By Hira Zulfiqar
The inaction against gendered violence has become an endemic in Pakistan. However, this is not a novel issue as women of Pakistan have struggled to have their rights enforced for 70 plus years. Each year the situation gets graver than the last and the fight to have rights enforced becomes even harder. There are countless examples of impunities that one gender gets over the other when it comes to violence. This can be attributed to many cultural practices and to the systematic failures that not only create hurdles for women who want justice but also deter them as the process can be long and harrowing and often unfruitful. These topics are discussed in detail in this essay; in the conclusion of this essay, some ways this impunity can be combated have been discussed.
There are many instances of systematic impunity being given to the perpetrators; the most current example of this is the Noor Mukdam case. In this case, a 27-year-old woman was brutally murdered by a man named Zahir Jaffer1, and despite there being all the evidence present including videotapes of his crimes, he has still not been indicted for the crime.
On 14 August 2021, an influencer/ TikTok, arranged a meet and greet with her fans, little did she know this meet and greet would turn into a nightmare, as near the monument of Minar e Pakistan2 She was groped and assaulted by over 400 men. After this horrendous incident, many of the perpetrators were arrested, however, soon after they made bail and there was no follow-up on the case.
The issue is that despite social media being used as a tool to hold the perpetrators of such crimes accountable, it seems that the enforcers of law wait for the hype around a case to die down or for people to move on to another issue before releasing the perpetrator.
Further, in 2021, the National Assembly presented the Domestic Violence bill. However, this bill soon became the source of controversy and had to be sent to the religious clergy for approval. The clergy then imposed sevreral reservations on it stating that it goes against the culture values of Pakistan and the religion of Islam.3 The bill is now tabled for the next session however, the reservations on this bill have effectively blocked any avenue women could have against their abusers.
The courts and the police have many times failed the women of this country, by not holding nearly as many people accountable for the crimes committed against them. Many laws exist to prevent violence against women in Pakistan however; the conviction rate of these laws is only 1-2.5% as per a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)4. Such low rates of convictions further discourage women from reporting such crimes or going to court for the enforcement of their rights and getting justice if they have been made victims of such crimes.
These instances give us a clear picture of systematic failures which exist in Pakistan when it comes to the protection of women’s rights. Pakistan is a signatory to many international covenants and documents which uphold women’s rights such as International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR)5, The implementation of these laws is also weak because Pakistan has signed them with many reservations, especially to those that concern women’s rights. A good example of this is Pakistan’s reservation on article 7 of ICCPR which states that the signatory state must ensure equal rights for men and women as per the covenant6.
Moreover, even though Pakistan is a signatory to The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), this convention is created specifically to protect women’s rights. However, to no one’s surprise, the implementation of this convention is weak in Pakistan. An example of this has been given by a committee expert, Patricia Schulz, in her survey conducted in February of 2021 Schulz revealed that currently, Pakistan does not have comprehensive legislation that tackles the issue of Women’s trafficking, despite the fact that it is both a transit and a destination country for such trafficking7.
Cultural Practices as a Source of Impunity
Impunity against gendered violence is normalized in Pakistani society which has resulted in a culture of protection of those who commit these crimes. These practices are not the sole reason for impunity against violence but they play a critical role in promoting such practices. The reason for this is that women and girls are taught to deal with situations of gendered violence with endurance and as a result, many cases go unreported.
In an article by Somaiyah Hafeez8, a scenario of a woman is narrated in which she is working outside of the home all day and as soon as she comes home her husband subjects her to domestic violence. She has told her brother about this issue however, her brother refuses to help her as they got married through the custom of watta satta, a tradition of marriage exchanges. If the brother speaks up for his sister he would risk breaking his own marriage in the process. This and many other cultural practices exist in Pakistan that have contributed to impunity against women.
Another example of such cultural practices is honor killing; honor killing is the murder of a woman or girl, who is perceived to have brought dishonor to the family. It is most typically done by the male members of the family. In Pakistan, an estimated 1000 women lose their lives in the name of honor9. There have been many shocking cases of honor killings that Pakistan has witnessed over the years. However, it seems that the perpetrators of these crimes are never brought to justice. One of the major reasons for this is that 93% of these killings are done by close family members10, after the crime happens the perpetrator is forgiven by other family members ensuring that there are no consequences for the crime.
