By NIGHAT RIZVI – AMAL HUMAN DEVELOPMENT NETWORK/ One Billion Rising Coordinator, PAKISTAN
According to a report by UNIFEM (UN Women) in 2003, it is estimated that “One out of every three women will be raped or beaten in her life time”. In 2013, out of total population of 7 billion, globally, there are more than one billion women who will suffer from violence.
In Pakistan , like rest of South Asia, violence against women continues to be a major issue. Patriarchal values embedded in tribal and feudal traditions provide cultural support to harmful discriminatory customary practices such as “Vanni” “Swara” and ‘Karo Kari”. Young girls are forcibly married to members of the enemy clan to end tribal feuds or to compensate to a crime committed by a male member of the family. The incidents reported in media are the tip of the iceberg. Much of the violence against women and girls is not reported as the survivor often lacks the power, resources, family support and cultural acceptance to access the legal justice system and law enforcement agencies for protection. Often the survivor’s own life and that of her family members remain at risk. Several times, the survivor or her supportive family members have been killed while in court. Issues like early marriages, maternal mortality and reproductive health rights continue to be a source of concern. Bad governance, weak laws and the impunity of police, judiciary and stakeholders allows perpetrators, decision makers and power holders to often escape punishment and accountability.
In some parts of the country, like federally administrated tribal areas (FATA), national and international laws on women’s protection and empowerment have not been extended. Women in these areas do not form part of local jirgas (council of elderly men of the tribe), nor do they have female representative in the Senate or National Assembly. Moreover, women and girls are killed on the pretext of having brought dishonor to the family, while the perpetrators – normally the brothers, fathers or uncles of the victim – somehow manage to escape the punishment by getting pardoned by the rest of family members. In the rest of the country, legal support given to women by the state to fight against discrimination and violence is as good as nothing. The passed legislations, such as the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act of 2010, need strong review in terms of their implications and complaint procedures.
During the last five years’ rule of Pakistan People Party, certain bills on gender issues were passed from the Parliament. However, in the aftermath of the devolution of powers to the provinces, the rural woman of Pakistan are still far away from getting the benefits of this legislation. There is mass ignorance among women and girls and the general population on these laws and the provincial and district governments either lack the will or capacity to deal with crimes against women and girls in the rural areas of Pakistan.
AMAL Human Development Network, a gender focused organization, has been working for gender justice, sexual and reproductive health rights and prevention of HIV and AIDS and other STIs since 1997. Despite evidence of limited HIV infection in the general population, prevalence continues to rise among people who inject drugs and among those involved in sex work and continue to have unprotected sex. Not only are these individuals at risk, but in a predominantly male domineering society, where women are generally monogamous, their spouses and unborn children are at very high risk, as well. Most of AMAL’s work is with marginalized social groups, which are more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation, thus making htem more vulnerable. These include female sex workers, male sex workers, street children and truck drivers.
While working with these communities over the last two decades for several HIV and AIDS prevention projects, I observed that the law restricts people to access their fundamental rights. For example, if a female sex worker is caught with a contraceptive (condom), she could be apprehended instantly and the contraceptive is used as a proof that she was selling her body – which is forbidden as per the laws of the country. This fear of getting jailed restricts individuals to use safer methods in sex and further increases their vulnerability towards contracting HIV and AIDS and other STIs. Similarly, the law and justice system provides little or no protection to these vulnerable groups and they are subject to sexual exploitation and violence on daily basis.
As part of my professional engagement with AMAL (I am currently also hosting the secretariat of MenEngage Alliance Pakistan), I strongly believe and advocated mainstreaming gender and masculinities into HIV and AIDS prevention and advocacy efforts. I also believe strongly in engaging more men and boys in efforts for promoting gender equality and addressing violence against women and girls. Based on the feedback received during the One Billion Rising Campaign, I strongly feel that women alone may not be able to empower themselves and get their rights unless and until men become allies and partners for positive change along with women.
Personally, being a gender and HIV activist, I feel that the concept of ‘masculinities’ informed by recent feminist thought. Certainly, the women’s movement in my country has emerged as a means of deepening the discourse on gender, opening up spaces for investigating masculinity. However, ‘gender’ continues to be used in social sciences and the development sector discourse as a synonym for ‘women’ and its relational aspect and clear linkages with ‘masculinities’ have received inadequate attention. From its inception, the Pakistani state has had to confront questions of religious and political identity. And whereas questions of gender per se may not seem visible in the formulation of identity, the emergent profile and the status of its women indicate its largely negative and hyper-masculine nature of the state. Masculinity in Pakistan today has less to do with the vision of gender equality and justice and more with literalism and the pursuit of patriarchal power agendas. It is important to be acquainted with the fact that the existing social system of Pakistan gives authority of decision making to men, whether it is a household, board of an organization, or a Government department. Men are considered to be the main decision makers, which brings patriarchal and masculine mindsets behind every decision and policy.
My vision for One Billion Rising for Justice is not only limited to the empowerment and protection of women and girls. I envision my country and the world as a safer place for women and girls – a society where women have equal rights, access to opportunities, justice and the strong support of men and boys in their struggle against patriarchy, masculinities and injustice. I wish and pray to continue with my struggle to help men and boys realize the real costs of patriarchy for both themselves