Below you will read what happens to a nation when they do not rule by what Allah has revealed. The sad fact is that Muslims are no better in their actions than those who are not Muslim. If you get upset easily I would advise you not to read this article below.

By Fariha Razak Haroon

In 1944, Quaid-i-Azam told a gathering at Aligarh University, India: 'No nation can rise to the heart of its glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs and practices. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our womenfolk have to live. You should take your women along with you as comrades in every sphere of life.'

As we mark International Women's day on 8th March, what we really need is a deep look into our conscience about the disturbing plight of women in our country. The violation of their rights, the discrimination and injustices meted out to them. A United Nations research study found that 50% of the women in Pakistan are physically battered and 90% are mentally and verbally abused by their menfolk. A similar study conducted by the Women's Division in Islamabad confirmed that around 80 % of women in Pakistan are victims of spousal violence. Sitting smugly in their comfortable homes in Lahore, Islamabad or Karachi, middle-class urbanites mostly ignore these appalling figures.

The more sensitive provide verbal sympathy and leave it at that.

In Pakistani society where feudal and tribal values are still thriving, women are perceived even by themselves, as second-rate beings. Despite the fact that Pakistan has signed CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination against Women), a UN Charter by which Pakistan is bound to bring the laws of the country in conformity with this convention, no implementation has taken place.

Noted social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi commented, "our whole system needs to be changed. What can be expected from a nation that has no conscience, no morals left? We lack the ability to seek the truth and show goodwill to others. We have not progressed even one step since independence. What we need is a welfare system like Britain's or Canada's. All the industrialists have rummaged this country on one pretext or the other. Nobody has done anything for the nation. First of all, we must do away with the Hudood ordinance which is very discriminatory against women. As far as the Shariat Bill is concerned, it should not be implemented under any circumstances. The women is this country are already exploited and face much discrimination."

Zia Ahmed Awan, President LHRLA (Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid) expressed a similar view on the status of women in Pakistan: "the laws of our country are very discriminatory against women. There is so much of domestic violence that it is unbelievable. Every year we receive over 400 such cases. This is not to be confused with the hundreds of calls for help we get from women. Every woman is not brave enough to take the matter to the court and complain against her husband or parents. Most of the times they are economically dependent on them and cannot come forward."

The fact that, culturally, women are seen as possessions of their husbands sanctions different forms of partner-abuse - verbal, emotional and physical. It relegates wife-battering to the private sphere, discouraging the wife both from seeking help and outside intervention. Specific forms of domestic abuse include Karo-Kari, Watta Satta marriages, stove burning, and disfigurement through acid throwing. In certain parts of the interior, the practice of marrying women to the Holy Quran is still prevalent.

Trafficking in women is a very important issue where thousands of women are brought from Bangladesh, Burma, India, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia and sold into prostitution through a very organized major network.

Shaista, a Bengali, was lured to Pakistan on the pretext of getting her a job so that she could feed her poverty-stricken family. Instead, she was sold to the highest bidder for Rs 80,000. According to her, she went through a nikah ceremony with her so-called husband who used her as a permanent source of income, selling her off to a new man every night. Forced to work all day like a slave, she finally managed to escape. Zahida, an Indian Muslim, was subjected to severe mental and physical torture by her husband, Asif. She took refuge in a Welfare Trust along with her minor child. Asif, after locating her whereabouts, came to get her back. On her refusal he bit off her nose with his teeth and chewed it up. Zahida was admitted to Civil Hospital where her nose is being restructured with the help of plastic surgery. Zubeida from Bahawalpur was totally disfigured when her husband threw acid on her face, only because she walked out on him when she couldn't bear his abuse any more. There is no end to these tragic cases. There is a woman who has been languishing in Larkana jail under the Hudood ordinance for the past eight years with a nine-year old child. The only reason for her being there is accusation of adultery by a suspicious husband.