Furthermore, remarks made by the current prime minister of Pakistan are also a good example of how ingrained the concept of impunity for gendered violence is in Pakistani society. This is because on several occasions Prime Minister Imran Khan has stated that obscenity and lack of purdah (veiling) are the leading causes of rising in sexual violence in Pakistan11. Not only this, but Imran Khan has also made an alleged harasser an ambassador for his education city called Namal Knowledge City12. He has even stated that men are not robots and they will act as predators if provoked by women in “inappropriate dresses13.”
These and many instances like this where women’s sexuality is used as a justification for the crimes against them. Making such remarks effectively puts all the blame on the victim and absolves the perpetrators of any wrongdoing. This then results in even more crimes of the same nature occurring and the victims remain without justice.
Moreover, there is a stigma that exists around women who want to break out of these situations. Society ostracizes women who chose to break out of abusive marriages or if they speak up when they are raped. This further discourages them from ever even reporting such crimes and as per a report by UNFPA, one in two women who face gender-based violence in Pakistan does not report it14.
Social Media as a Source of Justice
Throughout the history of Pakistan, women have been discriminated against and have often been denied justice because they are considered weak. However, now in the age of social media women have taken the injustices that have been committed against them to the court of the public. Unfortunately, this is the only avenue left for them to obtain even a semblance of justice.
One of the biggest examples of this is the honor killing of the famous vlogger Qandeel Baloch. Three months after her death an Anti Honor Killing bill was passed which outlawed the loophole which allowed victims’ families to forgive the perpetrator. It then took a further three years after her murder for her brother to be sentenced to life. It can be argued that the only reason an anti honor killing bill even exists in Pakistan is due to the popularity of Baloch on social media, had she not amassed such a huge following or gained so much attention she would have been just another girl killed in the name of honor.
In the past year, two of the most prominent cases of domestic violence are that of Saima and Qurtaul ain. In both of these instances, these women were killed by their husbands. Saima was tortured to death and Qurtaul ain who was a victim of domestic violence and was killed in front of her children. The husband/murderer of Quratulain belonged to an influential family due to which the police refused to file an FIR. When justice for Quratulain started trending on social media the police filed an FIR and arrested him15.
On the other hand, even though the story of Saima was highlighted on social media, there is little proof that suggests that her husband was arrested and tried for his crimes.
Further, an incident that took place in Lahore where a girl living in a hostel was killed by a man who wanted to marry her. The incident of her death was highlighted on social media which played a major role in ensuring that the victim got justice and as a result of this her murder was arrested16.
Moreover, another incident that has gained traction on social media in the past year is the #arrest Usman Mirza movement, the perpetrator in this incident went into the guesthouse in which the victim and her fiance were staying and raped her. Adding to this nightmarish situation he made videos of the incident which he later used to blackmail her and her partner. When the videos were posted on social media #arrestusamnmirza started trending and he was then arrested.
However, his arrest did not last for long, on January 11th, 2022, the victim retracted her statement against the accused and told the trial judge that she did not wish to pursue the case17.
Nevertheless, the state has declared that irrespective of the recent developments they will pursue the case against Usman Mirza and ensure that justice is served. Though it should be noted that the situation is still developing and we would have to wait and see if Usman Mirza will face the full force of law or become one of the countless perpetrators who face no consequences.
Social media is a great avenue for women to make their voices heard when they are facing such injustices. However, this reliance on social media to attain justice is a strong indicator of a broken system. A system where the laws are not implemented and the courts are not providing effective relief. This reliance is also dangerous as it does not always guarantee that justice will be given to the victims. Thus, there is a need for more effective systems to be put in place so that everyone can attain justice and not just the handful of cases that gain traction on social media.
