‘Violence Against Women’? No! GENDER-CIDE in Pakistan!

By Fauzia Rafiq

I write this as tears unstoppable, fall from my eyes. The mourning for the five women buried alive in Balochistan was hardly over when the news came late last night that three more women were buried alive for speaking against the atrocities done earlier to Bibi Jannat, Bibi Fatmah, Bibi Fauzia, Bibi Benaam1 and Bibi Benaam2 in July of this year. Though we say Five, the sources suspect the women buried alive in July 2008 were Seven; this makes it Eight or Ten.

Though i do, but right now i am not crying for Three Five Eight or Ten women. I am crying for uncountable number of women killed for honour and revenge in Pakistan since the Eighties. But just to keep my feet on the ground, here is the approximate exact number for the last Six months: 225 for ‘honour’ and 722 for ‘no-honour’ = 947 or Nine Hundred and Forty Seven Only.

But wait, these are stats collected by Aurat Foundation, a non-profit organization that can not reach each neighborhood and each village of the country. The researchers would have had to rely on police records and government statistics, and in both these areas the numbers are known to NOT reflect the reality of the reference. Pakistan Human Rights Commission (PHRC), Asian Human rights Commission (AHRC), and women’s direct service and advocacy organizations show many complaints in their service registers about the police not registering the cases in these matters.

In Pakistan, some say, read it three times the number. Shall we read it 2841 instead of 947 then? That’s too much. Lets just double the number instead of tripling it: 1894 in 6 months. From January to June 2008. However, counting and numbers fast become irrelevant at times when what is happening to women in a country can no more be defined as ‘honour killings’, ‘domestic violence’, ‘wife assault’ or ‘violence against women’. It’s gender-cide.

This gender-cide began in Pakistan in the Eighties with the implementation of Muslim Sharia Laws, and has continued through the Nineties as Muslim extremists have flourished to gain commanding political ground in Punjab, Balochistan and the NWFP. Now reaching a level of urgency in 2008, it puts the largest majority of Pakistani women at the direct risk of sexual violence, torture and death. The ones most vulnerable are in rural and tribal areas where the terrifying control exercised by local influential men is protected by religion, law and the gun with zero tolerance for dissent.

The majority of women living in rural and tribal areas are at risk more than ever because though women were being killed and exploited for revenge, family honor, watta-satta, karo-kari and other similar social and cultural constructs, it was never as often, as brutal and as much as it is now with the blanket protection provided by Islamic laws, edicts and notions. For the reader who does not see the connection: a society that by law requires women survivors of rape, for example, to produce four Muslim male eyewitnesses of upright character to prove or even to register the case against the rapists, is setting women up for increased instances of rape, sexual violence, honour killings and murders.

So, at any pressure point in the life of a woman or in the life of her family or community, she will be the first casuality of justice, likely with no possibility of help from outside the room, home or village.

The case of Five Baloch Women Buried Alive this July, signifies the cruelty, cold-bloodedness and the absolute control enjoyed by the perpetrators in a situation of ‘family’ interaction. Not only that, it reveals the nature of deadly silences and conspiracies that involve such acts of inhuman violence carried out against unarmed women; and, we are not even certain of the number or the names of the individuals who died there.

In a village called Mirwah in Balochistan, two young sister and a friend studied in the nearby high school. As are the customs, they were likely ‘given’ or ‘taken’ by another relative/s for their sons from childhood. The three young women Benaam 1 (16-18), Benaam 2 (16-18) and Fauzia (18) did not want to marry where their ‘families’ wanted them to. They discussed this matter with two older relatives Fatmah (45) and Jannat (38); the matter was taken to the family elders or Jirga that went on to rule against the wishes of the three young women.

The three young women, however, were strong in their resolve to stand up to the unjust authoritarianism dished out to women by elders/jirgas. With support of Jannat and Fatmah, they went to the nearby city to contract civil marriages.

At this point, they were abducted by a group of armed men in a government vehicle and brought to another small village in the desert. The abductors included the fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins of five women, and some local political goons. Reports say that the men hit and shot the three young women, and then began to bury them while they were still alive.

Fatmah and Jannat tried to stop them, and were also shot and hurled into the ground alive.

This happened in the second week of July but we came to know of it at the end of August when Baloch Senator Yasmeen Shah with help from some courageous journalists, brought it out in the open. The alive burials of women were defended in the Senate; and, the extensive cover up and silencing that was underway was shamefacedly perfected by the provincial and federal power brokers.

