Women’s access to justice

In 2017, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security ranked Pakistan the fourth worst country for women out of 153 countries

Articles 8 to 29 of Pakistan’s 1973 constitution clearly elaborate the fundamental rights of all Pakistani citizens. All native Pakistanis are guaranteed security, right to a fair trial, freedom from slavery and forced labour, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and safety from illegal detention regardless of caste, gender or ethnicity. However, the harsh reality is that when it comes to equal rights for women, we still have to cover many milestones.

In 2017, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security ranked Pakistan the fourth worst country for women out of 153 countries. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Recently when I was going through the constitution and certain other legal documents, I couldn’t help but notice that these documents mostly use the pronoun ‘he’, as if women don’t exist in this country.

Working women in Pakistan continue to face numerous challenges and cultural barriers. Surprisingly, many educated women remain unaware of the existence of laws meant to protect them at the workplace, such as the 2010 Workplace Harassment act. The act was meant to encourage women to discard traditional gender roles and venture into professional life. However, it will not be of any use until women know it is there to protect their rights.

Our society’s patriarchal attitudes have found their way into our courtrooms as well, and as a result women face a number of challenges

The situation is the same with similar laws on acid attacks, honour killing and cybercrimes. These are positive steps, but they cannot be effectively implemented until the awareness about such laws increases.

Many women related disputes such as marriage dissolutions, disputes about custody of children and juvenile issues are handled by family courts, which continue to follow the 1964 family act. Our society’s patriarchal attitudes have found their way into these courts as well, and as a result women face a number of challenges. The problem is compounded by women’s lack of awareness about their rights. Many don’t even know that it is their right to have their Nikah Namah read to them when they are getting married.

Women also suffer because of pendency in the family courts. Around 7000 family cases were registered in Peshawar in 2016 and out of these 4000 are still pending. The plight of women who are suffering because of domestic violence also hasn’t been addressed because the laws meant to prevent domestic violence in this country haven’t been implemented properly. Law enforcement officials continue to see a man physically abusing his wife as a ‘household issue’ rather than a crime.

All these problems need to be addressed so that women can finally be allowed to thrive in our society. It is when this will happen that women will start fully participating in our society, and bring about a change for the better.

The writer has experience in the field of education and is currently working as a resource person in the development sector

Published in Daily Times, February 10th 2018.