There are thousands of similar cases which no one hears and knows about. Nameless, faceless women who cannot speak for themselves. Bound in chains of oppression and suppression, their stories are more or less the same. Only names and circumstances change.

According to Bilquis Edhi, approximately 15-20 women come to Edhi centres everyday seeking help.

Over 4,500 girls take refugee in their nine shelter homes annually. In the case of the younger ones, age group 14-24 years, most of them leave home due to their parents' hostile attitude regarding their marrying a man of their own choice. Many are being forced to marry a man they totally dislike. Some take the drastic step of running away due to poverty. They want to study but as the parents do not want to educate them or sometimes cannot afford to do so, they leave. Older women seek help due to problems with husband, domestic violence being a major reason. "Women in our society are in very bad shape," states Bilquis Edhi who has been working for nearly 30 years and has counselled over 90,000 women during that time span.

According to a women's rights lawyer, "the mentality of our men is that the wife is treated like property."Since earliest childhood, girls are repeatedly told that their first priority is to get married. In case of divorce, she has no options. A career is no preference but for the male, education and career come uppermost. Even in insurance advertisements, the slogan is 'marriage for daughter and a degree for the son.'Such mentality and thinking permeates all levels.

The men's attitude towards women has to change. Unless they learn to respect women and treat them as equals, this nation will not progress. Nuclearisation is not so important as the liberation of our nation from obsolete, archaic tribal and feudal mindsets and rituals. We have no concept of a thing called civilization.

Above all, law-enforcement agencies must be properly sensitized and female participation should be introduced in the upper hierarchy also. We need women I.G.s, D.I.G.s, and senior women police officers. Women must play an important role in the judiciary. This role has not been fully developed.

Most importantly, the judiciary must also be sensitised. Along with several reasonable laws which are never implemented, we have some very discriminatory laws against women, which were introduced during the martial law era and are used today to chastise and torment women. For instance the Hudood ordinance, which must be repealed. There are thousands of cases where this law has been wrongly used and misinterpreted. Before it became effective, a rape victim could go to the police without any fear of being wrongly implicated herself. But with this law everything has changed. It is misused to such an extent that this palpably unjust and cruel law has become a whip in the hands of men to castigate women with.

In the Humaira Abbas, Riffat Afridi and Saima cases, the Hudood Ordinance was wrongly and falsely used. Both Islam and the law allow adult women to marry a partner of their choice. These women were not committing adultery. So why were they subjected to such an ordeal? There is a law of qazaf in the Hudood ordinance where anyone making wrong accusations of zina or character assassination, should be sentenced to 100 lashes. Every day, wrong cases are filed and then acquitted. Why has no one been sentenced to qazaf punishment? The laws must apply equally to everyone.

Scores of women are languishing in jails without being produced in the courts. In Larkana jail, the situation of women prisoners is pathetic. Basically illiterate, they have no knowledge of their rights and are not produced in court for months on end. 50% of women do not even have access to a lawyer.

What is urgently needed is half-way homes like those in Western countries, where women can take refuge. Despite having thousands of women's organizations in Karachi alone, there are no shelters except Darul-Aman and Edhi Home. Donor organizations have been working on creating awareness for many years. Now that a degree of awareness is there, there is no service for adequate legal aid, counselling or providing shelters.

Despite the fact that the women's Division had pledged to inaugurate many Crisis Centres throughout the country, only one Crisis Centre is operating in Islamabad on a small scale. The inauguration of several such centres has taken place, a board is placed at the site, but no facility or service is available.

The Federal Minister for Women's Development, Tehmina Daultana, must be held accountable for presenting the Crisis Centres, a year ago, as the panacea for women's myriad problems. She has not delivered and should step down. Instead, her smiling image graces TV all the time.

