By Huma Kashif
Violence against women is a global pandemic, a grave violation of human rights that transcends borders, cultures, and socioeconomic divides. In Pakistan, a country with a population of nearly 227 million, this issue is of significant concern. Despite being the fifth most populous country in the world, gender inequality remains a pressing challenge, as reflected in various global gender equality indices.
While Pakistan has made significant legislative strides to protect women’s rights and combat gender-based violence, the gap between laws on paper and their implementation on the ground remains substantial. This article sheds light on the existing legal framework for the protection of women against violence in Pakistan, the urgent need for effective implementation, and offers policy recommendations to develop strategies aimed at eradicating violence against women.
The Current Landscape:
Pakistan has ratified numerous international human rights conventions and introduced progressive pro-women legislation, such as the National Gender Policy Framework (2022), the Anti-Rape (Investigation and Trial) Ordinance (2020), and the Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Act across its four provinces. While these legal measures showcase Pakistan’s commitment to gender equality and human rights, the real challenge lies in translating these laws into meaningful change for women who continue to suffer violence and discrimination.
One of the most significant hurdles is the lack of consistent data on violence against women. Effective policies require accurate data to inform evidence-based decisions, and the absence of such data in Pakistan has hindered the development of appropriate policy responses. While reported data suggests that violence against women is widespread, with 34 percent of ever-married women experiencing spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence, a more comprehensive and up-to-date data collection system is essential to understand the full extent of the problem.
The gender pay gap in Pakistan, as reported by the International Labor Organization, stands at 34 percent, reflecting economic disparities that further exacerbate gender inequality. Women make up only 22.63 percent of the labor force and earn a mere fraction of what their male counterparts do. In addition to economic disparities, harassment at the workplace is becoming increasingly common, making it even more challenging for women to secure equal opportunities. The informal sector, where 81 percent of women are employed, offers little job security, inadequate income, and limited access to social protection, leaving women highly vulnerable.
Initiatives to Address Gender-Based Violence:
Federal Ombudsman Secretariat for Protection against Harassment at Workplace (FOSPAH) has taken various initiatives to empower women and providing assistance to the vulnerable women and girls. Following are the key initiatives:
- Launched a helpline dedicated to registering complaints related to workplace harassment.
- FOSPAH has expanded its reach to regions like Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan to provide legal assistance to the vulnerable.
- FOSPAH conducted an extensive awareness campaign through Short Messaging Service (SMS). The campaign aimed to educate individuals about the process of filing workplace harassment complaints, reaching approximately 50,000 people.
- In the reporting period from July 2019 to June 2020, FOSPAH registered a total of 346 cases, adhering to the requirement for the swift resolution of cases as mandated by law. Out of these cases, 230 were registered by female complainants, and 116 were filed by male complainants, demonstrating the diverse range of individuals seeking assistance from the Secretariat.
- The distribution of cases across different regions was as follows: 127 cases from the Federal region, 148 cases from Punjab, 34 cases from Sindh, 31 cases from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5 cases from Balochistan, and 1 case from AJ&K were registered in the Registrar Office of the Secretariat.
National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) has also taken significant initiatives to promote and protect the social, economic, political, and legal rights of women in Pakistan.
- NCSW has launched its new strategic plan to promote and protect women’s rights in Pakistan, continuing its work under the NCSW Act of 2012. The plan aims to address social, economic, political, and legal rights of women in alignment with Pakistan’s Constitution and international commitments.
- The commission organized the first-ever All Pakistan Women Chambers Presidents Conference in Faisalabad to build mutual relations with women’s chambers across the country and formulate collective policies on women-related issues.
- NCSW collaborated with the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA to launch the National Media Fellowship, focusing on issues related to violence against women and child marriages
- NCSW in collaboration with UN Women introduced the National Gender Data Portal, a pioneering digital tool. It serves as a comprehensive repository for high-quality data and evidence, covering over 400 qualitative and quantitative indicators across various themes, including demographics, education, health, economic empowerment, violence against women, access to justice, elections, disabilities, poverty, and social protection.
In addition to the above mentioned initiatives; The National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) has taken other following noteworthy initiatives demonstrating its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
- In the period from December 10, 2021, to December 10, 2022, NCHR addressed 2972 cases, including carried-forward complaints, new complaints, suo-moto actions on domestic violence casses, and resolved cases, reinforcing its human rights protection efforts.
