The previous few months have been harrowing for Pakistani girls

The previous couple of months have been notably harrowing for Pakistani girls.

From the horrific case of 27-year-old Noor Muqaddam, who was brutally tortured and beheaded within the nation’s capital on July 21, to that of Ayesha Ikram, a TikTok creator, who was harassed and groped on the nation’s Independence Day by greater than 400 males on the grounds of one of many nation’s main nationwide monuments, the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore – it feels as if violence towards girls has reached epidemic proportions.

Many are even calling it a “femicide” to attract consideration to the size of the issue and its systemic nature. But gender-based violence within the nation isn’t new.

According to the 2017-2018 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 28 p.c of ladies aged 15 to 49 had skilled intimate associate violence of their lifetimes. This is a slight lower from 32 p.c of the ladies reported to have skilled bodily violence by the hands of their companions within the 2012-2013 survey. But on condition that home violence is a matter shrouded in secrecy and disgrace, each units of figures are probably a gross under-estimation.

One suspects that it appears like there’s a surge in violence as a result of instances are getting extra consideration. Mainstream media is extra attuned to the difficulty, and it is usually being highlighted and mentioned on social media platforms.

These conversations have created heightened consciousness amongst younger girls particularly, who’re changing into more and more vocal about their rights. The overwhelming majority of those girls belong to the educated, city center and higher courses.

This is simply the most recent within the lengthy historical past of the wrestle towards gender-based violence in Pakistan.

In the previous, explicit instances have drawn nationwide as effectively worldwide consideration, resulting in collective motion by rights activists.

One such case was that of 28-year-old Samia Sarwar, whose homicide was organized by her household in 1999. She had been searching for a divorce from her violent husband, a call her household didn’t assist as a result of it might have “dishonoured” the household identify.

She was shot lifeless within the workplaces of Hina Jilani, a well-respected Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist. Sarwar had been there for a pre-arranged assembly together with her mom to obtain the divorce papers.

Her homicide began a nationwide dialog about honour killings. Women’s rights activists, together with Jilani and her sister Asma Jahangir, additionally a famend human rights lawyer and activist, highlighted it to advocate for an finish to gender-based violence.

But there have been counter-protests from non secular conservatives arguing that Sarwar’s feminist legal professionals had no enterprise interfering in a query of “family honour”. To at the present time, the perpetrators haven’t been delivered to justice.

Another well-documented case is that of Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang-raped in June 2002 by 4 males in Meerwala village in southern Punjab’s Muzaffargarh district. Mai was raped on the orders of a village council as “punishment” for her youthful brother’s alleged illegitimate relationship with a girl from a rival tribe.

And extra not too long ago, the homicide of 26-year-old Qandeel Baloch by her youthful brother in July 2016 for her “intolerable” behaviour, was a turning level for a lot of youthful feminists. Baloch was a social media star who was daring and open about her sexuality. Her homicide set off a public debate across the query of ladies’s sexuality and victim-blaming.

While instances akin to these make headlines each few years, their frequency appears to have elevated over the past 5 years. There are just a few attainable causes for this.

Social media

Female training charges are step by step on the rise in Pakistan, with the speed of feminine secondary training rising from 28.6 p.c in 2011 to 34.2 p.c in 2021. There is now a brand new technology of younger educated girls who’ve the notice and confidence to demand their rights.

Additionally, as know-how and social media have grow to be extra accessible, information of instances has began to unfold extra broadly and at a a lot larger velocity.

As of this yr, almost 27.5 p.c of the nation’s inhabitants has entry to the web, largely via their cellphones. While that is a lot lower than the worldwide common of 60.9 p.c, it’s nonetheless important for a rustic of 223 million.

Despite the truth that the nation solely has 2.1 million Twitter customers, a comparatively low p.c, tweets are sometimes featured by media retailers and are used to additional discussions.

The state has additionally recognized social media as a attainable risk to Pakistan’s nationwide picture. Fawad Chaudhry, the nation’s info minister, not too long ago alleged that Indian and Afghan accounts had been “falsely” creating the impression that Pakistan is “unsafe for women”, which he argued is a part of a global conspiracy to malign the nation.

With social media taking part in a key position in taking the dialog ahead, girls additionally face fixed threats and harassment on these channels.

Conservative commentators and teams use these to counter the claims of feminists by arguing that Pakistan is certainly one of many most secure nations for ladies – a declare additionally repeated by the nation’s Prime Minister Imran Khan. In June, rights activists condemned Khan’s remark that, “If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots. It’s just common sense.”

