Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology has sparked an outrage, after permitting husbands to ‘lightly hit’ their wives. This barely scratches the surface of abuses within Pakistan however.
The world has seen remarkable transformations to women’s rights in many regions, particularly in the West. In other parts, this is simply not the case. In fact, many are taking several steps backwards. One nation that epitomizes this dire reality is Pakistan. Whenever discussing nations that have a medieval attitude to women, Saudi Arabia is likely the first country to spring to one’s mind – being notorious for its restriction on women being able to drive. Other Islamic nations have become infamous for this too – such as Yemen and Iran. Yet less talked about issues are prevalent in Pakistan; policies of which have plunged to very regressive depths.
Thankfully, one headline story has brought the country under scrutiny: a revelation regarding Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology (CII). It drafted a proposal which not only allows, but recommends, that husbands hit ‘lightly hit’ their wives. When is this justified? When a women commits one of the following: refusing sexual intercourse with her husband; acting against her husband’s will, or refusing to dress accordingly to his wishes.
Along with prominent incidents — such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai being shot for standing up for women’s educational rights — Pakistani society has garnered somewhat of a vile reputation. Many observers will quite rightly shriek indignation at the horrors that occur within it. This is quite simply the tip of the iceberg however.
Much of it can be attributed to insurgencies within Pakistan. Sectarian factions ravage the land, leaving the fates of many vulnerable civilians at the hands of these arbitrary movements. I came across an unsettling, but insightful recently – involving a family, with a daughter named Sana. The family lived in a small town called Naran. An old looking man turned up at this family home in a confrontational manner; making a demand to the father: “If you do not give this girl in marriage [to me], you will not live”. In response to this demand, Sana and her sisters were sent by the father to the mountains, as a place of escape. Upon returning, Sana soon learnt of her father’s death. It hit her: the realisation that he had sacrificed himself to save her. While Sana was safe due to her father’s noble actions, it’s clear how many women are treated as property – and marginalised.
Okay sure — some might dismiss this as the actions of militant factions alone, rather than a government related issue. If this were true, it would be much easier to address. Clamping down on individual cases and movements, backed by a moral government, would dismantle this threat. This is sadly not the case. In fact, not only does the Pakistani government let this happen, it actually enforces it through its own policies.
In the past, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has made pledges to tackle this widespread injustice against women. He has promised to empower them. Perhaps this would cease the fears of some desperate women, looking for a way out. Yet these claims made by Mr Sharif are baseless. They are hollow words. For the country has fixed legislations in place that enable the mistreatment of women across the country – and lead to a demised quality of life to those that comply, and grave punishment to those that don’t.
A barbaric and utterly reprehensible example is the so-called ‘adultery’ law. Not only does it cover adultery, it covers near enough every sex crime. For a women who is raped must have four male witnesses present, if she is to make a case. If not, she is prosecuted. It is not hard to see the absurdity of such a scenario, and how rape victims are in a complicated situation. For many women will obviously keep quiet, in fear of being prosecuted. Those that do not have this fear will most certainly be hit hard by imprisonment. This explains the grim fact that roughly three out of four women in Pakistani prisons are detained for the crime of being raped.
Along with honour killings (1601 in 2013); child marriages (21% are married before the age of 18); and women culturally seen as baby-making machines — it is not hard to see the challenges that many face in Pakistan.
This can be attributed to the country’s puritanical form of Islamic law. It is certainly an influence. Of course, many women were subjugated and marginalized long before the arrival of Islam. Yet the fact that laws permitting this are still enforced shows that this regressive ideology needs to be tackled.
Women are starting to speak out; protests against honour killings were recently conducted. Muslims in and outside of the country, who feel their faith has been hijacked, are beginning to condemn the CII’s policies, and calling for the council’s dismissal. Obviously this is not enough. A wider international condemnation would be the greatest way to solve this. Otherwise, women will be kept in the dark ages; in pre-Islamic times, if this attitude is not forced away and eroded from Pakistani culture and legislation.