- NCHR, in partnership with the Digital Rights Foundation and CEJ, established a complaint cell dedicated to safeguarding female journalists’ rights and freedom of expression, ensuring a secure environment for their crucial work.
- Through the dedicated advocacy and efforts of the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Pakistan has witnessed the enactment of various domestic violence prevention and protection acts in different regions of the country. These include the Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2014; the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016, ICT (Islamabad Capital Territory) Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2018; and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2019.
These legislative measures, supported by NCHR, serve as vital tools in preventing and addressing domestic violence, ensuring the safety and protection of individuals, particularly women, within their respective regions.
Strategies for Ending Violence against Women and Enhancing Effective Law Implementation:
Following recommendations can be put forth to end violence against women and ensure the effective implementation of laws in Pakistan.
- Strengthen Data Collection: Develop a systematic and reliable data collection mechanism to continually assess the prevalence and nature of violence against women. This data will be vital for informed decision-making and targeted interventions. In this context, the role of the National Police Bureau is crucial in the collection of data across Pakistan on registered cases of violence against women to observe the actual condition of VAW and formulate policies around it.
- Raise Public Awareness: Launch nationwide awareness campaigns aimed at changing societal norms and perceptions regarding gender-based violence. Promote the unacceptability of violence against women and educate citizens about the legal consequences for perpetrators.
- Enhance Law Enforcement and Judicial Systems: Provide ongoing training and necessary resources to law enforcement agencies and the judiciary to effectively address cases of violence against women. Establish specialized courts and prioritize swift case processing for timely justice.
- Promote Economic Empowerment: Implement policies and programs that focus on women’s economic empowerment, including job opportunities, skills development, and financial inclusion. Close the gender pay gap and increase women’s participation in the formal workforce.
- Engage Communities: Encourage active community participation in combating violence against women. Establish local support networks and initiatives that provide protection and assistance to survivors within their communities.
- International Alignment: Ratify international agreements that focus on women’s rights, such as the UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace, and Security Agenda. Align Pakistan’s policies with global frameworks that emphasize the essential role of women in peacebuilding and equality.
- Monitor and Evaluate Initiatives: Regularly assess the impact and effectiveness of initiatives and programs addressing gender-based violence. Make data-driven adjustments to improve outcomes and optimize resource allocation.
- Legal Reforms: Continually review and update existing legislation to ensure it aligns with the changing needs of women and the evolving understanding of gender-based violence. Consider new laws and amendments that enhance the protection of women’s rights.
- Partnerships and Collaboration: Foster collaboration between government agencies, civil society, and international organizations to maximize resources, expertise, and support for initiatives focused on ending violence against women.
- National Database: Develop a comprehensive national database dedicated to tracking incidents of violence against women, providing a centralized repository for data, research, and policy development.
- Legislative Consistency: Ensure consistency in implementing laws across all provinces and regions, addressing disparities and creating a unified approach to protecting women’s rights.
- International Commitment: Ratify international agreements specifically focused on women’s rights, such as the UNSCR 1325 Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) Agenda. Align Pakistan’s policies with global frameworks that emphasize women and youth as essential components of peacebuilding.
Ending violence against women in Pakistan requires a multifaceted approach that combines legislative reforms with effective implementation, public awareness, and community engagement. The existing legal framework is a testament to Pakistan’s commitment to gender equality and human rights, but the gap between laws and their real-world impact must be bridged. By investing in comprehensive data collection, promoting economic empowerment, and strengthening law enforcement, Pakistan can take significant strides toward ensuring the safety and dignity of its women.
Moreover, aligning with international commitments, such as the WPS Agenda, demonstrates Pakistan’s dedication to fostering gender security and achieving true gender equality in all aspects of society. The time has come for Pakistan to transform its commitment into action, ensuring a brighter, more equitable future for all its citizens, regardless of their gender. During the upcoming “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence,” Pakistan must prioritize raising awareness regarding gender-based violence. This annual campaign, spanning from November 25th to December 10th, presents a crucial opportunity to amplify efforts to combat violence against women and promote gender equality in the country.