How justice keeps on failing, while Femicide increases in Pakistan
Every day several cases of gender-based violence occur in Pakistan. Unfortunately, there is an apparent failure of justice for women who are victims of this violence. According to a 2018 survey conducted by the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Pakistan is the sixth most dangerous country for women. With the subsequent growth of gender-based violence, a higher ranking in 2021 would not come as a surprise. The women, peace, and security index furthermore ranked Pakistan number 164 out of 166 countries when focusing on women’s equality, safety, and well-being in 2019- 2020 (GIWPS, 2019/2020). This became painfully clear in July 2021, when multiple cases of gender-based violence in Pakistan were reported (The Diplomat, 2021). Unfortunately, gender-based violence cases remain seriously underreported in Pakistan. Therefore it is challenging to make a representation of the actual number of cases. Serious concerns are thus raised when considering the multiple gender-based violence cases that are currently reported.
Most of the gender-based violence are cases of domestic violence, rape, and torture. Cases of which result in death or murder are also known as cases of Femicide. Femicide is generally understood to involve the intentional murder of women because they are women, but broader deﬁnitions include any killings of women or girls (WHO, 2012). Most cases of Femicide are a result of domestic violence, sexual violence, threats, intimidation, or other situations in which there is a clear misbalance of power acted upon by the partner or ex- partner. In Pakistan, the most common form of Femicide is Honour killings. Due to the lack of reports, it is diﬃcult to estimate the amount of Honour killings per year. However, an estimation was given by HBV Awareness, who stated that around 1000 Honour killings occur each year (Information Resource Center, HBVA). This means that approximately three Honour killings happen every single day.
A striking example of Femicide in Pakistan is the awful death of Noor Mukadam, the daughter of diplomat Shaukat Makudam. Noor Mukadam was brutally beaten and beheaded in her own home, allegedly by a childhood friend (The Diplomat, 2021). Most femicide victims are poor or middle-class women whose deaths remain unreported. The status of Mukadam was therefore seen as evidence of the growing issue of Femicide and was also why her death garnered extra publicity.
Besides the fact that most femicide cases remain unreported, there are also particularly neglected cases. Those cases concern forgotten women who were victims of state- sponsored violence.
A forgotten woman is Maliknaz Baloch, who was gunned down in her own home by three men. The attack cost Baloch her life and seriously injured her four-year-old daughter, Bramsh. The purpose of the attack is still unclear; however, the Pakistani army carried out the
1 Honor killing is the murder of a family member, usually a woman or girl, for the purported reason that the person has brought dishonour or shame upon the family.
These killings often have to do with sexual purity, and supposed transgressions on the part of female family members. (UN WOMEN)
attack. This is usually staged to look like a so-called robbery or to make a person forcibly disappear. This attack happened in Balochistan, a province in Pakistan known for its high number of gender-based violence cases. Women’s Rights activists discussing the disturbing women’s rights situation in Balochistan once more focus on the importance of the state action as they go hand in hand. Mahrang, a Pakistani Women’s Rights activist, states, “We cannot discuss women’s rights without discussing state oppression, as the state is women’s biggest oppressor” (The Diplomat, 2021).
Femicide is a problem of abuse of power, harmful norms, and gender inequality which requires a ﬁrm call for state action (UN Women). A form of state action would be the adherence to national law and international conventions on Women’s Rights.
Pakistan has laid down various national laws to promote women’s rights. An example is the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, which penalizes forced marriages and deriving property. Another national law is the amendments made to the criminal code, thereby including the oﬀence rape and the oﬀence in the name of honour. Additionally, Pakistan took two commitments on a national level, the National Plan of Action for Women in 1998 and the National Policy on the Development and Empowerment of Women 2002 (PCSW). But, unfortunately, the Pakistani judicial system is struggling to ensure adherence to its rule of law. This is shown when looking at the World Justice Project, Rule of Law Index 2020, whereby Pakistan was ranked 120 out of the 128 countries. The assessment focuses on corruption, adherence to fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, and the civil justice system.
An example of the lacking action of Pakistan’s Parliament is the statement given by Prime Minister Imran Khan in a BBC Interview in April 2021 (BBC, 2021). With his interview, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been highly critiqued for his victim-blaming remarks. When discussing the rising sexual violence cases in Pakistan, Khan replied that women should cover themselves to prevent “temptations” in society (BBC, 2021). Khan has made multiple victim- blaming remarks, with a ﬁnal comment during an HBO interview in July 2021 (The Diplomat, 2021). These statements once more give perpetrators a form of justiﬁcation for their behaviour instead of penalization and deterrence.
Another example is shown when discussing the case of Shah Hussain. This case is outstanding when focussing on the civil justice system in Pakistan. Hussain was convicted for attacking law student Khadija Siddiqui to kill her. Hussain stabbed Khadija Siddiqui 23 times, whereafter he left her in critical condition. He was sentenced to ﬁve years imprisonment; however, In July 2020, Hussain was released early after only serving 3.5 years. Hussain was released without a good behaviour order and given knowledge of Khadija. This is not only contrary to the release order given, but it also poses a potential threat to Khadija Siddiqui’s life. This early release once more proves the lack of function of the Pakistani Government and Justice system.
Pakistan furthermore ratiﬁed various international conventions. Examples of such international conventions are the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Pakistan is a signatory to these conventions, which each contain crucial clauses on gender equality. Another international convention ratiﬁed is CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Article 2.1 of the CEDAW states the obligation on states to adopt legislative measures prohibiting all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW, 1979). However, we can note that this is not always the case in practice. For example, in July 2021, Pakistan’s parliament failed to pass a domestic violence bill, thereby failing to protect over 2,297 cases of violence against women between January and December 2020 (Aurat Foundation, 2020). The opposition raised its concerns on the various deﬁnitions and contents of the bill. This is mainly regarding the general-purpose given to domestic violence whereby “all acts of physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse” are considered domestic violence and therefore prohibited. However, this bill’s entry into force would mean application in a broader scope, including harassment, stalking, and insulting. Most people believe that with the opposition of this bill, the government ignores the growing issue and strongly undermines women’s rights in Pakistan.
All of this points to the growing Femicide problem in Pakistan. However, we know that the failing justice system causes more victims each year, and with that, parliamentary support and action remain. Therefore lies the importance to keep reporting femicide cases and advocating for action. An example of such a movement is the Women Democratic Front (WDF), a Pakistan-based foundation that advocates against oppression, discrimination, and violence against women. Together with international and national pressure, these movements, education, and advocating must provide safety and fundamental rights for women in Pakistan.
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