Islamabad [Pakistan], March 7 (ANI): As the world is moving forward and women are getting equal status in the fields of education or employment opportunities, Pakistan is witnessing a backsliding as far as women's rights are concerned with the country becoming more conservative since Imran Khan came to power.
On March 8, the world celebrates International Women's Day (IWD). This year's theme for IWD is "Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow," recognising the contributions of women and girls around the world on issues such as the climate change adaption, mitigation, "and response to build a more sustainable future for all.
It is a day of celebration for women and girls from all walks of life across the world. But in Pakistan, women are still caught in the trap of a feudal conservative patriarchal society, where Women's Day celebrations are condemned and seen against the 'Islamic' values.
According to the last year's 'Global Gender Gap Report 2021', Pakistan ranked 153 out of 156 countries on the gender parity index - among the last four. It ranked seventh among eight countries in South Asia, only better than Afghanistan.
Pakistan's gender gap has even widened by 0.7 per cent points in 2021 compared to 2020. Interestingly, since the Imran Khan government came to power in August 2018, Pakistan's Global Gender Gap Index has worsened over time. In 2017, Pakistan ranked 143, slipping to 148 in 2018.
The report also indicates that Pakistan needs 136 years to close the gender gap, with the existing performance rate. These statistics show that overall progress in reducing the gender gap is stagnant in Pakistan in four areas: economic participation & opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment.
In other words, women in Pakistan are faring badly to men in these four dimensions of the gender index. Lastly, the report also pointed out that women in Pakistan do not have equal access to justice, ownership of land and non-financial assets or inheritance right.
In addition to the debilitating gender index, Pakistan is infamous for brazen cases of "honour killings" and domestic violence against women. According to Human Rights Watch, almost 1,000 women are murdered annually in Pakistan in the name of honour.
The high profile "honour killing" of Qandeel Baloch in 2016, a social media personality in Pakistan, by her brother Muhammad Waseem is a case in point, where the perpetrator (her brother) openly confessed his crime without a sign of remorse. Waseem had received a life-imprisonment sentence in 2019 for the killing. But after serving less than six years in prison, he is set to walk free on the grounds of a "family settlement and lack of evidence."
In another famous case of violence against women, Noor Mukadam, daughter of former Pakistani diplomat Shaukat Mukadam, was brutally raped and then killed in Islamabad in July 2021. The case grabbed global attention because of the victim's 'high-profile' family background.
Otherwise, the majority of women in Pakistan who are also victims of similar violence are among the country's poor and middle classes, and their deaths are often not reported or, when they are, ignored in most cases.
Furthermore, women belonging to minority communities face 'double' marginalisation. Besides the usual patriarchal subjugations, they are also the victims of forced conversions, marriages, abduction and rapes as well as regular targets of false blasphemy charges.
More importantly, they are deprived of any justice because of their 'non-Muslim' status. In November last year, the United Kingdom's All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pakistani Minorities had published a report which revealed that around 1,000 girls (Hindus and Christians) between the ages of 12-25 are forcibly converted to Islam every year and married to their abductors. The report described this situation as a "human-rights catastrophe".
Crimes against women in Pakistan cut across classes and is driven by various factors such as religious conservatism, loopholes in women-centric laws, lack of employment and educational opportunities, blatant misogyny against women by political leaders, among others. The misogynist attitude prevails right from the top levels of the government. In an interview last year, Imran Khan had blamed women wearing "very few clothes" for rising sexual violence. In an earlier interview, he had criticised Pakistanis for adopting what he called the "immoral mannerisms" of the West.
Khan in fact has attempted to belittle the IWD by declaring March 8 as the 'International Hijab Day'. These instances show that the misogynistic attitudes of Pakistan's democratically-elected leadership align with the religious conservatives who demand implementation of the 'Sharia Law'.
The rights of women in Pakistan have been a longstanding issue of public debate and international interest. Islamist parties such as Tehreek-i-Labbaik and Jamaat-e-Islami, among others, are feeling emboldened and have gained more popularity across the country in the last three years, spreading harsher version of Islam, especially targeting women and minorities.
In addition, the Taliban's forceful takeover of Afghanistan last year and the subsequent increase in violence against women under the Sharia Law has further exacerbated fears among women in Pakistan. For Imran Khan, issues related to women do not feature in his top policy priorities. Moreover, he dreams of turning Pakistan into the Riyasat-i-Medina, which suggests more repressive rules and regulations for women under the Islamic laws.
Therefore, the future of women's freedom in Pakistan looks bleak, especially for girls and women from minority communities, as cases of domestic violence, honour killings, intimidation and discrimination are expected to rise unless there are serious judicial reforms in the existing laws discriminating against women in Pakistan. (ANI)