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At a time when awareness of women’s rights has been growing worldwide, it is paradoxical that violence against women should be on the rise in countries like Pakistan. Studies by several organizations indicate a 13% increase in violence against women in Pakistan in the year 2009. In the cities of Pakistan, women’s relatively rapid economic advancement is driving a lot of local women’s rights activism. At the same time, women’s rights in rural areas are on a relentless downslide with heinous woman-hating practices like forced marriages, rape, vigilante justice, acid attacks, mutilations and many such acts performed with impunity due to the Hudood Ordinance and “honor” killings which are supported locally.

In this scenario, the majority of Pakistani women suffer in silence, with hardly a voice raised in protest. Pakistani Women’s Human Rights Organization (PWHRO) is an organization devoted to the task of fighting for Human Rights for the women of Pakistan within the country. We also aim to bring the plight of Pakistani women under the censure of the world’s Human Rights Organizations and fight for the removal of unbelievable cruel practices and laws like the Shariah Law, already in effect in several areas in Pakistan.

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In June 2003 the Provincial Assembly of Pakistan passed a bill introducing Sharia law in the region which borders Afghanistan. The Law declares that the Sharia, as laid down in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, to be the supreme law of the region. In April 2009 President Zardari of Pakistan signed a bill introducing the Islamic Sharia law into the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley. In Sharia, there are categories of offenses which indicate ‘Hadd punishments‘. They either fall under a judge’s discretion, or are resolved through a tit-for-tat measure. There are five Hadd crimes: unlawful sexual intercourse, false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, wine drinking (sometimes extended to include all alcohol drinking), theft, and highway robbery. Punishments for Hadd offenses are flogging, stoning, amputation, exile, or execution.

17 year old Chand Bibi was mercilessly flogged in public in Matta, a town in the Islamic stronghold of Swat, barely 160 kilometres from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. Her crime was that she had dared to come out of her house with a man who was not her husband, so had to be punished. Four masked men, one of them being her own brother, hold the writhing teenager down while she was given 34 lashes as she cried for mercy. Relatives of the man involved in the incident said he had gone to the house of the girl in the village of Kala Kalay to do repairs as an electrician, but militants accused him of having a relationship with her. In mortal fear of her life, she now denies being flogged. (April, 2009)

Irshad, of village 47-D shot dead two of his nieces Salma and Yasmin for ‘honour’ on July 8, 2010 as he suspected them of having illicit relations with boys.



Karo-kari is part of the cultural tradition in Pakistan and means “black male” (Karo) and “black female (Kari), standing for adulterer and adulteress. Once labeled as a Kari, male family members get the self-authorized justification to kill her and the co-accused Karo, ‘to restore family honor’. In Pakistan’s rural areas, male tribal councils (Jirgas) decide the fate of women who bring dishonor to their family. This centuries old custom for dealing with women is protected by powerful feudal landlords and tribal elders. In 2009, 472 cases of honour killings were reported – 91 in Punjab; 220 in Sindh; 32 in NWFP; 127 in Balochistan; 2 in Islamabad. Tragically, only in the rarest cases are the perpetrators brought to justice. Undocumented and unreported killings in the name of honour are often bolstered by governmental indifference, discriminatory laws and negligence on the part of Pakistan’s police force and judiciary.

In a tangle of bushes and trees outside a remote village in southwest Pakistan, six close male relatives of three teenage girls dug a deep ditch, on a sweltering night in mid-July 2010, and allegedly buried three girls alive. The girls’ crime: they dared to defy the will of their fathers and the customs of their tribe by choosing their own husbands. The mother of one of the girls and the aunt of another were shot and killed while begging for the girls’ lives, according to local media reports. (mid July, 2008)

A woman, Nusrat (30) was gunned down by her brother-in-law, Jawed Buriro, over suspicion of having illicit relations with someone in Kandhkot. (July 6, 2010)

In September 2009, two people allegedly chopped off the nose and an ear of a woman over “honor” in Marghzar Colony of Hanjarwal, Punjab. “Honor” is also the reason why Khalida Bibi, a little girl living in Bahadur village in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) was strangled allegedly by her parents and uncle.


Vicious incidents of acid attacks on women in Pakistan have been a cause of great concern and recent data shows that this heartless crime against women is reaching an all-time high in the country, where little help is found for acid victims from the law enforcing entities. The Acid Survivors Foundation (ASF) Pakistan recorded 48 cases of acid attacks in 2009. This is up from about 33 cases in 2007. 2010 does not seem to be any better for disfiguring women by acid attack.

