The Struggle for Female Azadi in Pakistan

This guest post is written by young scholar and human rights activist, Naya Ahmed on the struggle of female azadi in Pakistan. 

Brief Background

Today, as the 215+ million Pakistanis celebrate 73 years of independence from the British colonials, it is important to remember there are some living under Pakistani administration who do not enjoy full azadi (Persian/Urdu for freedom); they are the women of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK).  Some women continue to experience physical, sexual and psychological violence by family, community and the state.

The predominant forms of violence are abduction, murder, domestic violence, suicide, honor killing, rape, sexual assault, acid throwing, burning and forced marriages.

From 2009 to 2013, 697 crimes involving violence against women were registered in AJK, including 522 cases of abduction, 99 cases of murder, 74 cases of rape (including gang rape), and 2 cases of acid attack. However, these statistics do not reflect the vast numbers of cases that go unreported or unregistered, due to reasons ranging from corruption and social humiliation. 

The Story of Mr. S’s Daughter

For many women in AJK who experience sexual assault or gender-based violence (GBV), it is often at the hands of spouses, in-laws, or other members of the community. On June 15,  2011, a resident of Billah Merra known as Mr. S filed a complaint with the police about his daughter’s rape.

He had been away at a funeral, leaving his daughter home alone. During his absence, she was raped by a close relative. As if the fear of being violated by a relative or community member wasn’t enough, shelling between Pakistan and India has increased in the past year, forcing the inhabitants of AJK to seek refuge when faced with imminent danger.

Many women and girls are prevented from taking refuge inside communal bombing shelters, and thus, they become a stalking ground for sexual predators

Institutional Gender Bias and the State

Thanks to cultural notions of honor and the patriarchal proclivity to control female bodies, many rape cases and instances of GBV go unreported or unregistered. Most families wish to avoid the embarrassment of appearing in court. Furthermore, the male-dominated police clearly exhibit an inherent gender bias towards female victims. An analysis of police response in AJK in 2015 underscored poor prosecution, low conviction rate, high acquittal rates, high compromise rates, and very high rate of cases pending trial in the courts (Rashid). Many police officers tend to favor the accused, failing to give credence to the women’s complaints. This is a severe obstacle since many simply have no alternative to the justice system. The Pakistani state’s response (or lack thereof) has been largely inadequate and hypocritical, given they are a signatory of United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, an international bill of rights for women that compels the state to eradicate gender-based discrimination. 

Moving Forward

As it stands, research on gender-based violence in AJK is minimal, and the lack of awareness and outreach programs for victims is apparent. Awareness campaigns should encourage reporting of perpetrators of violence so that justice is served. Communities, the courts, and police must be educated and trained to support and encourage victims who share their trauma so that they are not pressured  to maintain patriarchal notions of honor.

The basis for punishment in Islamic Hudood laws must be changed so that women are more easily able to pursue justice against aggressors in court. Most importantly, it is critical that families and police do not weaponize the law against women for speaking the truth and achieving a much needed mental and emotional catharsis.

The azadi of those living under the current Pakistani administration cannot be truly celebrated until all are afforded basic human rights, including a life without abuse.

Guest post by Naya Ahmad, young scholar and human rights activist. 





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