Greater action needs to be taken to protect women in Pakistan

Written by Madi Sharma on 13 June 2016

In the wake of recommendations by Pakistan's constitutional religious body that a husband can "lightly beat" his wife to ensure her obedience, Madi Sharma argues that the EU must take steps to compel the country's leaders to implement laws that protect women against violence.

The recent news from Pakistan is a worrying reminder of the negative turn the country has taken regarding its attitude to protecting women as well as highlighting the resistance from conservative groups to any change in mentality.

In the most recent development, a constitutional body called the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), put forth legislation that would allow men to "lightly beat" their wives if they refuse sex or decline to wear outfits preferred by their husbands.

In addition to suggesting that men beat their wives for refusing sex, the proposal also suggests that men use "limited violence" on their wives if they don't bathe after intercourse or during menstruation.


The proposal includes step-by-step guidelines on how men are to beat their wives. The CII suggests that any man who doesn't follow the processes should be prosecuted. The proposal comes only a few months after the Protection of Women Against Violence Act was introduced in the country's eastern Punjab province, which the CII called "un-Islamic".

According to Amnesty International, women and girls continue to face violence and threats with at least 4308 cases of violence against women and girls reported in the first six months of 2015. The figure included 709 cases of murder; 596 of rape and gang rape; 36 of sexual assault; 186 of so-called 'honour' crimes; and 1020 of kidnapping.

Despite the enactment of the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act in 2011, at least 40 acid attack cases were recorded between January and June.

In the Punjabi city of Sahiwal, a number of knife attacks were reported against women seen outside their homes without a male companion. Up to six cases were reported in one week in September.

In Pakistan's north-west frontier province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Tabassum Adnan, the founder of Khwendo Jirga, Pakistan’s first all-women informal judicial court, was forced to relocate to another city after receiving anonymous threats and text messages following the publicity she received after being awarded a US State Department 2015 International Women of Courage Award.

Despite efforts in recent years to enact legislation protecting women from violence, laws remain in force under which female rape victims can be convicted for adultery. Women continue to be denied equality and protection in law, a situation exacerbated by the absence of legislation against incest and a gender-insensitive criminal justice system.

Zeenat Shahzadi, a female journalist who exposed the abduction of a man by the Pakistani Secret Services, has been missing since August last year. Shahzadi was abducted by armed men on a busy street of Lahore in broad daylight just before she was due to appear before Pakistan's Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances. According to government records, 1300 out of a total of 3000 cases before the Commission are still unresolved.

It is clear that greater action needs to be taken to protect women in Pakistan and to ensure that legislation is indeed enforced. Activists, particularly those who dare to raise their voices on equal treatment, should be shielded from prosecution, threats and violence.  

At the same time, until such actions are taken, the EU should not provide funds to countries that support violence against women. EU aid, trade benefits such as the preferential GSP+ scheme and military assistance must not be used to finance a system that oppresses women and incentivises or forces men to perform acts of violence against their wives.

Any assistance to such regimes should be suspended until clear actions are taken by their governments towards implementing their international commitments. I am convinced that EU citizens do not want to support such actions, nor are they aware that they are even funding them.


What is the Council of Islamic Ideology?

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is a constitutional body, created over 50 years ago, that advises Pakistan's government and Parliament on religious law. Its recommendations are not binding and many of the CII's rulings have been largely ignored as impractical by the country's leaders. However the council's is highly influential among Pakistan's conservative male-dominated religious groups. Its controversial rulings on the role of women and girls – it has actively campaigned to reduce the country's marriageable age for girls to nine and recent declared a new women's protection law to be un-Islamic – put it at odds with more liberal and secular Pakistani policymakers intent on empowering women.

About the author

Madi Sharma is a UK member of the European Economic and Social Committee and founder of Madi Group, a group of international private sector and not for profit companies, and NGOs

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