These cases are only tip of the iceberg because many cases are unreported in Pakistan because of social stigma or desperate fear. In many such attacks the culprit is either a husband or other close relative such as brother or father, prompted by male egoistic sense of “protecting honour”, to throw acid on their women who they suspect either dishonoured the family by any of their action or just make these women victim of abysmal treatment. Though such acts of violence are banned in Pakistan no practical implementation has been seen so far. The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2010 tabled in the National Assembly on January 26, 2010 seeks to establish control mechanisms over the production, sale and distribution of acids, besides seeking increase in criminal sentences for the perpetrators of such crimes. But the lax implementation of such laws is a worrisome aspect for the victims and human rights groups that are struggling for the justice.

Saira Liaqat, 22, a victim of acid violence who was burned 4 years ago, poses in Islamabad, June 11, 2007. Saira is from Lahore and was attacked with acid thrown on her over an argument relating to an arranged marriage. When she was fifteen, Saira was married to a relative who later attacked her with acid after insistently demanding her to live with him, although the families had agreed she wouldn’t join him until she finished school. After undergoing 9 plastic surgeries she now works in a Lahore beauty salon founded by Massarat Misbah. She is an admirable example of acid attack survivors who have found new promise after experiencing the unthinkable. It is a heart rending sight to observe Saira as she squints through her one good eye as she brushes a woman’s hair. Her face, most of which the acid melted years ago, occasionally lights up with a smile. Her hands, largely undamaged, deftly handle the dark brown locks.



Under the ordinance, women who fail to prove rape claims are charged with committing adultery, a criminal offense. The laws seem to protect rapists and punish the victims. Most women do not report the rape because they don’t expect to get justice and she is usually termed the culprit because a sexual act has been performed. The law has reportedly sent more than 20,000 mostly innocent women to prison.

“The violence against women is not a new phenomenon, but incidents of gang-rape have suddenly increased in Pakistan and mostly, those who commit gang-rapes or kill women in the name of honor are influential tribesmen or feudal, therefore, they escape punishment,” said Naeem Mirza, a spokesman for Pakistan’s Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization. Religious groups in Pakistan strongly oppose any changes to the law, saying it protects core Islamic values.

A third-year Christian nursing student in the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), Karachi was found unconscious with a head injury near Doctors’ Backyard Mess after a Medico-Legal Officer (MLO), Dr Jabbar Memon and five others allegedly raped her and threw her down from the fourth floor. The gang-rape has outraged rights groups, who say the increase in violence against women reflects the demeaning status of women in the country who are victims of a centuries-old tribal justice system.

Mukhtar Mai, now 38, from Meerwala village near Multan, was gang-raped by four men on June 22, 2002, after the village council declared that she must be punished because her 11-year-old brother Abdul Shakoor allegedly had an illicit affair with a girl from the Mastoi clan. The council was initially convened to consider her brother’s case; their verdict was that he must be sodomised as punishment. Mukhtar Mai went to plead for mercy for her brother, but when she appeared before the council it decided that she must be raped instead, presumably for daring to challenge the village council’s verdict. Four men immediately volunteered to carry out the sentence; she was dragged out and raped while the rest of the village watched.

In March 2005, the high court of the central province of Punjab ordered the release of twelve men connected to the gang-rape of Mukhtar Mai. Authorities had petitioned the court to extend the detention of the twelve, but the court rejected the plea.



The Highest Increase in the Number of Reported Cases i.e. from 280 in 2008 to 608 in 2009 was in Domestic Violence. It is a cause for concern that a nation of over 90 million women and girls, does not have a domestic violence law. Different forms of domestic violence include beating, torture, disfigurement, burning, shaving and murder. In-laws abuse and harass married women. Dowry and family-related disputes often result in death or disfigurement by burning or acid.

According to a 2008 HRCP report, 80 percent of wives in rural Punjab feared violence from their husbands, and nearly 50 percent of wives in developed urban areas admitted that their husbands beat them. The HRCP reported 52 cases of women doused with kerosene and set afire. Women who tried to report abuse faced serious challenges. Police and judges were reluctant to take action in domestic violence cases, viewing them as family problems. Police, instead of filing charges, usually responded by encouraging the parties to reconcile. Abused women usually were returned to their abusive family members. Women are reluctant to pursue charges because of the stigma attached to divorce and their economic and psychological dependence on relatives. Relatives are hesitant to report abuse for fear of dishonoring the family.

