Violence against women goes back to the 18th century when they were not considered any better than childbearing maids. The 19th century hung on to the patriarchal system when it came to domesticated issues. The husband was considered as the ‘owner’ of the wife, and this gave him the authority to be violent towards her as and when he pleased. Discrimination against women is a global issue till now and not confined to any geographical boundary. The constant societal pressures against women’s rights have overall contributed to the blasphemous crimes against women.
But, when it comes to Pakistan, a society revolving around feudalism and tribal systems it only makes it impossible for women to even survive in certain parts of the country without a male figure in the house, let alone legally harm them in society. The question is, does our judicial system support a female voice to be heard out of a patriarchal system that dominates the sub-continent?
Unfortunately this constrained access to justice in Pakistan is an amalgamation of societal, cultural, structural, influential and legal complexities and abnormalities. All in all Pakistan’s law, system and procedures dictate the path a woman will have to rely on in her quest to seek justice whether looking for legal reparation for an induced abortion, domestic violence, rape, or cyber stalking. Barriers exist at every stage from her credibility put to stake to the opposite of helping her integrate back into society while the victimizer is held accountable for his actions.
Domestic violence and sexual abuse in the form of rape, molestation or harassment cases are increasing in number day by day and yet the least reported in Pakistan. Majority of rape cases are not even reported, simply because any disclosure will bring shame to the victim and their families, and in turn make their lives miserable to even live through a single day. Ironically cases of minors are more likely to make it to the front page as opposed to adult women. The irony of our system is that the Police is given the legal first point of contact (even the medical intervention), whom are the least concerned and are offensive towards women thus blaming them for inviting undue attention.
Irrespective of numerous lady-run police stations in Pakistan, yet a woman is required to file in a separate application to transfer her case to a woman led police station. To top it all, our medico-legal officers are poorly equipped and trained to conduct any physical examination, including glass slides, swabs and do not conduct any examinations. As per societal norms, only minors 10 years or younger are raped, any one older reporting a case of rape are considered to be cooking up a story. Victims are almost never tested for HIV/AIDS, pregnancy or let alone referred to any counselor unless showing signs of a complete mental breakdown. Lack of structure is when the Chemical testing lab in Karachi which caters to cases from all over Sindh and Baluchistan have no capacity to test for DNA samples.
Women are outlawed for reporting a rape case, but our very own judiciary system has only a handful of women judges making it even more shameful for the women to fight their way through. Everyone in Pakistan knows the appalling state of our judicial and court system, whereby a case of murder is stuck for years and years, let alone a single woman’s appeal of sexual abuse being held in open court, mocked over and ridiculed for years. A minimum time period of a sexual abuse trial takes 1.5 years to 3 years. This is the plight of women; minors are no less exuded of their privacy during the identification process nor given in-camera trials as routine. A woman may only be bailed on the basis of any medical evidence, which only end up with the victim’s family being tortured and tormented day in and out thus, enforcing them to relocate since there is absolutely no law of the government providing any protection to the victim or her family.
All this goes under the carpet since the rights of citizens stem from the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973. Most of criminal cases are identified under the Pakistan Penal Code 1860; which defines ‘Rape’ as, “a man having sexual intercourse with a woman against her will, without her consent, with her consent, when it has been obtained by putting her in fear of death or hurt… or with or without her consent when she is under sixteen years of age”. The discrimination comes in when the law also states under “Section 151(4) – when a man is prosecuted for rape or an attempt to ravish, it may be shown that the prosecutrix was of generally immoral character”. A woman can easily be regarded of immoral character if she has any male friends or simply go to work to provide a living for her family.
The undermined criminal justice system along with a lack of gender biases ensures that the perpetrators are hardly ever held accountable. Gender biases are on one end, but through research it was reported, a judge in Punjab claimed “if it was gang rape then it could be considered as Zina-bil-jaber (rape). But if it were only one aggressor, then it was Zina (consensual extramarital sex) as stated by Ms. Naghma Imdad, a gender expert.” In all these years of torture and torment the only good that has come through is the mere acceptance of “crimes committed against women under the guise of ‘customary practices’ are in actuality crimes” as reported by a women’s rights NGO.
Till date there is no national law against domestic violence. Though Baluchistan passed such a law in 2014; Sindh in 2013 but have yet to implement it and follow it up with rules and protection committees. It is far more difficult for women to reach up the legislation ladder, especially in areas like FATA and KPK where female mobility is restricted to being accompanied by only a male relative. Let alone the community Jirgas do not allow women issues to be discussed outside the walls of their home, or community elders, sadly which hold the authority to make a decision (mostly against the women) since they are male-dominated and consider women as a commodity of exchange to keep the honor of the male member in the family.
Even though microscopic changes have been made to laws related to Rape and molestation, yet the necessary structure and procedure is not set in place. The present medical services need massive concrete improvement to develop satisfactory systems particularly in marginalized societies like those of FATA and KPK. The federal and provincial government needs to ensure that women have access to a more receptive police system along with a reachable and objective judiciary to pacify the impact of violence. More and more women should be made part of the legislation and part of policy making which is only successful when women are kept more at the forefront since they are the most affected by the system at large.