WAR is confronted daily with cases of marital violence and abuse, with pleas for help from women from all classes, age groups, religious and ethic backgrounds. Cases range from emotional and psychological manipulation to threats and verbal abuse, from physical battering to the most frightening of all, marital rape. Usually it is only when the ituation has become so aggravated and the woman has become so desperate that she needs to 'get away from the man', seeking a divorce, that she reaches out for help. A major problem is that under the existing Hudood Laws, marital rape cannot be a criminal offence, as sexual relations are only considered as rape when a man has such relations against the will of a woman to whom he is not validly married. Thus a husband cannot be tried and convicted for offence of zina bil jbr in Pakistan. Among the women who have sought help from WAR: * One was forced to have sex with her husband who was also sexually abusing their daughter. He would give her a choice of either being raped herself or allowing her daughter to be raped.

* Rahmat came to Karachi from Bangladesh as she was married to a Pakistani. Her husband was a fisherman and was often away from home for days on end. He was very jealous of his beautiful wife and often beat her, accusing her of having affairs with other men. He stopped giving her money to spend and didn't like her to dress up, even on special occasions or Eid. She was not allowed to meet neighbours or friends or leave the house even for shopping. Once, when her husband returned home after a long stint at sea, he accused her of having an affair in his absence. She was gang-raped by her husband and three of his friends, who locked themselves in a room with her, raped her, gave her over thirty-five wounds and mutilated her private parts with a knife. They left her with the loss of the use of her right hand, the tendons were so badly lacerated. Her children stood outside the door, crying and begging the father to stop as they listened to the horrifying screams.

* One woman was scared to ever sleep at night, because her husband would burn her private parts with bleach or chilli or force himself on her while she was trying to sleep, punishing and beating her when she resisted.

Most of these atrocities are not reported to the police or in the papers. When they are, the scenario becomes even worse. The SHO, Mariam Qazi of the Women's Police Station, elucidated in a meeting with WAR her methods when confronted by cases of marital violence and abuse. She said that the women's police stations do not like to interfere in ghareloo muslas (domestic issues). She did not even perceive physical violence a crime, and found the idea of 'marital rape' inconceivable. When asked to elaborate on her methods of investigation in such cases, she said:

"First I see the woman alone, calm her down, offer her tea and ask her what the problem is. Then I call in the husband and hit him, which is very humiliating for him ... to be hit by a woman. I ask him if he mistreats his wife. He doesn't have the courage to lie to me by then. Usually, it is a lie and they (the husbands) tell me what the real story is. Then I turn to the woman and ask her if he is telling the truth....usually she says yes, he doesn't mistreat me, I was lying ...they (the woman) are usually after some money or something like that. You women's organizations don't realize that women are often very chalak also".

According to the penal law, if some one hurts another, no matter who it is, father, brother, husband, son, or whatever, it is not a family matter. It is a penal offence. It should be reported and dealt with according to the law, but this law, too, is not being implemented. Another very alarming issue is where the police are themselves involved in the case. A seven-year-old girl In Lyari was raped by a neighbour who was a policeman. When the parents went to lodge a FIR in the area Thana, the police on duty, instead of sympathizing, started abusing them and threatening to implicate them in false cases if they reported the matter. When the police are themselves the culprits, where does one go for help?

WAR and WAF have sent numerous female abuse cases to CPLC. According to Sharfuddin Memon, Deputy Chief, CPLC, "in a conservative society like ours, where females are not encouraged to openly interact with the opposite sex, young girls sneak behind their parents' back and form liaisons with young men. Later, when things do not work out and the girl wants to get out of the relationship, obscene calls are made to them, photographs and video films are used to blackmail the girl and her family. Numerous wife-battering and physical-abuse cases are also reported, where the husband wants to throw the wife out of the house and forcibly keep the kids. Rashida Patel, President PAWLA, voiced that "despite the fact that there are many more professional women working outside the homes now, the attitude towards women has really slid down the ladder. The legal status of women is very poor. The Zina ordinance has resulted not only in loss of respectability which women suffer, but has also encouraged men to look down on them."

Women's rights activists insist that a total change of the system is needed. Women are key players in national progress. The time has come for us to acknowledge this fact and give women their due status in society.

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