Women in Pakistan

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Women in Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto.jpg
Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state,[1] having twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988–1990; 1993–1996).
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.567 (2012)
Rank 123rd
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 260 (2010)
Women in parliament 21.1% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 18.3% (2010)
Women in labour force 22.7% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value 0.5459 (2013)
Rank 135th out of 136

The status of women in Pakistan varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women's lives. The Pakistani women of today enjoy a better status than most Muslim women. However, on an average, the women's situation vis-à-vis men is one of systemic gender subordination,[3] although there have been attempts by the government and enlightened groups to elevate the status of women in Pakistani society.[4] Now due to a heightened awareness among people the educational opportunities for the Pakistani women increased in the previous years.[5] In 2014, the World Economic Forum ranked Pakistan as the second worst country in the world in gender equality.[6]

Religious groups have often worked with other members of civil society in denouncing violence against women, they have issued fatwas denouncing "honour killings", issued by the All Pakistan Ulema Council the largest group of religious clergy[7] However, improvements are gradually being made, slowed down by political incompetence in Pakistan; Lahore has inaugurated its first service of lady traffic wardens to manage the traffic [8] and even the country's most conservative province is planning to increase the percentage of women in the police force [9] Pakistan's judiciary is also much more strignent against those who attack women, even in conservative regions such as Faisalabad where a man was jailed for 42 years for throwing acid on a women's face [10]


Historically, in the 19th century, even though there were Muslim female heads of state e.g. in Bhopal State and elsewhere, feminist-sympathetic movements within the South Asian Muslim community tried to counter social evils against Muslim women through the custom of purdah (where women were isolated from social contact, primarily with men). Other Muslim reformers such as Syed Ahmad Khan tried to bring education to women, limit polygamy, and empower women in other ways through education.[4] The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was known to have a positive attitude towards women.[4] After the independence of Pakistan, women's groups and feminist organisations started by prominent leaders like Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah started to form that worked to eliminate socio-economic injustices against women in the country.

Jinnah points out that Muslim women leaders from all classes actively supported the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s. Their movement was led by wives and other relatives of leading politicians. Women were sometimes organised into large-scale public demonstrations. Before 1947 there was a tendency for the Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League while their menfolk supported the Unionist Party.[11] Many Muslim women supported the Indian National Congress Quit India Movement. Some like Syeda Safia Begum of Muslim Town Lahore started the first English School for Muslim Children in Muslim Town in 1935. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947 under the Pakistan Ordinance,[12] and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution.[13] The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.

Had General Ayub Khan run fair elections, Ms. Fatima Jinnah of Pakistan would have become the first Muslim President of the largest Muslim country in the world. However despite that setback, during 1950-60, several pro-women initiatives were taken. The Family Law Ordinance was passed. Also the first woman Lambardar or Numberdar (Village Head Person) in West Pakistan Begum Sarwat Imtiaz took oath in Village 43/12-L in Chichawatni, District Montgomery (now Sahiwal) in 1959.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Government[edit]

The democratic regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1970–1977) was a period of liberal attitudes towards women. All government services were opened to women including the district management group and the foreign service (in the civil service), which had been denied to them earlier. About 10% of the seats in the National Assembly and 5% in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women, with no restriction on contesting general seats as well. However, the implementation of these policies was poor as the Government faced a financial crisis due to the war with India and consequent split of the country.[3]

Gender equality was specifically guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973. The constitution stipulates that "there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone." The Constitution additionally affords the protection of marriage, family, the mother and the child as well as ensuring "full participation of women in all spheres of national life.".[14] However, many judges upheld the "laws of Islam", often misinterpreted, over the Constitution's guarantee of non-discrimination and equality under the law.[15]

In 1975, an official delegation from Pakistan participated in the First World Conference on Women in Mexico, which led to the constitution of the first Pakistan Women's Rights Committee.

Zia-ul-Haq's military régime[edit]

General Zia ul-Haq, then Army Chief of Staff, overthrew the democratically elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in a military coup on 5 July 1977. The Sixth Plan during the martial law régime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1986) was full of policy contradictions. The régime took many steps toward institutional building for women's development, such as the establishment of the Women's Division in the Cabinet Secretariat, and the appointment of another commission on the Status of Women. A chapter on women in development was included for the first time in the Sixth Plan. The chapter was prepared by a working group of 28 professional women headed by Syeda Abida Hussain, chairperson of the Jhang District council at that time. The main objective as stated in the Sixth Plan was "to adopt an integrated approach to improve women's status".[3] In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq nominated the Majlis-e-Shoora (Federal Advisory Council) and inducted 20 women as members, however Majlis-e-Shoora had no power over the executive branch.[16] In 1985, the National Assembly elected through nonparty elections doubled women's reserved quota (20 percent).

