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Women in Pakistan

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Women in Pakistan make up 48.76% of the population according to the 2017 census of Pakistan.[3] Women in Pakistan have played an important role throughout Pakistan’s history[4] and they are allowed to vote in elections since 1956.[5] In Pakistan, women have held high offices including that of the Prime MinisterSpeaker of the National AssemblyLeader of the Opposition, as well as federal ministers, judges,[6] and serving commissioned posts in the armed forcesLieutenant General Nigar Johar, attaining the highest military post for a woman.[7][8] Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan on 2 December 1988.

Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.538 (2019)
Rank135th out of 162
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.556 (2021)
Rank153rd out of 156

The status of women in Pakistan differs considerably across classes, regions and the rural/urban divide due to the uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal and feudal social formations on lives of women in Pakistan. Gender Concerns International reports that the overall women’s rights in Pakistan have improved with increasing number of women being educated and literate.[9][10][11][12]

However, Pakistan does face issues where woman are kept behind in the field of education. This is also associated with low government funding,[13] less schools and colleges for women, and a low enrollment rate of women in educational institutions due to lack of awareness and women rights in certain areas.[14][15] Cases of rapehonor killing, murder, and forced marriages in backward areas are also reported.[14][16][17][18] All these issues are related to constraints due to a lack of education, poverty, a judicial system of Pakistan that is disrupted, the negligence of government authorities to implement laws[19][20] and widespread underperformance of law enforcement agencies such as the Police.[21][22]


Fatima Jinnah (1893–1967) was a Pakistani dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman and one of the leading founders of Pakistan

Historically, Muslim reformers such as Syed Ahmad Khan tried to bring education to women, limit polygamy, and empower women in other ways through education.[11] The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was known to have a positive attitude towards women.[11] After the independence of Pakistan, women’s groups and feminist organisations initiated by prominent leaders like Fatima Jinnah started to emerge in order to eliminate socio-economic injustices against women in the country.

Jinnah pointed out that Muslim women leaders from all classes actively supported the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s. Their movement was led by wives and other relatives of leading politicians. Women were sometimes organized into large-scale public demonstrations. Before 1947, there was a tendency for Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League while their menfolk supported the Unionist Party.[23]

Many Muslim women supported the Indian National Congress Quit India Movement. Some like Syeda Safia Begum of Muslim Town Lahore started the first English School for Muslim Children in Muslim Town in 1935. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947,[24] and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution.[25] The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.

Had General Ayub Khan run fair elections, Ms Fatima Jinnah of Pakistan would have become the first Muslim President of the largest Muslim country in the world. However, despite that setback, during 1950–60, several pro-women initiatives were taken. Also, the first woman Lambardar or Numberdar (Village Head Person) in West Pakistan Begum Sarwat Imtiaz took oath in Village 43/12-L in ChichawatniDistrict Montgomery (now Sahiwal) in 1959. The 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance,[26] which regulated marriage, divorce, and polygamy[27] continues to have a significant legal impact on the women of Pakistan.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto GovernmentEdit

The regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1970–1977) was a period of liberal attitudes towards women. All government services were opened to women including the district management group and the foreign service (in the civil service), which had been denied to them earlier. About 10% of the seats in the National Assembly and 5% in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women, with no restriction on contesting general seats. However, the implementation of these policies was poor as the Government faced a financial crisis due to war with India and consequent division of the country.[10]

Gender equality was specifically guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973. The constitution stipulated that “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone.” The Constitution additionally affords the protection of marriage, family, the mother and the child as well as ensuring “full participation of women in all spheres of national life.”[28] However, many judges upheld the “laws of Islam”, often misinterpreted, over the Constitution’s guarantee of non-discrimination and equality under the law.[29]

In 1975, an official delegation from Pakistan participated in the First World Conference on Women in Mexico, which led to the constitution of the first Pakistani Women’s Rights Committee.

Zia-ul-Haq’s Military RegimeEdit

Main article: Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization

General Zia ul-Haq, then Army Chief of Staff, overthrew the democratically elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in a military coup on 5 July 1977. The Sixth Plan during the martial law régime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1986) was full of policy contradictions. The régime took many steps toward institutional building for women’s development, such as the establishment of the Women’s Division in the Cabinet Secretariat, and the appointment of another commission on the Status of Women. A chapter on women in development was included for the first time in the Sixth Plan. The chapter was prepared by a working group of 28 professional women headed by Syeda Abida Hussain, chairperson of the Jhang District council at that time. The main objective as stated in the Sixth Plan was “to adopt an integrated approach to improve women’s status”.[10] In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq nominated the Majlis-e-Shoora (Federal Advisory Council) and inducted 20 women as members, however Majlis-e-Shoora had no power over the executive branch.[30] In 1985, the National Assembly elected through non-party elections doubled women’s reserved quota (20 percent).

