The situation of women in Pakistan varies considerably depending on geographical location and class. Women fare better in urban areas and middle- and upper-class sections of society, where there are greater opportunities for higher education and for paid and professional work and women's social mobility is somewhat less restricted.1 Seventy-five percent of Pakistan's female population is, however, rural,2 and the average Pakistani woman is beset with the "crippling handicaps of illiteracy, constant motherhood and poor health."3 And, despite the relative privilege of some, all Pakistani women remain structurally disadvantaged and second-class citizens as a result of legal and societal discrimination premised on social and cultural norms and attitudes.
Women's legal and social status has changed throughout the country's turbulent political history, sometimes for the better, lately for the worse. In 1947 British India was partitioned along religious lines to create two independent nations: India, which had a majority Hindu population, and Pakistan, which was predominantly Muslim. Continuing controversy over the role of Islam in the nation's political life, along with tension among the country's ethnic groups, has dominated the process of state-building in Pakistan since independence. Pakistan's relations with its neighbors, above all Afghanistan and India, have also had critical consequences for foreign and domestic politics, particularly with respect to the role of the military and the course of Islamization. The direction of the debate over thecountry's political ideology and the militarization of politics have had a profound impact on the trajectory of women's advancement.
The constitutional debates following partition were dominated by protracted arguments over the place of the shari`a, or Islamic legal principles, in Pakistani law. While Pakistan's ulama4 argued that the shari`a provided the only legitimate basis for the new state, most politicians fought for a constitution that embodied the principles of modern parliamentary democracy. The debates lasted nine years and ultimately produced a constitution that "demonstrated . . . [an] unwillingness to articulate and implement an Islamic ideology" in that the "relationship of modern constitutional concepts to Islamic principles was asserted but not delineated."5
Still, Pakistan's early leaders gave in to some of the demands of the religious leadership by including in the Constitution the declaration that Pakistan was an Islamic republic and by granting the ulama an advisory role, though it carried little influence.6 But if there was little confidence in Islam as the basis for building political consensus, there was equally little faith in the country's weak political institutions.7 As a result, the military came to assume a dominant role in Pakistani politics. The intervention of the military in politics eventually led, during the martial law administration of General Zia-ul-Haq, to disastrous consequences for the advancement of women's rights.
General Zia ul-Haq, then Army chief of staff, overthrew the elected government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in a military coup in July 1977. A beleaguered Bhutto had himself set the stage for his downfall by imposing martial law during a period of widespread civil unrest following a national election held in March of that year. In that election, Bhutto's party, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), faced a formidable challenge from the Pakistan National Alliance, a coalition thatincluded the entire opposition from fundamentalist religious to centrist and liberal parties. In an effort to boost his popularity, Bhutto had made some moves to win over the religious establishment.8 Although these moves anticipated Zia's later Islamization programs, they failed to win Bhutto much support among religious leaders, who denounced his avowed socialism. Bhutto also alienated the left, which joined the opposition alliance, along with urban middle-class Pakistanis frustrated with Bhutto's increasingly autocratic and repressive rule9 and failure to implement economic reforms. Although the PPP officially won the election by a large margin, the opposition claimed extensive electoral fraud and immediately began the anti-government agitation that resulted in the imposition of martial law, which led to Bhutto's ouster.
Zia's coup represented the convergence of conservative religious interests with those of the army. In the absence of any clear popular constituency, Zia used appeals to Islamic values to legitimize his regime and cultivated the support of the conservative religious parties. In return, he provided those parties, which had never had strong support from the electorate, with access to national political power. Zia came to power denouncing Bhutto's administration as un-Islamic, and one of his main rallying cries was the return of Pakistani society to the "moral purity of early Islam." His most vulnerable and strategic targets, along with minorities, were women, whom he promised to return to the sanctity of the chardivari (the four walls of the home), thus reaffirming women's domestic role as the cornerstone of a Muslim way of life.
The fact that women's status became a lightning rod in Zia's political strategy came as no surprise. Women had historically been used to stabilize the unsteady balance between religion and politics in Pakistan. Within months of taking power, Zia introduced a series of legal and social changes that reversed many of the legal advances for women of the prior thirty years. This backsliding demonstrated that, despite seeming progress, women's rights ultimately remainedtentative and discretionary. Women's few hard-won legal gains were quickly curtailed.
With the imposition of martial law, Zia suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution that had been adopted in 1973, including the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex. He then introduced a series of laws that gave legal sanction to women's subordinate status, including the Hudood Ordinances, which changed the law of rape and adultery and made fornication a crime for the first time in the country's history; and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order), which relegates women to inferior legal status and, in some circumstances, renders the testimony of a woman equal to only half the weight of a man's. Zia also proposed laws regarding Qisas and Diyat, Islamic penal laws governing compensation and retribution in crimes involving bodily injury. (These laws and their discriminatory effects are discussed in greater detail in the next section of this report.) Zia reinforced the legal strictures he imposed on women with a series of informal regulations and unwritten policies designed to curtail women's personal liberty, visibility, and participation in public life.