He later tried to backtrack on this, stating that solely a rapist is chargeable for their crime, however this too was couched problematically in a dialogue about the necessity to decrease “temptations” in society.

Women’s March

The final 4 years have additionally seen the emergence of Aurat March (Women’s March) in main cities throughout the nation on International Women’s Day on March 8.

They had been first held in 2018 in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, with a whole bunch attending. In 2019, they unfold to Multan, Faisalabad, Larkana and Hyderabad, attracting hundreds of individuals.

While most of those that attend are from the city higher and center courses, organisers have been working in direction of making the marches extra inclusive; encouraging transgender girls to take part and offering transport for working-class girls to make it simpler for them to attend.

These demonstrations have highlighted gender-based injustices, akin to home violence, sexual harassment, the undervaluing of ladies’s paid and unpaid labour, and lack of entry to feminine healthcare. The problem of gender-based violence has persistently been entrance and centre.

The progress in recognition of those marches can be attributed, a minimum of partly, to social media, with a lot of the publicity and conversations earlier than and after the march going down on numerous on-line platforms.

Not a part of the dialog

These actually are all hopeful indicators of resistance, nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of ladies in Pakistan are nonetheless not a part of these conversations and the motion. There continues to be an extended technique to go when it comes to diversification.

For instance, the entire high-profile instances talked about earlier happened within the province of Punjab. Cases of violence towards girls from decrease socioeconomic courses and from provinces apart from Punjab, which has traditionally been probably the most economically and politically dominant province, hardly ever garner nationwide consideration.

Pakistanis living within the nation’s peripheries complain that girls’s rights activists hardly ever take up their points.

Supporters of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which advocates for the rights of Pashtuns, the nation’s second-largest ethnic group, highlighted the case of a girl in Khaisor, a village within the former tribal areas of Waziristan. She was allegedly harassed by safety forces, with the small print of the case surfacing on social media in 2019. This case acquired little or no consideration, each from feminist activists and the mainstream media, as a result of hole between girls in city centres and people in rural and distant areas.

Hence, whereas social media helps to amplify the instances of violence towards girls, it has not been in a position to bridge the ethnic and sophistication divides which have lengthy existed within the nation.

In addition to this, the overwhelming majority of ladies in Pakistan nonetheless don’t use social media in any respect. There is a 65 p.c hole in digital entry between ladies and men in Pakistan, the best such gender hole on the planet, and the ladies who’ve entry by and enormous belong to the higher and upper-middle class.

Furthermore, as has traditionally been the case, progress on girls’s rights continues to be often blocked by non secular conservative teams, which frequently work in tandem with the state.

Most not too long ago, the Domestic Violence Bill – regardless of being handed by the National Assembly to make sure authorized safety and reduction for victims – was stalled after an adviser to the prime minister beneficial that it’s despatched to the Council of Islamic Ideology for overview.

The victims of home violence proceed to attend to search out out what authorized channels can be found to them.

The ‘woman card’

Despite the assorted hurdles that girls’s rights activists face, from non secular conservatives to the nation’s ethnic and financial divisions, there are indicators of a wider change in attitudes in direction of gender-based violence, and never simply within the digital realm.

After the Minar-e-Pakistan incident, for instance, a whole bunch of younger ladies and men descended on the identical spot the place the Tik Tok star had been harassed every week earlier, in a bid to proclaim girls’s proper to occupy public areas.

On tv discuss exhibits, although largely dominated by male commentators, girls journalists are more and more vocal of their opposition to gender-based violence and are refusing to be silenced by male anchors and conservative commentators.

Feminists are additionally creating different boards for dialogue. For instance, a bunch of ladies journalists not too long ago began a channel on Youtube referred to as Aurat Card (Woman Card), a tongue-in-cheek reference to the misogynistic declare that girls use their gender to achieve “unfair advantages”. The present presents important views on a spread of social and political points.

As a instructor, I’ve seen a change amongst college college students over the past 10 years, the place conversations about harassment have gotten more and more frequent on campuses. However, with a feminine tertiary training charge of solely 8.three p.c, even these conversations stay confined to a small part of the society, and that too in large city centres.

So, whereas violence towards girls seems to be at a peak and regressive forces are as vocal as ever, there are constructive indicators that girls, notably those that are younger and educated, have gotten extra conscious and vocal of their resistance.

Calling this a gender revolution could also be untimely, however a change is actually going down. The wrestle for equal rights for ladies nonetheless has an extended technique to go, however the grip of conservative males is step by step being challenged and is loosening, they usually have good purpose to be scared.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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