However, Zia-ul-Haq initiated a process of Islamization by introducing discriminatory legislation against women such as the set of Hudood Ordinances and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order). He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah.[10] He suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the 1973 Constitution. He also proposed laws regarding Qisas and Diyat, Islamic penal laws governing retribution (qisas) and compensation (diyat) in crimes involving bodily injury.[31] The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 was a subcategory of the Hudood OrdinanceZina is the crime of non-marital sexual relations and adultery.

A woman alleging rape was initially required to provide eyewitnesses of good standing and moral character (tazkiyah-al-shuhood) and the witnesses would have to witness “the act of penetration” for the death penalty to apply to the Rapist or if there was no witnesses then Ta’zir would apply.[32] However failure to find such proof of the rape could place her at risk of prosecution for another hudood ordinance, qazf for accusing an innocent man of adultery. Qazf does not require such strong evidence.[33] In principal, the failure to find such proof of rape does not place the woman herself at risk of prosecution. According to Mufti Taqi Usmani, who was instrumental in the creation of the ordinances:

If anyone says that she was punished because of Qazaf (false accusation of rape) then Qazaf Ordinance, Clause no. 3, Exemption no. 2 clearly states that if someone approaches the legal authorities with a rape complaint, she cannot be punished in case she is unable to present four witnesses. No court of law can be in its right mind to award such a punishment.[34]

However, in practice, these safeguards have not always worked.[35][36] In September 1981, the first conviction and sentence under the Zina Ordinance, of stoning to death for Fehmida and Allah Bakhsh were set aside under national and international pressure. In September 1981, women came together in Karachi in an emergency meeting to oppose the adverse effects on women of martial law and the Islamization campaign. They launched what later became the first full-fledged national women’s movement in Pakistan, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). WAF staged public protests and campaigns against the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws (temporarily shelved as a result).[37]

In 1983, an orphaned, thirteen-year-old girl, Jehan Mina was allegedly raped by her uncle and his sons, and became pregnant. She was unable to provide enough evidence that she was raped. She was charged with adultery and the court considered her pregnancy as the proof of adultery. She was awarded the Tazir punishment of one hundred lashes and three years of rigorous imprisonment.[38]

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a nearly blind teenage domestic servant was allegedly raped by her employer and his son. Due to lack of evidence, she was convicted for adultery under the Zina ordinance, while the rapists were acquitted. She was sentenced to fifteen lashes, five years imprisonment, and a fine of 1,000 rupees. The decision attracted so much publicity and condemnation from the public and the press that the Federal Shariah Court of its own motion, called for the records of the case and ordered that she should be released from prison on her own bond. Subsequently, on appeal, the finding of the trial court was reversed and the conviction was set aside.[39]

The International Commission of Jurists‘ December 1986 mission to Pakistan called for the repeal of the sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and of Islamic punishments that discriminate against women and non-Muslims.

There is considerable evidence that legislation during this period has negatively impacted Pakistani women’s lives and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. The majority of women in prison had been charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national study found that 21% of those residing in shelters for women (Darul Aman) had Hudood cases against them.[40] According to a 1998 report by Amnesty International, more than one-third of all Pakistani women in prison were being held due to having been accused or found guilty of zina.[41]

Benazir Bhutto GovernmentEdit

Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. She was assassinated while campaigning for the Pakistani general election of 2008.

After Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, there was a visible change in the policy context in favour of women. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth plans formulated under various democratically elected governments have clearly made efforts to include women’s concerns in the planning process. However, planned development failed to address gender inequalities due to the gap between policy intent and implementation.[10]

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s daughter) became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country.[42] During her election campaigns, she voiced concerns over social issues of women, health and discrimination against women. She also announced plans to set up women’s police stations, courts and women’s development banks. She also promised to repeal controversial Hudood laws that curtailed the rights of women. However, during her two incomplete terms in office (1988–90 and 1993–96), Benazir Bhutto did not propose any legislation to improve welfare services for women. She was not able to repeal a single one of Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamisation laws. By virtue of the eighth constitutional amendment imposed by Zia-ul-Haq, these laws were protected both from ordinary legislative modification and from judicial review.[37]

In early 1988, the case of Shahida Parveen and Muhammad Sarwar sparked bitter public criticism. Shahida’s first husband, Khushi Muhammad, had divorced her and the papers had been signed in front of a magistrate. The husband however, had not registered the divorce documents in the local council as required by law, rendering the divorce not legally binding. Unaware of this, Shahida, after her mandatory 96-day period of waiting (iddat), remarried. Her first husband, rebounding from a failed attempt at a second marriage, decided he wanted his first wife Shahida back. Shahida’s second marriage was ruled invalid. She and her second husband, Sarwar were charged with adultery. They were sentenced to death by stoning.[38] The public criticism led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Shariah Court.

