Although, women make up almost half the country’s population, yet, they remain the most neglected and suppressed class of our society. Numerous reasons account for their dismal status in Pakistan. Among them, the six main reasons are the deep-rooted patriarchal norms, misinterpretation of the religion by the bigots, unresponsive state institutions, poor female literacy rate, inequality in employment and criminal defamation law.
Patriarchy means a male dominance of a family. The concept has been implanted in our society that male dominates female in all spheres whether economic, social or political. It is a mindset created by a society that prevents women from demanding their basic rights. Patriarchy has been so deeply entrenched in Pakistan that it pushes many male residents to adopt a bias approach towards women. They consider a woman as an object and inferior to a man. It is a reason that a boy’s birth is cherished by a family, whereas the birth of a girl is frowned upon. A boy is encouraged to get a quality education. On the contrary, a girl is expected to manage the household chores from an early age. Unless the mindset of men is altered towards women through education and awareness, women will continue to suffer at their hand in a male dominated society.
Another reason contributing to the dismal condition of women is, of course, the misinterpretation of Islam by some extremist elements. According to them, a woman’s position in Islam is within household and she must not go outside without a male guardian. Besides, in many cases, she is not allowed to get higher education or seek employment. She is forced to cover from head to toe. Moreover, she is not allowed to adopt family planning and pushed to give more births even at the risk of her health. Women are compelled to follow these rules by citing the teaching of Islam. However, Islam guarantees women’s right. It prohabited the killing of girls, grants women a right to divorce, ensures them to receive inheritance from family, permits them to gain education and gives them a right to freedom of earning. Practices such as wearing burqas, isolation of women in their homes, banning girls education, having male custodian are all tribal traditions having no basis in Islam. Problems take place when people start to link their culture and traditions to Islam.
In Pakistan, State institutions, particularly, the police and judiciary that are directly linked to ensure women rights, are not gender sensitive and lack proper training to treat both men and women equal. Female complaints are often dismissed and the police avoid registering their FIR. They fell insecure while approaching these institutions for help. When a woman reach a police station for a complaint of violence, the police often consider it as an internal household matter and ask them to solve the issue within the family. Thus, the unresponsive state institutions impedes women rights in Pakistan.
The major issue impeding women’s empowerment is their lagging behind in education. Women’s literacy rate paints a bleak image. For example, overall male literacy rate of Pakistan is 75 per cent while female literacy rate is staggering at 45 per cent. More alarming, female literacy rate among rural women is 20 per cent. Besides, female literacy rate in FATA is only 3 per cent. According to NGO’s report “Alif Ailan,” 51 per cent girls in KPK and 75 per cent in Baluchistan do no go to school. Many acts and bills have been passed by the federal and provincial governments to ensure women rights. Notable among them are Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, to increase women’s presence in employment, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act 2011 to bar force marriages, marriages to the Quran and giving away women in compensation, Acid Control and Acid Crimes Prevention Act 2011, to counter the acids attacks on women by making the offence punishable with imprisonment of a minimum of 14 years and a fine of Rs1 million, Sindh Domestic violence (prevention and protection) Act, 2013, to protect women from Domestic violence and so on. owing to their impoverish educational background, many women are not aware of their rights, power and authority guaranteed by the state for their protection. As a result, they suffer violence and inequality silently and do not use these acts and bills to get assailant punished.
In Pakistan, women are paid less than men for the same work. According to Global Gender Parity Report, women are paid 34 per cent less than men. Inequality in wages creates psychological problems and becomes a principal cause of their exploitation. As a result, with a small income they bring to their homes, they fail to fulfill their household requirements. Hence, the exploitation of women in employment by providing them inadequate wages results in not amelioration, but further deterioration of their condition.
Renowned columnist of Dawn, Sara Malkani wrote in his article titled “Criminal Defamation” that criminal defamation law is used as a tool to suppress or silent the voices of women who suffer harassments or violence at the hand of men. Under the Pakistan Penal Code, any person who makes a statement knowing or having reason to believe that it would “harm the reputation” of a person is guilty of an offence subject to imprisonment of up to five years. The law was used to suppress the voices of women who broke their silence on the issue of sexual harassment encouraged by global moment #MeToo. Afterwards, a wave of defamation proceedings against women were initiated to suppress them. The problem with this law is that it will restrain women to raise their voice against harassment and mistreatment.
Thus, the above mentioned are the main reasons for the poor status of women in Pakistan. The principal reason among them is patriarchy. It is a part of our culture that male is superior to female. Unless this thinking is changed, nothing would work to provide adequate rights to women.