Pressure from rights activists and women’s groups pushed Pakistan People Party (PPP) to take a stand amidst a power-balancing act as it took over the government. Leaders of women’s groups in Pakistan held a nation-wide consultation and released a statement of action titled Declaration on Burying Women Alive/Killing of Women in the Name of “Honour” and other Customary Practices issued by Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women Watch Groups. The Supreme Court of Pakistan took sou motu notice. The newly instituted government of the PPP responded as if it was going to do something about it but nothing has really been done. A post by the Karachi Committee of Communist Workers & Peasants Party (CMKP), an association of five workers peasants and women’s organizations, says:
‘We feel that the issue regarding the atrocities meted out to five Baloch women who were buried alive on the orders of a tribal jirga not too long ago is being side-tracked, just like other similar issues before this one.’
Protest against atrocities meted out to five women buried alive

And then the news last night!
Three older women were also buried alive in July for demanding basic human rights for women in Pakistan. They were from the same village: Mirwah.
They were buried alive at the same place: Babakot.

Death anywhere
but when i die
bury me in Babakot
so that i can become a part
of the sand
that layered the bleeding flesh
of my sisters

Send An Appeal Letter

First published at Uddari Weblog

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Women Slam Govt on ‘Honour’ Killings in Pakistan

Fauzia Rafique

In a historic declaration this Thursday, women’s rights groups vowed to exercise ‘zero-tolerance’ for ‘honour’ killings; and, told the Government of Pakistan to measure up in eradicating all forms of violence against women.

Stunned by the inhuman ordeal of five Baloch women who were buried alive by their male relatives and local political goons ostensibly for ‘family honour’, women activists and leaders from 13 cities came together in Islamabad for a day long consultation. The Consultation was called by Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women (VAW) Watch Groups.

The outcome in the form of the ‘Islamabad Declaration on ‘Honour’ Crimes’ is inspiring, moving and insightful as it lists all the pitfalls and barriers that can befall a mandate that promises to protect women from this religio-cultural gendercide.
‘… we will employ all our strengths, energies and efforts to prevent any form of a cover-up of such heinous crimes against women by the entrenched tribal, feudal and patriarchal structures and systems, whether demonstrated by the political elites, the legislators, the judiciary, the police, or the federal, provincial, district or local administrations; or by self-styled religious vigilantes; …That we will no longer allow women to be used as pawns – as convenient expendable targets – in feuds between men over murder, property, money, political and tribal rivalries, blood vendettas and misplaced perceptions of “honour” issues;’
Islamabad Declaration on ‘Honour’ crimes. Complete text.

Another crucial understanding that permeates the set of demands and proposed actions is about honoring the lives, contributions and the stories of women who have been honour-killed. Every single woman who is murdered by her family/community for the ‘honour’ of her family is a martyr because either she was killed for being someone’s wife/mother/daughter/sister or she was sensitive/insightful/leader/brave who refused to live a life of complete subjugation. The Declaration proclaims all women killed for ‘honour’ as ‘Shaheed AurtaiN’ Martyr Women.

There are ‘honour’ killings where women of one family are made to suffer for the crimes of their men by the men of the aggrieved family; such killings are often ordered by a Jirga, and are indiscriminate as to the role of women themselves. However, in my view, a majority of women are honour-killed for asserting their basic human rights. Usually in their teens, a mere expression of their dignity as human beings where they begin to think for themselves and make decisions for themselves, becomes a death-deserving crime; a jirga may become involved but it is basically up to the men of their families to pronounce the judgment and to execute it.
‘Eh kon khaRae poordae/mere apnae peyo bhra’
Who are these burying me/my own fathers brothers

Every death for ‘honour’ sends shock waves through the land imparting another message of fear and intimidation to an already controlled and coverted population of women in Pakistan. Every death for ‘honour’ questions the values and the structures of the family where on daily basis and in our homes, some members enjoy fear-inducing power while the others are made to live at their whims. The mere concept of the ‘honour’ of such a family renders us homeless, brotherless, fatherless, sonless. In such families, each of us regardless of our gender, are made to afford a harsh, callous and unjust family life. Women have to confront and change this murderous ‘family’ and its values because we, more than men, are paying with our lives to keep it going.

So, the most honourable thing would be to question the validity of the ‘family’ that is based on greed, discrimination and inequality; and, to replace it with a democratic family structure that allows for equal and wholesome opportunities for all its members to shape our futures, to be supported through difficult times, to be protected and nurtured so that we can all live our lives to the fullest potential.