The Ministry of Women’s Development (MWD) established Women’s Studies centres at five universities in IslamabadKarachiQuettaPeshawar, and Lahore in 1989. However, four of these centers became almost non-functional due to lack of financial and administrative support.[10] Only the center at the University of Karachi (funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) was able to run a master of arts programme.

The First Women Bank Ltd. (FWBL) was established in 1989 to address women’s financial needs. FWBL, a nationalized commercial bank, was given the rôle of a development finance institution, as well as of a social welfare organisation. It operates 38 real-time online branches across the country, managed and run by women. MWD provided a credit line of Rs 48 millions to FWBL to finance small-scale credit schemes for disadvantaged women. The Social Action Programme launched in 1992/93 aimed at reducing gender disparities by improving women’s access to social services.

Pakistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 29 February 1996.[43] The Ministry of Women Development (MWD) was the designated national focal machinery for its implementation. However MWD faced a lack of resources initially.[10] Pakistan failed to submit its initial report that was due in 1997.[44] Pakistan neither signed nor ratified the Optional Protocol of the Women’s Convention, which has led to non-availability of avenues for filing grievances by individuals or groups against Pakistan under CEDAW.[29]

Nawaz Sharif GovernmentEdit

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif was elected as Prime Minister. He had also held office for a truncated term (1990–1993), during which he had promised to adopt Islamic law as the supreme law of Pakistan.

In 1997, the Nawaz Sharif government formally enacted the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, which institutes shariah-based changes in Pakistan’s criminal law. The ordinance had earlier been kept in force by invoking the president’s power to re-issue it every four months.[37]

Sharif then proposed a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution that would entirely replace the existing legal system with a comprehensive Islamic one and would override the “constitution and any law or judgment of any court.”[45] The proposal was approved in the National Assembly (lower house), where Sharif’s party has a commanding majority, but, it remained stalled in the Senate after facing strong opposition from women’s groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties.[46]

A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicised Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman’s right to marry freely but called for amendments to the 1965 Family Laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage “love marriages”.[37]

The report of the Inquiry of the Commission for Women (1997) clearly stated that the Hudood legislation must be repealed as it discriminates against women and is in conflict with their fundamental rights. A similar commission during Benazir Bhutto’s administration had also recommended amending certain aspects of Hudood Ordinance. However, neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif implemented these recommendations.

The enhancement of women’s status was stated as one of the 16 goals listed in the Pakistan 2010 Program (1997), a critical policy document. However, the document omits women while listing 21 major areas of interests. Similarly, another major policy document, the “Human Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy” (1999), mentioned women as a target group for poverty reduction but lacks gender framework.

The country’s first all-women university, named after Fatima Jinnah, was inaugurated on 6 August 1998. It suffered from delays in the release of development funds from the Federal Government.[10]

Pervez Musharraf’s regimeEdit

In 2000, the Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons.[47] In 2002 (and later during court trials in 2005), the case of Mukhtaran Mai brought the plight of rape victims in Pakistan under an international spotlight. On 2 September 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was made an independent ministry, separating from the Social Welfare and Education Ministry.

In July 2006, General Pervez Musharraf asked his Government to begin work on amendments to the controversial 1979 Hudood Ordinance introduced under Zia-ul-Haq’s régime.[48] He asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology (under the Ministry of Religious Affairs) to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws. On 7 July 2006, General Musharraf signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1,300 women who were currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.[49]

In late 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Women’s Protection Bill, repealing some of the Hudood Ordinances. The bill allowed for DNA and other scientific evidence to be used in prosecuting rape cases.[50] The passing of the Bill and the consequent signing of it into law by President General Pervez Musharraf invoked protests from hard-line Islamist leaders and organisations.[51][52] Some experts also stated that the reforms would be impossible to enforce.[53]

The Cabinet approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services in its meeting held on 12 July 2006.[54] Earlier, there was a 5% quota for women across the board in all Government departments. In December 2006, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the proposal by the Ministry of Women Development to extend this quota to 10%.[55]

In 2006, The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was also passed.[56] In December 2006, for the first time, women cadets from the Military Academy Kakul assumed guard duty at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.[57]

