Women in Pakistan - Victims of the social and economic desecration

The South Asian subcontinent is the least gender sensitive region in the world. It is the only region in the world where men outnumber women. The sex ratio is 105.7 men to every 100 women. In Pakistan, women are not only subjected to financial discrimination, but they are also victims of inhuman customs and laws such as Karo Kari, Hadood ordinance, Qasas and marriage to the Quran and half witnesses according to the state law (whereby in court a female witness is only worth half a male witness).

In the rural areas, women are like slaves subject to drudgery. They are there just to obey their fathers, brothers and husbands. They do not have the right to decide about themselves because women are considered as foolish creatures according to the dominant social and cultural norms. Likewise marriage is also a sort of trade between different families both in the rural and urban areas. They are highly vulnerable to violation of their rights to life.

A woman's right to liberty is restricted in the name of modesty, protection and prevention of immoral activity. In rural areas 90% of women work in the fields. They work for the whole day with their male family members, but they still have to face their wrath. Male family members keep a strict eye on the female family members in the name of "honour". But one must understand the meaning of honour because in our society honour does not have the meaning of its true sense. Here it really means possession of women as a form of property. Not only are the restrictions of women's liberty maintained in the name of this honour (ghairat) but they also can be put to death if they lose their "honour".

Karo Kari is the form of honour killings. Last year 286 women were murdered in the name of honour by the male family members (and these are only the registered cases). On 11th June 2000, four women and one man were killed in the Dera Jamali village in Sindh. Last year on the same dates a 13 year old girl, Sara, was subjected to this honour killing in Goth Khosa. Two young boys Imtiaz and Arshad were also killed in the same case. The boys had never met the young girl in their lives. But the brother of Sara declared it an honour killing to get less punishment in law. This law also gives some leniency to the killers in such cases. He actually wanted to grab the land of these boys and used this accusation to kill the boys along with his sister.

In the village of Moratha there was a case of Karo Kari(honour killing). The motive of the killing was that the murderer wanted to marry a married woman. He killed the husband of that woman and his own innocent sister and he was released from jail after a few months.

Many of the cases of Karo Kari are related to love marriage. Recently a woman with her little child of five months, husband and four other members of her in-laws, was killed because she had committed the crime of love marriage. Most of the women in Pakistan are not allowed to marry a person of their choice.

There are hundreds of such cases, that are not registered. But if we go to the root cause of these honour killings we see that they are linked to the question of land, water, money and property. But again, only the women of the poor classes are victims of this inhuman custom of Karo Kari. This custom is seldom implemented against rich women.

In the Punjab brothers, fathers and husbands subject 82% of women to domestic violence. The incidence of wife-battering is so common that it is not even recognised as a pernicious form of violence against women. Even in the cases where women receive serious injuries and want to file complaints, they are advised by the police to reconcile with their husbands, as any matrimonial dispute would bring dishonour to them.

This violence against women begins in their childhood. They are not allowed to play games like boys that can help in their speedy mental and physical developmentment. Another practice common in Pakistan, is cutting off a women's nose if she is suspected of having an extra-marital relationship. Sexual assault on women, including rape, remains one of the most common crimes. The Human Rights Commission estimated that rape occurs every three hours. No estimate, however, can be made of the numerous cases that go unreported.

The Islamic Penal Law "Hadood Ordinance" repealed the provisions of the Pakistan Penal Code related to rape cases, in 1979. The Islamic Law of evidence applicable to cases of rape requires the evidence of four adult male Muslims, in order for the penalty of hadood to be imposed upon the accused. Being a half witness by law the raped woman can't even testify against the crime committed against her. According to these laws, testimony of the victim requires strong corroboration for conviction by the court. On the other hand, where sexual intercourse is established but the absence of consent cannot be proved, the presumption that such intercourse occurred with the woman's consent can place her at the risk of prosecution. In both cases, adultery or rape, a woman is kept in jail pending the ruling of the court. 52% of women languishing in the jails of Pakistan are waiting for their fate in these cases. In the case of a woman marrying without the consent of her family, the marriage can be declared invalid and the couple would then be accused of the offence of zina (adultery).

If the women victimized by the offenders contact the law (the police) and the other investigating agencies, the women of the oppressed classes are subject to police brutality and crimes like rape are often carried out while in custody. The incidence of sexual assault on women in police custody increased after the implementation of these Islamic laws.

Another law, "Qasas", is also used to victimize women, because under this law if a person kills somebody and the family of the victim compromises with the killer then they are paid an agreed amount of money, land and of course women by the assassin's family.

Marriage to the Holy Quran (the holy book of Islam) is also common in Sindh. Under this law a woman has to live without a husband throughout her life. But this law is only applied among the class of landlords. They use this only to keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.

But if we look at the history of Pakistan, we find several women's movements against these criminal laws and customs. But these movements are mostly dominated by the NGOs (Non Government Organisations). And the tragedy of the NGOs is that they believe in this system, its state and its laws. They respect the Judiciary as well as the state. They do not have a way out except. they simply appeal to the ruling elite and their state to pass such laws that can abolish discrimination against women within society. But the oppression of women is rooted within the system itself. In ancient times the women produced food for the family. In that era women had learned how to cultivate the land. Men used to hunt only. That is why women had a particular recognition in society. And over a period of time she became the head of the family. Even goddesses outnumbered gods in religion.

