Pakistan: Crimes against female humanity

Domestic violence, rape, ‘honour’ killing, forced & child marriages

Systemic denial of gender equality & human rights

London & Islamabad – 29 June 2017


By Chantelle Boduel
Human Rights Adviser – Women’s Economic & Social Think Tank

Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 nations on the World Economic Forum’s 2016 Gender Gap Index (GGI), scoring above only Yemen.


Women’s social reality is complex and mediated by elements outside the mainstream political and state framework. The reality is that traditional governance structures often override state mechanisms of control. The patriarchal systems are complicated by kinship, tribal and ethical considerations and exasperated by the presence of militant armed groups.

Pakistani women are diverse and autonomous in their own right, so the challenges they face will differ based on region, religion and class. However, one problem across the country is the prevalence of violence against women.

Violence Against Women:

In 2014, the Aurat Foundation released some statistics about the Punjab province. It is the most populous province in Pakistan so we must assume that the numbers will vary, but it can provide a snapshot into the country as a whole.

-1866 kidnappings
-964 murders
-362 honour killings
-191 domestic battering reports
-1408 gang rapes
-53 burnings cases
-54 cases of acid throwing

In 2016, the Punjab Gender Parity Report said that of

-6505 cases of violence against women
-Only 1% were prosecuted – a total of 81 perpetrators

In 2010, the Journal of Interpersonal Violence conducted a study to investigate the reasons why Pakistani women do not report the violence perpetrated against them. Of all the study participants:

-One-third of respondents reported domestic abuse
-But only 35% ever told anyone about it
-The majority of these women had told a mother or close female relative

Focus groups revealed some of the main reasons for the lack of reporting:

-Fear of victim blaming
-Fear of bringing dishonour to the family
-Fear of the relationship ending in divorce
-Fear of losing their children in a custody battle

If handled in religious courts, women often report pressure to “forgive” their abuser.

Under-aged & forced marriages

-21% of Pakistani girls marry before they reach the age of majority

Unfortunately, legislation aimed at increasing the age of consent to 18 has been protested by all major religious groups, including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). As a result of these protests, the 2016 Marriage Bill was withdrawn

All of the issues of violence against women are worse for women and girls from ethnic and religious minority groups or those living in occupied regions that do not have access to adequate legal services.

-Approximately 1,000 girls per year are forced to marry for the purpose of converting them to the Islamic faith.

There is a lack of transparency in reporting crimes against women.

Collecting statistics is the first step to developing adequate policies to combat these issues, but the Pakistani government is not always forth-coming with this information. It is almost impossible to conduct legitimate research in the occupied areas.

Education neglect

Too many Pakistani schools lack adequate infrastructure.

-44% don’t have electricity
-34% don’t have drinking water
-28% don’t have bathroom facilities
-Many have inadequate security

Enrolment is lower for girls across the country, but enrolment doesn’t tell us if/how often the girls are attending school and whether they graduate.

The situation is even worse in rural & occupied areas

-In some regions (like the Northwest) the enrolment rate for girls is as low as 13%
-In some regions the literacy rate for girls is as low as 25%

Barriers to education include:

-Poverty -Traditional/conservative views about girls education
-Poor accessibility
-Lack of female teachers
-Irrelevance of curriculum
-Lack of political will to find solutions


As previously mentioned, it is difficult to separate the issues facing Pakistani women into neat little boxes, as both violence against women and a lack of education rights could also be evaluated under economic issues.

There is a significant amount of research that shows empowering women and girls in their education impacts:

-the rate of infant mortality
-birth rates and -children’s education
-wage gap
-level of achievement in the work force

A study conducted in Pakistan from 1972 to 2010 indicated that empowering girl’s education could stimulate the economy of the entire country.

According to the 2016 Gender Gap Index:

-women make up only 22% of the labour force
-and only 3% of legislators, managers and senior officials
-There is no law against gender discrimination in hiring policies
-Wage gap issues based on gender continue to be a problem
-And there are many cases of workplace harassment (including sexual harassment)

There are also stark differences between different classes. Pakistan, like every country, has intersecting layers of discrimination. For example, an upper class, well-educated woman may not face as many of the challenges as a woman from an underprivileged, disenfranchised family. There are also stark differences between those living in urban areas and those living in rural areas.


Pakistan has a very interesting political history in terms of gender representation, and in some ways there have been steps towards equality.

Before 1999:

-Women were 3% of political representatives at the national level
-President Musharraf reserved 33 seats for women in all three tiers of government

Female representation at the political level is extremely important because studies show that women legislators have distinctive legislative behaviour and raise issues for pro-women legislation.

In Pakistan, female MPs have raised issues about:

-Violence against women
-Honour killings
-Reproductive health -Human trafficking
-Sexual harassment in the work place
-Protection for burn victims
-And even called out discriminatory practice of their male MPs and the speaker of the house

In 2016 there were only 21 women compared to 79 men in the parliament and there hasn’t been any investigation into how freely they can participate. Representation continues to be an issue, because:

-Majority of the female representatives are over 43 and married
-They are highly qualified and educated
-5% are from urban areas
-1/3 have husbands or fathers in the political realm
-1/4 have husbands or fathers in the business class

The legal system in Pakistan is a combination of civil law and Islamic law, giving credence to institutionalized discrimination against women. Although interpretations of Shari’a vary between Imams and schools of Islamic law, family disputes tend to favour patriarchal norms, including the denial of custodial rights to women, a lack of options during marriage and divorce, and an undervaluing of women’s testimonies.

Empirical evidence from Pakistan shows that most people don’t actually want the imposition of religious laws; rather, they want laws that will not infringe on their ability to practice their religion. These are two very different things.

Here are some ways that women are legally disenfranchised in Pakistan:


-Husbands can divorce for any reason
-Women must request a divorce from a family court, which will be Islamic in nature. They must prove that she has a good reason for getting divorced, such as:

*Their husband has been absent for 4 years
* Has not fulfilled his financial duties for 2 years
*Married another wife without the first wife’s consent
*Their husband is “unduly severe” when punishing her

Child custody:

-Islamic law states that the legal guardian is the father, and after him it’s the paternal grandfather
-A mother has only physical custody of her children until they reach the “age of custodial transfer”

*7 for boys
*Puberty for girls

-If she remarries, she may also lose custody


– Women are entitled to inherit but receive half the share available to men with the same degree of separation.

*Example: A daughter will receive half of what a son receives

-If a widow remarries, she will not receive, or many have to pay back, any inheritance her late husband left her.
-There are also pressures for women to voluntarily give up their inheritance to male heirs.

Domestic violence:

The Provinces of Sindh and Balochistan passed bills against domestic violence in 2013 and 2014 respectively. In 2016, the Punjab projection bill was finally passed, but there was backlash.

-Religious political parties called it “an act of conspiracy to destroy the family unit”
-The Council of Islamic Ideology called it “unIslamic” and stated the provincial assembly who passed it should be tried for treason

Statistical analysis shows that there is a correlation between countries with low gender equality in family law and violence against women.

Lastly, blasphemy laws, which impact everyone living in the country, are detrimental to the progression of women, especially as they are often used to silence anyone who disagrees with the government.


  1. Experts researching the best ways to reduce violence against women assert the importance of female police officers. They also suggest a revamping of the way domestic violence and rapes are reported, including placing an equal weight on female and male testimonies.
  2. In order to adhere to The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), legal experts have suggested that religious arbitration in family courts should be non-binding and fundamentally secondary to civil law.
  3. Europe has a responsibility to monitor Pakistan’s application of the 27 core conventions dictated under the GSP+ program, include CEDAW and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (which prohibits child marriages).



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