where the accusers of such brutal acts are either ex-fiancé or a madrassah teacher, or in some cases, a husband. The ratio of vitriolage is decreasing whereas the ratio of rape and paedophile cases is increasing on a daily basis. A woman is raped every 2 hours in Pakistan whereas 7 children per day fall prey to abusers.

The major concern that arises after looking at the wide-ranging laws proposed in different years in support of women lies in the effectiveness they hold. To nobody’s surprise, all such efforts provided minimal prominence to women of a society where the respect she gains is highly superficial. This is a society where there is an ingrained dislike of women and where misogynistic and abusive remarks are shared against women on talk shows and social media platforms; a society where a mother of two is gang-raped on a highway in Pakistan and the police officials, instead of accusing the abusers, blame the lady for being out late at night. Victim blaming has become a norm in this highly patriarchal society and is evident from the investigations carried by the police especially in sexual assault cases.

The list of heinous and vicious incidents grows by many folds by each passing day and year. There are several reasons for this surge. First, it is the carelessness of our leaders that pay little to no heed towards these brutal crimes. Second, it is the misogynistic, belittling, and victim-blaming attitude of the police and people that hinders the victims to even file a complaint against the culprits. Third and the most important is the conviction rate that is not even 2.5 percent of all the reported cases by the courts. Forth it is the humiliation that young girls and women have to face in the form of a hymen test; it is like one rape over another and is forbidden in many states but not in Pakistan. The 2010 case of Uzma Ayub from Karak District is proof of that. 

Since such tests are a violation of human rights and extreme torture to women, therefore they must be prohibited on an immediate basis. All those things including pornographic and abusive material on sites and TV, that tempt and lure the individuals to commit such crimes must be censored and completely banned. It’s high time that the rapists must be held accountable and punished severely without any delay, that too with the help of police so they may regain their trust among the masses. Our society doesn’t need more rape victims like Mukhtaran Mai. Therefore, the acknowledgment of such heinous crimes among cultural and national issues is the need of the hour.

Mubeen Ashraf

The writer holds an M.Phil. degree in Defence and Strategic Studies. She can be reached at mubeen.