38 year old Zakia Perveen of Rawalpindi, Pakistan states that for seven years, her husband taunted her and thrashed her repeatedly. When she filed for separation, he struck once more, throwing acid on her face to obliterate her left eye. On questioned as to why didn’t she leave earlier or turn to the police for help, Zakia’s scarred lips are quick to explain that she would have been exiled as in her traditional Pakistani municipality of Jhelum, people don’t tolerate women who go to law enforcement station. “I just consider it my fate,” Zakia sadly stated. She is supportive of the Domestic Violence Bill, even though no law will restore her face to what it once was. With her husband on trial following the acid attack last year, Perveen says she’s focusing on her children. “I will teach my son to look after his wife when he gets married,” she said. “God forbid if something happens to my daughters. I will tell them not to conceal the facts.”



In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have yet again become targets. First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad (20 October, 2009), which included an attack on the women’s canteen. On 28 October, 2009, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto happened on 27 December 2007 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Bhutto was twice Prime Minister of Pakistan from (1988 – 1990 and 1993 – 1996). She was campaigning ahead of elections due in January 2008 and was shot after a political rally at Liaquat National Bagh. A suicide bomb was detonated immediately following the shooting. Bhutto had previously survived a similar attempt on her life that killed at least 139 people, after her return from exile two months earlier.

Working for the public was a gift from God for Zille Huma Usman, Punjab’s provincial minister for social welfare in Punjab. She was shot and killed on February 20, 2007 by Muhammed Sarwar before a crowd because, he said, “God does not allow women to work”. He later told police that he felt no remorse for his crime. In 2003, he confessed to police that he had killed at least four women and wounded four others, mostly prostitutes and dancers. His gruesome acts made national headlines, but the cases fell apart. There were also allegations, according to the local press, that religious leaders paid compensation money to the victims’ families, who eventually dropped the cases. (6 April, 2009)

Target crime on women has caused a growing sense of menace among women who now express anxiety about driving on the streets alone.



Sher Mohammed, hailing from the small village of Zafarkey, outside of Lahore, Pakistan, wanted to marry his 22-year-old cousin Fazeelat Bibi (left). He came with his family members and relatives to ask her parents for her hand but they refused as her eldest sister was unhappily married into their family. Members of his family started to threaten her, saying they would destroy her face.

On September 28, 2009, a month and a half after the rejected proposal, Fazeelat was on her way home from work at the brick kiln with her brother and elderly father, when five people had jumped out of the crops and Sher Mohammed, the man who wanted to be her husband, sliced off her nose and slashed her ear. Fazeelat’s mother died of shock when she saw her daughter maimed and drenched in blood.

Zahida Parveen’s story is no less horrifying. Zahida Parveen, then 30, was asleep in a room with her two small children, when her husband Mehmood Iqbal woke her and ordered her into the common room of their three-room home in Sukho. In a fit of jealous rage, her husband of four years, gagged the 3 month pregnant Parveen, bound her feet and hands, then hung her upside down from the ceiling as he beat her with a wooden ax handle on December 20, 1998. He traded his ax for a razor, then cut off the lower lobes of her ears and sliced her nose at the base. He next used a metal rod to poke out her eyes and then put his finger inside each socket to make sure nothing was left. Zahida Parveen after reconstructive surgery in the United States where she received a prosthetic nose and ears and artificial eyes. Parveen’s deep regret is that she has never seen her youngest daughter, whom she gave birth to in July 1999.



250 women were murdered in Lahore in 1997. Arrests were made only in six cases.

Asma Jahangir, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion and head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the country’s largest such nongovernmental group was beaten up with batons in the full glare of the news media, her shirt torn off and after he ritual public humiliation was over, she and others were dragged screaming and protesting to police stations all for the so called crime of attempting to organize a symbolic mixed-gender mini-marathon on May 14, 2005. Tensions boiled over, as Islamist groups and supporters of the political Islamist alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) armed with firearms, batons and Molotov cocktails, violently opposed the race, and Jahangir received especially rough treatment from local police and intelligence agents. A police officer told Jahangir that they had orders to be strict and to tear off the participant’s clothes.

Zainab Zia, 24, was raped on 10 September 2008 by her brother-in-law Mohammad Ali, who is an active MQM member in Hyderabad. After the incident, Zainab and her younger sister Ms. Shehla Zia set out to file a complaint. Ali and two other party members (Saleemuddin, the victim’s uncle and Ismail, her cousin) tied up the girls and threw acid at Shehla, and kerosene on Zainab. Moments before they set her alight, two family friends rescued the girls and took them to the Civil Hospital, Hyderabad, where a medical report was obtained. During the next two months the sisters tried to lodge an FIR several times, but were blocked by Station Head Officer (SHO) Hassan Ali Abdi, a former MQM activist. (Hyderabad, September 10, 2008)