Sounds good but it is not that simple in a social setup where religious extremists are throwing acid on girls and young women and bombarding their schools for not wearing veils; the ‘respected’ jirgas order women to be gang-raped for an offense committed by their male relatives; where over a dozen young women and girl children are declared ‘vani’ and handed over to the aggrieved to resolve a feud between two families; where women are raped in police custody; where declaring a woman/girl ‘kari’ (adulterous) and then killing her is a matter of convenience for a husband/father/brother; where five women are buried alive and the elected representatives justify the action in the parliament; where a woman have to produce four Muslim men of upright character as eyewitnesses to prove that she was raped; where the qisas blood money for killing a woman is half that of a man.

This is the case in a political situation of deteriorating lawlessness where to make it worse, the biggest bully of this whole wide world has resolved to hunt its prey. The direct military assaults by the US forces in Pakistan are causing civilian casualties, inciting explosive responses from the Taliban, embarrassing Pakistan Army, and shaking an already tenuous government of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

Though the PPP government has sidelined the Lawyers Movement to appease the Army, it is however, moving in favor of women’s demands by invoking the Anti-terrorism Act of 1997 (ATA) that was passed to protect women against gang rape, the Women Development Minister has resolved to make changes in existing laws to protect women in future, and the Supreme Court of Pakistan has taken suo-motu notice of the killings.

It may seem weird but the truth is that the only chance women of Pakistan have of achieving the objectives of Islamabad Declaration is if the United States of America withdraws, at the very least, its military presence from Pakistan. In this life-and-death struggle between women’s rights and religion-supported traditions, it is not going to help women in Pakistan to be identified with the United States even when the Bush Republicans’ prey is one of our perpetrators.

Islamabad Declaration calls for action to accomplish the following:
– Acknowledge the courage and stance of Senator Yasmeen Shah and many media persons who have continued to report on this issue despite threats to their lives.
Protest outside Joint Session on 20th Sept in Islamabad and provincial capitals
Shaheed Auratain
– Women killed in the name of ‘honour’ are Martyrs: Raise to hero status
– Long March for Shaheed Women
– Dua for Shaheed Women and offer Namaz-e-Janazaa
– Visit and offer Fateha at graveyards of women killed for ‘honour’
– Dedicate 16 Days of Activism this year (2008) to Shaheed Women Killed in the name of Honour
Lobbying
– Signature campaigns
– Send letters of concern to Parliament
– Disqualification of Senator Zehri and all those public representatives who defend ‘Honour Killings’.
– Demand a legislation against Jirgas/Panchayats/Informal judicial structures
– Focus groups with legislators to discuss the Honour killing law (Dec 2004) and the necessary amendments.
– Launch poster, documentary and media campaign
– Demand that public representatives denounce all forms of killings particularly of women whether in the name of ‘honour’, ‘tradition’ or ‘custom’
Organizing
– Form a group of concerned individuals including lawyers, retired Judges, Human Rights activitsts and media personnel that should include some eminent personalities to follow such cases
– Vigilant committees in region to monitor day to day updates and reporting to everyone
– Women and human rights group will hold 4 seminars at Provincial levels in the interior of the country in order to build vocal support against ‘honour killings’

‘Assein ve koi kaleyan neesae/punj lukayan lakhan vaikheiN’
We are not alone either/you hid five will see millions

Poems For Five Baloch Women Buried Alive
Swal Jannat da NahiN
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Mir Wah de Fauzia
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First published at Uddari Weblog

Call for protest, National Assembly, Saturday, 20 Sept 2008

Join us in Islamabad
Protest against the horrific incidents of burying of women alive in Naseerabad
And against all other crimes and murders committed in the name of ‘honour’

The protest will take place on
Saturday 20th September 2008 at 2:30pm
Outside the National Assembly

(Joint session)

On hehalf of:
Joint Action Committee (JAC)
Women’s Action Forum (WAF chapter)
Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI)
Violence Against Women (VAW) Watch Group

mullokhan@gmail.com

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Islamabad Declaration on ‘Honour’ crimes

We publish this Declaration with our heart-felt and active support for the understanding, recommendations and demands outlined here to fight all forms of violence against women in Pakistan.

And, indeed women killed thus are our heroes because they are the ones who likely stood up for their rights; creating pathways for all of us to walk with dignity and honor.

Burying Five Women Alive in Naseerabad and the Customary Practices

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of civil society organizations and committed activists from all over Pakistan including Karachi, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, Jacobabad, Khairpur, Larkana, Sukkur, Hyderabad, Naseerabad, Mardan, Swabi and Islamabad gathered here in Islamabad for a national consultation on 18 September 2008, on the issue of ‘Burying Five Women Alive in Naseerabad and the Customary Practices’.