With the passage of time men learned the cultivation procedure and became dominant in the productive process. Thus matriarchal society, a society where women dominated, withered away. The new forms of property changed the inheritance to men and hence established male domination. After the introduction of this system of private ownership woman gradually became a commodity and hence possessed as private property. These forms developed over time and the exploitation of women continued in different patterns.

It is only with the rapid advancement of technology that want can be abolished and the psychology of dearth and greed can give way to a psychology of possession free consciousness. This will ultimately free women from the bondage of domestic labour and the stigma of being inferior human beings.

At the present time Capitalism has created a society of want and greed in which human beings have to live a life of cut-throat competition in order to survive. In countries like Pakistan it has also failed to bridge the gap between the rural and urban areas. It has failed to develop different regions evenly and penetrate modernity into rural sections of the population.

Basic needs such as education, health water supply and transport, etc., are inadequate. On the other hand there is the penetration of all forms of the latest technology, like satellite television, which has distorted the patterns of social and cultural development of these areas. In villages we can see clear forms of combined and uneven development. T.V and satellite is available but tools and methods of farming are thousands of years old. These deformed patterns of development have further aggravated the lives of women in the rural areas. Social life in the countryside and the urban centres has not changed in any spectacular way. It has actually worsened.

This intense social crisis manifests itself in the sharp rise in the molestation of women, gang rape and violent crimes against women, both in the rural and urban areas.

The same case applies to the third world countries where Capitalism has failed to carry out any of its historical tasks. Out-dated customs are still practiced and have not been eradicated. In the cities, out-dated customs have much less of an influence, because of the fact that women are playing a major role in the generation of family income. They do not carry out "unpaid labour" like rural women. But they are also facing daunting challenges and problems in the cities.

Even in the advanced countries the exploitation and harassment of women on the basis of gender is rampant.

But the question arises: how long will this continue? Will the women's movements only confine themselves to mere appeals and demonstrations or will all the existent order have to change? In this system of private ownership of the means of production (i.e. capitalism), woman has been reduced to a commodity. The rottenness of the system is evident from the fact that sex has become the third largest industry in the world. The double exploitation of women cannot be understood without analyzing its historical social and economic basis. Only then can a strategy for its eradication be devised.

The domestic labour of women, looking after the children, cleaning the house, cooking, washing and the many other forms of labour in which women are involved is a full day's work. But this system does not reward this human labour. Hence the cultural, social, moral and ethical roots of society are devised in such a manner that this system gets the labour of women in running society for free and is taken for granted. Hence this condition whereby women do not get back the product of their labour, develops a psychology of alienation. This further weakens and depresses women. Utilizing this situation the rulers of this system create laws, customs and rotten cultural traditions to further oppress women. The brutal military dictator Zia-ul Haq imposed the "Hadood Ordinance" and other anti-women black laws to further facilitate the exploitation of women by capitalism. Even a "democratic" government headed by a woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, could not abolish these draconian laws because they were inherent to the system and its state.

These pressures upon women further diminished their will, confidence, and determination. These reactionary periods developed a defeatist psychology amongst women. To abide by the ethics of this society, they are lured into behaving as commodities with excessive use of cosmetics and make-up, with a lust for jewellery and a psychology of decoration.

These traits are then further exploited by rich men into further subjugating women and portraying them as "weaknesses" of women. Using this social insecurity, alienation and the pressures on women, the capitalists exacerbate the exploitation of women workers in the factories and mills. It has been seen in general that women work with greater dedication and more meticulously than men. For example in Pakistan, women are 28% of the total workforce yet they generate 40% of production. At the same time it is a general law of capitalism that women workers are paid less than their male counterparts all around the world. For example according to the Office of National Statistics in Britain, the average yearly income of male workers in 1999 was £23,000 (pounds sterling) while at the same time the average wage of a female worker was £16,000. Hence there was a difference of 42% in their wage earnings. In Pakistan and the rest of the third world this situation is even worse.

At the same time the gender insensitivity is so severe that from the cradle to the grave women are forced to lead a discriminated life. There are more infant deaths among girls than among boys. Every year 135,000 women die during childbirth in Pakistan. Only 21% of women have access to medical facilities during childbirth.

The tragedy with the women's movements is that women from the upper classes, who mostly dominate them, have never had to suffer the same ordeals as the women of the oppressed classes. The adverse conditions in important sectors such as public hygiene, health and education, have a greater bearing on women of the working classes. Hence the struggle for the rights of women and their liberation have different meanings for women of different classes.

Without the overthrow of the bourgeois state and capitalist exploitation, the emancipation of working class women (who constitute the vast majority in society) is a utopia. Hence the ultimate liberation of women is linked to the class struggle of the workers of all religions, nationalities, races, sexes and colours. The ultimate destiny and victory of this struggle lies in the success of the Socialist Revolution.