Solutions to Impunity
There can be many solutions to end this gendered impunity; first and foremost there is a need for influencing social norms in Pakistan. To achieve this it is important to engage both genders in the conversation of violence. Engaging boys and men in this conversation will aid in making society a safer place for women. Engaging girls and women in the conversation will educate them about this issue and hopefully reduce their vulnerability to such violence in the future. A good way to achieve this would be to introduce sensitization courses as a part of the curriculum that teaches young boys to show empathy to girls, and a curriculum that teaches girls the signs of abuse and removes the stigmas that come with leaving an abusive situation.
Instead of teaching girls to endure the violence that they face, it is important to create a society that supports the survivors of such abuse. In most instances, women stay in abusive situations because they are afraid of the labels society will put upon them if they try to leave. Therefore, creating an environment of love and support will encourage more women to leave situations in which they are being subjected to violence.
One of the most effective solutions to ending impunity can be having more participation of women in the law-making process and the judiciary. Diversification in this way will be an aid in reducing and abolishing the systematic hurdles women have to face when they report a crime. A good example of this is the appointment of Fehmida Mirza as the first woman speaker of the national assembly, during her tenure many women positive laws were passed such as The Protection of Women Against Harassment in the Workplace Act and the Acid and Burn Crime Act18. Another example can be the abolishment of the outdated two-finger test by the High court judge Justice Aisha Malik, this test was used to check the virginity of rape victims19.
The last solution that can aid in ending impunity against gendered violence is social media. Social media can act as a great tool to educate women about their rights. The popularity in social media also ensures that news about such violence is getting attention even if the mainstream media does not highlight it. In some situations, social media can also act as a tool women use to get justice in a society that silences them and a justice system that turns a blind eye to them.
1Ayub.A,(2021),Pakistan is a chronic case of gender-based violence,New Frame.https://www.newframe.com/pakistan-is-a-chronic-case-of-gender-based-violence/
2 Kirmani.N (2021),The past few months have been harrowing for Pakistani women,AlJazeera.https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/10/8/violence-against-women-in-pakistan-is-not-new-but-it-must-stop
6Article 7 ICCPR. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx
7Patricia Schulz,2021, Pakistan’s CEDAW Session: A Step Further in the Integrated Human Rights Approach for Women,Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.https://www.wilpf.org/pakistans-cedaw-session-a-step-further-in-the-integrated-human-rights-approach-for-women/
8Hafeez.S,(2021),Pakistan’s Problem With Violence Against Women Is Growing Impossible to Ignore,The Diplomat.https://thediplomat.com/2021/08/pakistans-problem-with-violence-against-women-is-growing-impossible-to-ignore/
10 “HRCP Archive | Search News”. hrcpmonitor.org. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
11 Idrees.L(2021),Men’s violence against women in Pkaistan:will the narrative ever change?, Exepose.https://exepose.com/2021/08/13/mens-violence-against-women-in-pakistan-will-the-narrative-ever-change/#mens-violence-against-women-in-pakistan-will-the-narrative-ever-change
13Shweta Sharma,(2021),Women wearing few clothes impact men’: Pakistan’s Imran Khan slammed for blaming women for sexual violence.https://www.independent.co.uk/asia/south-asia/imran-khan-interview-womens-clothes-sexual-violence-b1869777.html
15MM NEWS,(2021),Man arrested for torturing, murdering wife in Hyderabad. https://mmnews.tv/man-arrested-for-allegedly-torturing-murdering-wife-in-hyderabad/
16Faraz,A.(2021),British-Pakistani woman found dead in Lahore’s DHA under mysterious circumstances.Geo news.https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/830442-british-pakistani-woman-found-dead-in-lahores-dha-under-mysterious-circumstances.
17Tahir Nasser (2022),Islamabad couple harassment case: Victim retracts statement, says does not want to pursue case https://www.dawn.com/news/1668872
18Khan, Umer S. (2020). Gender-Based Violence in Pakistan – a Critical Analysis. Master’s thesis, Harvard Extension School. pg26-27.
19Bilal,Rana.2021,LHC does away with archaic two-finger test for sexual assault survivors, terms them ‘illegal’,Dawn news.https://www.dawn.com/news/1599672