The Socialist 6 November 2004 |
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Musharraf's Hypocrisy Won't End Violence Against Women
THE NATIONAL Assembly in Pakistan has passed a Bill on 'honour killings'.
It declares that anyone committing such a crime will be guilty of "intentional
murder". The government says that this Bill is an historic step forward in
eliminating crimes against women. But the reality is completely different.
Rukshana Manzoor, Socialist Movement Pakistan
This Bill is in fact a response to international pressure from the western
imperialist powers. These countries, which have given full support to the
Musharraf dictatorship as an ally in the 'war against terror', feel the
pressure of public opinion in their own countries. As a result, they have
demanded a face-saving response from Musharraf.
The new Bill against honour killing is in no way meant to stop this heinous
crime. It is a window-dressing exercise, which does not address the real
issues of how women are socially and economically subjugated and oppressed in
What is 'honour killing'?
HONOUR KILLING is a tradition and practice that has existed in the
sub-continent for many centuries. It is a barbaric and inhuman custom, a
legacy of tribalism and feudalism which still exists in its worst form in
This traditional custom gives parents, brothers, husbands, cousins and
other relatives the right to kill women in their family or tribe on suspicion
of sexual relations with a man occurring outside marriage. Relatives can also
kill the suspected man on this charge.
When British imperialism was the colonial master of the Asian sub-continent
it introduced a law, which existed up until recently, stating that honour
killings fell into the category of "unintentional killings". This law also
gave the family of these women the right to pardon the murderer.
Today, this inhuman custom is widely practiced in Pakistan. Marriage
without the consent and approval of the family is also treated as an illicit
relation and couples considered deserving of being killed.
No girl or woman has the right to marry the man of her own choice. Last
year, 1,900 women were killed by their close relatives.
In Sindh, this custom is called "karo kari" and has been on the rise over
the last few years. In many cases, the tribal chiefs and feudal lords gave
orders to tribal men to kill couples, even when the families had accepted the
Such acts also have economic advantages for the feudal lords because they
get money from the families of both the accused and the deceased. In many
cases, people use an honour killing to eliminate enemies.
They will murder their opponent and then kill their sister or wife
afterwards and declare both crimes an honour killing. The law will leave them
without any punishment.
Some female MPs put forward a Bill to ban this practice but the ruling
party and opposition MPs, hand in hand, voted against this Bill. Most of them
are feudal lords from different parties, including the Pakistani Peoples
This country's ruling elite is conservative and anti-working class and not
concerned with passing progressive legislation in favour of women. The present
military regime, which presents itself as 'moderate, enlightened and
progressive', has failed to change or repeal the most barbaric, draconian and
discriminating laws against women.
THE MILITARY dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, introduced the barbaric Hudood
laws in 1979 under the guise of 'Islamic Laws'. The main aim was to suppress
women, especially politically active women.
These laws are completely anti-women and discriminatory. A victim of rape
needs the evidence of four males to prove the rape, otherwise she will be
prosecuted for 'adultery'.
This means that if a woman was being raped in a room she would have to
invite four more men in to prove this rape! 1,300 women are in prison because
of these measures.
Some couples have been arrested on suspicion that they were preparing for
sexual intercourse outside marriage or were planning to do so. Even now, the
government accepts that these are the most widely misused laws in Pakistan.
But nothing has been done to repeal these laws, because they don't want to
offend their fundamentalist allies. The laws allow the police to enter any
house or place where they think that adultery is taking place.
The working class and poor rural women are the victims of these draconian
laws and they should be repealed without delay.
These laws are also used against couples who marry by choice but without
the permission of their families. The police can arrest couples on the
complaints of parents, brothers, or sisters, especially if their sister or
daughter runs away with a man. Both will be punished and imprisoned.
The Higher Court has taken hundreds of decisions to try and stop the police
from implementing this law but they still keep on doing so. The Higher Court
has also declared marriage of choice to be legal.
BUT IT is not only repressive laws which women in Pakistan have to deal
with. Domestic violence is not a crime in Pakistan. Every man has the right to
beat his wife, daughter or sister.
Every year, 5,000 women die from domestic violence. Thousands are badly
injured, many become disabled. According to a survey conducted by some NGOs
and DAWN (the leading English-language newspaper in Pakistan), nearly 90% of
women face domestic violence. Generally, violence against women is increasing,
but domestic violence has significantly risen over the last decades.
Last year, 857 women were brought to hospitals being having partly or
completely burnt by acid attacks - and these are just the official figures.
A lot of women get acid thrown on their faces or bodies for different
reasons. Many women lose their eyes, ears and get their faces disfigured as a
result of these violent attacks.
It is generally accepted that men are allowed to beat their wives or
daughters because Islam gave them the right to do that. These ideas are
reinforced by the sermons of the Mullahs who preach them regularly.
Victims of domestic violence have no way of getting legal protection. This
is because the police are never prepared to consider domestic violence as a
crime and they always refuse to register cases on this issue. Normally, the
police put pressure on the victims to force them to make a compromise with
The Socialist Movement and the Swair women's organisation (a community
organisation campaigning on issues of concern to working class women) has
jointly launched a Campaign against Domestic Violence.
The main aim of this campaign is to organise women on a community basis and
also to develop the awareness of working class women on this issue.
We have been able to organise some very successful activities, such as two
seminars in shanty town areas, and three awareness-raising work-shops, in
which more than 100 young women participated.
We have also produced many leaflets and posters on this issue, clearly
linking this issue with capitalism and feudalism and with the transformation
of society on the basis of socialist ideas. This campaign is getting momentum,
so we are planning to do more activities in the future.
One thing is certain - laws are not enough to get rid of exploitation,
discrimination, oppression and the bad conditions created by capitalism. It is
necessary to overthrow this rotten oppressive, hierarchical and patriarchal
system to guarantee women full freedom and liberty.
A socialist planned economy, based on equality and cooperation, would lay
the foundations for eliminating all forms of exploitation and oppression,
including violence against women.