Zia's Islamization efforts had their greatest impact on Pakistan's criminal justice system. The potential for misuse of power by the police and jail authorities had existed since colonial times, and successive periods of martial law had further increased the powers of law enforcement agencies and eroded safeguards against abuses. Far from providing better protection for people with legitimate grievances, the effect of Islamization was to increase the state's power over the lives and liberties of its citizens, bringing more of them, particularly women, into contact with an already abusive and corrupt criminal justice system. Zia also undermined the independence of the civilian court system with, among other things, the introduction at the High Court level of shariat benches, reorganized and centralized as the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) in 1980,10 to review all laws to ensure that nonewas repugnant to the Koran or the Sunnah (exemplary sayings and directives of the prophet Mohammed) and to hear appeals in certain criminal matters including Hudood cases.11
The Zia era produced a decided shift in the uneasy balance between women's rights and religion in Pakistani politics. Until 1977 the constantly changing religious and political alignments worked against both conservative and progressive extremes, and, with the help of a growing number of independent organizations, women were able to secure a steady flow of moderate reforms, although their impact on the majority of women was minimal. After Zia's coup, the politics of the army and the religious right were so closely aligned that the opportunity for reform disappeared, and women took a step backward. Increased social control of women was an important part of the Zia regime's appropriation of conservative religious values to legitimate state power.
This is not to say that there was no opposition to Zia's policies toward women. In September 1981, women came together in Karachi in an emergency meeting to oppose the adverse effects on women of martial law and the Islamization campaign. They launched what was to become the first full-fledged national women's movement in Pakistan: the Women's Action Forum (WAF). Staging public protests and campaigns against the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws (temporarily shelved as a result), WAF became one of the main voices of opposition to Zia.
The coming to power in 1988 of Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, represented an unprecedented alignment of state power with an apparently progressive women's rights policy. However, soon after Bhutto's election, it became clear that, once again, the protection of women's rights had been subordinated to the need to maintain a delicate balance between various political forces, including those representing conservative religious values. Although Bhutto's campaign pledge to repeal the Hudood laws and to remove all other discriminatory statutes had great appeal, her promises on women's rights graduallyproved to be empty. During her two incomplete terms in office, she did not repeal a single one of Zia's Islamization laws.12 The appointment, through elections in 1997, of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, appears to have blocked all opportunities for the advancement of women's rights. Sharif, a political protégé of Zia's, had also held office for a truncated term (1990-1993) between Ms. Bhutto's two terms (1988-90 and 1993-96). His actions during during both periods at the helm indicate a political strategy of Islamization akin to his mentor's, with detrimental consequences for women. When he first came to power in November 1990, Sharif promised to adopt Islamic law as the supreme law of Pakistan, albeit within a constitutional framework, and in April 1991 he introduced legislation to that effect. Furthermore, in 1997 Sharif and his supporters in parliament enacted the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance-which institutes shari`a-based changes in Pakistan's criminal law-into law, making it a permanent part of the Pakistan Penal Code rather than an ordinance subject to periodic renewal.
Since his party's return to power in 1997, Nawaz Sharif has moved to consolidate his power by undercutting human rights protections and attacking the supremacy of the Constitution. He has proposed a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution that would entirely replace the existing legal system with a comprehensive Islamic one and would override the "constitution and any law or judgment of any court."13 Introducing his proposal, Sharif told parliament, "Simple changes in laws are not enough. I want to implement complete Islamic laws where the Koran and Sunnat are supreme."14 The proposal was quickly approved in the National Assembly (lower house), where Sharif's party has a commanding majority, but, as of July 1999, remained stalled in the Senate and continued to face strong opposition from women's groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties.15
Nawaz Sharif's continuing Islamization efforts have not only reinforced the legitimacy of Zia ul-Haq's discriminatory Islamic laws; they have in effect also bestowed greater discretion and authority on judges to give legal weight, by invoking Islamic precedents and references at random, to biased assumptions about women in a variety of civil and criminal cases. For example, since 1996 courts have admitted cases challenging an adult woman's right to marry of her own free will, ostensibly an established right under family laws. Judges have looked to theKoran to settle the question, in some cases holding that a Muslim woman's marriage is illegal without familial consent. A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicized Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman's right to marry freely but called for amendments to the family laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage "love marriages."
Women, as a daily practical matter, are far outside the mainstream of political life; a coherent program of concrete measures and a deliberate reversal of existing government attitudes and policies are required to change their situation. Women's access to health and education is severely limited, and their levels of economic and political participation are very low. The literacy rate for Pakistani women is only 25 percent; the maternal mortality rate is disturbingly high at 600 per 100,000 births.16 Prevailing trends in the health and education sectors are not encouraging. According to one study, "Health and education (especially for women) have been consistently receiving diminishing allocations in the budget (among the lowest in the third world) and much of what is to be distributed disappears through institutionalized corruption. . . Reproductive health services have particularly suffered and are available only where a few major NGOs have outreach, but they cover only a tiny fraction of the population."17 Women's participation in the economic arena is disproportionately low, with women constituting only 28 percent of the country's labor force,18 and their marginal role in civic and political life is reflected by the fact that there are only seven female members of the federal parliament, five in the National Assembly out of a total of 207 (2.4 percent) and two in the Senate out of of eighty-three (2.4 percent); one woman among 483 male members of the four provincial legislatures (0.2 percent);19 two women Cabinet ministers; and three women judges in the provincial High Courts.20 Not surprisingly, in 1997 Pakistan slid back to 120th out of 146 places in the United Nations Development Programme's gender-relateddevelopment index (107 out of 137 in 1996) and occupied the ninety-second of ninety-four places with regard to women's progressive empowerment.21
Clear violations of international law on the rights of women occur daily in Pakistan. Laws that discriminate against women remain on the books and are actively enforced, discrimination in access to government resources and services continues unchecked, and discriminatory practices go unpunished. In particular, violence against women remains a serious and widespread problem-to which the government responds with inaction and inertia. The remainder of this report focuses on the barriers to justice that women victims of violence confront in Pakistan.