The Consultation was called together by the Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women (VAW) Watch Groups. The Consultation discussed the issue in detail in a day-long deliberation and devised strategies to deal with the alarming situation of violence against women, particularly the cases of heinous nature such as honour killings, gang rape, acid throwing etc.

The Consultation has issued the following declaration after the conclusion of its deliberations:

Declaration on Burying Women Alive/Killing of Women in the Name of “Honour” and other Customary Practices
18 September 2008: Islamabad

We, members of the Joint Action Committees (JACs), Women’s Action Forums (WAF chapters), Insani Haqooq Itehad (IHI) and Violence Against Women Watch Groups, hereby declare:

that burying women alive or killing them is the most inhuman, heinous, barbaric, unspeakable crime amongst the vast spectrum of violent crimes against women;
that the defence of such cruel inhumanity in the name of so-called ‘honour’, or tribal customs, traditions and norms is totally unacceptable and indefensible; and that such traditions are NOT honourable;
that we will no longer tolerate the impunity of such instances of brutal killings of women in the name of so-called “honour” ANYWHERE in Pakistan;
that we will continue to condemn and abhor and work against ALL such crimes against women, reported from any part of Pakistan;
that we will employ all our strengths, energies and efforts to prevent any form of a cover-up of such heinous crimes against women by the entrenched tribal, feudal and patriarchal structures and systems, whether demonstrated by the political elites, the legislators, the judiciary, the police, or the federal, provincial, district or local administrations; or by self-styled religious vigilantes;
that we will no longer allow women to be used as pawns – as convenient expendable targets – in feuds between men over murder, property, money, political and tribal rivalries, blood vendettas and misplaced perceptions of “honour” issues;

We demand the following immediate actions from the Government of Pakistan:
1. Civil Society Commission to prepare an independent Fact Finding Report.
2. Letters of concern to Parliament.
3. Shaheed Auratain (Women killed in the name of ‘honour’ are Martyrs) – raise these women to hero status
4. Long March for Shaheed Women
5. Disqualification of Senator Zehri and all those public representatives who defended ‘Honour Killings’.
6. Demand a legislation against Jirgas/Panchayats/Informal judicial structures.
7. Dua for Shaheed Aurtain and offer Namaz-e-Janazaa
8. Focus groups with legislators to discuss the Honour killing law (Dec 2004) and the necessary amendments.
10. Encourage other senators to initiate complaint against Zehri tin the Senate.
11. Launch a Poster and Media campaign.
12. Documentary on such issue should be publicized
13. Visit and offer Fateha at graveyards of women killed under the name of “honour” .
14. Protest outside Joint Session on 20th Sept in Islamabad and provincial capitals
15. Signature campaigns
16. Form a group of concerned individuals including lawyers, retired Judges, Human Rights activitsts and media personnel that should include some eminent personalities to follow such cases
17. Vigilant committees in region to monitor day to day updates and reporting to everyone.
18. Acknowledge the courage and stance of Senator Yasmeen Shah and many media persons who have continued to report on this issue despite threats to their lives.
19. Dedicate 16 Days of Activism this year (2008) to Shaheed Women Killed in the name of Honour.
20. We demand that public representatives denounce all forms of killings particularly of women whether in the name of ‘honour’, ‘tradition’ or ‘custom’.

• Women and human rights group will hold 4 seminars at Provincial levels in the interior of the country in order to build vocal support against ‘honour killings’.

• We call upon the government representatives to stay vigilant in order to identify the preparation of such a crime as ‘honour killing’ so that prevention measures can be timely taken up.

• The government should provide protection to potential victims of ‘honour killings’ and restraining orders be passed against those accused of conspiracy to murder.

• Those threatening women activists and Parliamentarians for denouncing the act of ‘honour killings’ should be proceeded against under the law.

• The Penal Code needs to be further amended so that murder is brought back as a crime against the state and should under no circumstances be compounded. Murder of members of vulnerable groups be taken as an aggravated rather than mitigated circumstance.

• A high powered commission be set up to present a report to the Parliament on Violence Against Women (VAW), particularly focusing on state responsibility and to present its conclusions and recommendations for legal policy action by the government.

• The government should provide protection to women NGOs deserving to undertake fact finding missions in incidents of ‘honour killings’.

• An Independent Public Prosecutor to nominate a senior lawyer to follow up with the police

More information: mullokhan@gmail.com

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