The Women’s Protection Bill, however, has been criticised by many including human rights and women’s rights activists for only paying lipservice and failing to repeal the Hudood Ordinances.[58][59]

President Asif ZardariEdit

Asif Ali Zardari was the 11th President of Pakistan.[60] He is the widower of Benazir Bhutto, who twice served as Prime Minister of Pakistan.[61] When his wife was assassinated in December 2007, he became the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. On 30 December 2007 he became Co-Chairman of the PPP,[62] along with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. On September 8, 2013, Asif Ali Zardari became the country’s first president to complete his constitutional term.[63]

Appointment of womenEdit

Female member of parliament and party loyalist Dr. Fehmida Mirza was appointed as the first female speaker[64] in South Asia. During her tenure, Pakistan saw its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, its first secretary of defense, Nargis Sethi,[65] deputy speaker of a province Shehla Raza and numerous female ministers, ambassadors, secretaries including Farahnaz Ispahani,[66] Media Advisor to former President of Pakistan and co-chairman PPP, Sherry Rehman[67] former ambassador of Pakistan to US, Fauzia WahabFirdous Ashiq AwanFarzana Raja, Shazia Marri, Sharmila FaruqiMusarat Rafique MahesarShahida Rehmani and others held prestigious positions within the administration.

Legislation for protection of womenEdit

Main article: Women related laws in Pakistan

On 29 January 2010, the President signed the ‘Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Bill 2009’ which the parliament adopted on 21 January 2010.[68] Two additional bills were signed into law by the President in December 2012 criminalising the primitive practices of Vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to the Quran, which used women as tradable commodities for the settlement of disputes, as well as punishing acid-throwing by life imprisonment.[69] The government further established a special task force in the interior Sindh region in action against the practice of Karo-Kari, establishing helplines and offices in the districts of SukkurJacobabadLarkana and Khairpur.

In 2012, the government revived the National Commission on the Status of Women established by General Musharraf for three years in 2000, later revived for three years at a time. The bill moved by government established the commission as a permanent body with the task to ensure the implementation of women protection legislation for abuses against women.

In February 2012, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement held the world’s largest women’s political rally in Karachi, with an estimated 100,000 women in attendance.[70]

Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offense of Rape) Act 2016Edit

See also: Rape in Pakistan

On 7 October 2016, Pakistan’s parliament unanimously passed new anti-rape and anti-honour-killing bills. The new laws introduced harsher punishments for the perpetrators of such crimes.[71] According to the new anti-rape bill, DNA testing was made mandatory in rape cases.[72] Sabotaging or disrupting the work of a police officer or Government official could result in imprisonment of 1 year under the new law. Government officials who are found to take advantage of their official position to commit acts of rape (e.g. custodial rape) are liable to imprisonment for life and a fine.[73] According to the new law, anyone who rapes a minor or a mentally or physically disabled person will be liable for the death penalty or life imprisonment.[74]

The recording of statement of the female survivor of rape or sexual harassment shall be done by an Investigating Officer, in the presence of a female police officer, or a female family member of the survivor. Survivors of rape shall be provided legal aid (if needed) by the Provincial Bar Council.[citation needed] The new law also declares that trials for offences such as rape and related crimes shall be conducted in-camera and also allows for the use of technology such as video links to record statements of the victim and witnesses, to spare them the humiliation or risk entailed by court appearances.[74] The media will also be restricted from publishing or publicising the names or any information that would reveal the identity of a victim, except when publishing court judgements.[74] The trial for rape shall conclude within three months. However, if the trial is not completed within three months, the case shall be brought to the notice of the Chief Justice of the High Court for appropriate directions.[73] The new bill also ensures that sex workers are also included in the law’s protection.[74]

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, hailed the Government of Pakistan’s decision to pass the anti-rape and anti-honour killing bills.[72]

Special CourtsEdit

On 20 June 2019, Chief justice of Pakistan, Asif Saeed Khosa, announced that more than 1,000 special courts will be established in the country which will focused on tackling violence against women. Each district in Pakistan will have once such court according to the chief justice.[75] Romana Bashir, who heads a NGO called the Peace and Development Foundation which is focused on women’s rights in Pakistan, said that the establishment of such courts was “a wonderful safeguarding measure”. She also said “Certainly women will be encouraged and feel strengthened to speak up against gender based violence. Consequently, women will be able to get justice”.[75][76] Fauzia Viqar, a women’s rights campaigner who advised the Punjab government until last month, said studies had shown the performance of such dedicated courts to be “many times better than other courts”.[75]



Education and economic development

Other concerns

Notable women

See also


External links

Last edited 8 days ago by BellaRumi1982



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