However, Zia-ul-Haq initiated a process of Islamization by introducing discriminatory legislation against women such as the set of Hudood Ordinances and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order). He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah.[3] He 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 also proposed laws regarding Qisas and Diyat, Islamic penal laws governing retribution (qisas) and compensation (diyat) in crimes involving bodily injury. When the victim was a woman, the amount of diyat was halved[17]

The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 was a subcategory of the Hudood Ordinance. Zina is the crime of non-marital sexual relations and adultery. The Zina Ordinance included zina-bil-jabr, the category of forced intercourse. If the woman who accuses a man of zina-bil-jabr (rape) cannot prove to the judicial system that she was raped, she faces adultery charges.[18] In order for a rapist to receive "hadd," the maximum punishment provided for under the Quran, either the rapist must confess to the rape, or four pious adult Muslim men must witness the "act of penetration" itself and testify against the rapist.[19] Under Qanun-e-Shahadat, a woman's testimony was not weighed equally to that of a man.[20] Thus, if a woman does not have male witnesses but does have female witnesses, their testimony would not satisfy the evidence requirement. The perpetrator may be acquitted and the victim may face adultery charges. The threat of being prosecuted discourages victims from filing complaints.

In addition, the legal possibility of marital rape was eliminated; by definition, rape became an extramarital offence according to the Zina ordinance. The ordinance prompted international criticism. Women's rights groups helped in the production of a film titled "Who will cast the first stone?" filmmaker by Sabiha Sumar to highlight the oppression and sufferings of women under the Hudood Ordinances.[21]

In September 1981, the first conviction and sentence under the Zina Ordinance, of stoning to death for Fehmida and Allah Bakhsh were set aside under national and international pressure. 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 later became the first full-fledged national women's movement in Pakistan, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). WAF staged public protests and campaigns against the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws (temporarily shelved as a result).[22]

In 1983, an orphaned, thirteen-year old girl Jehan Mina was allegedly raped by her uncle and his sons, and became pregnant. She was unable to provide enough evidence that she was raped. She was charged with adultery and the court considered her pregnancy as the proof of adultery. She was awarded the Tazir punishment of one hundred lashes and three years of rigorous imprisonment.[23]

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a nearly blind teenaged domestic servant was allegedly raped by her employer and his son. Due to lack of evidence, she was convicted for adultery under the Zina ordinance, while the rapists were acquitted. She was sentenced to fifteen lashes, five years imprisonment, and a fine of 1000 rupees. The decision attracted so much publicity and condemnation from the public and the press that the Federal Shariah Court of its own motion, called for the records of the case and ordered that she should be released from prison on her own bond. Subsequently, on appeal, the finding of the trial court was reversed and the conviction was set aside.[24]

The International Commission of Jurists mission to Pakistan in December 1986 called for repealing of certain sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and so-called "Islamic" punishments which discriminate against women and non-Muslims.

There is considerable evidence that legislation during this period has negatively impacted Pakistani women's lives and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. Majority of women in prison were charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national level study conducted in dar-ul-amans (shelters for women) mentioned that 21% of women had Hudood cases against them.[25] According to a 1998 report by Amnesty International, more than one-third of all Pakistani women in prison were being held due to having been accused or found guilty of zina.[26]

Benazir Bhutto Government[edit]

Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. She was assassinated while campaigning for the Pakistani general election of 2008.

After Zia-ul-Haq's regime, there was a visible change in the policy context in favour of women. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth plans formulated under various democratically elected governments have clearly made efforts to include women's concerns in the planning process. However, planned development failed to address gender inequalities due to the gap between policy intent and implementation.[3]

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter) became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country.[27] During her election campaigns, she voiced concerns over social issues of women, health and discrimination against women. She also announced plans to set up women's police stations, courts and women's development banks. She also promised to repeal controversial Hudood laws that curtailed the rights of women However, during her two incomplete terms in office (1988–90 and 1993–96), Benazir Bhutto did not propose any legislation to improve welfare services for women. She was not able to repeal a single one of Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation laws. By virtue of the eighth constitutional amendment imposed by Zia-ul-Haq, these laws were protected both from ordinary legislative modification and from judicial review.[22]

In early 1988, the case of Shahida Parveen and Muhammad Sarwar sparked bitter public criticism. Shahida's first husband, Khushi Muhammad, had divorced her and the papers had been signed in front of a magistrate. The husband however, had not registered the divorce documents in the local council as required by law, rendering the divorce not legally binding. Unaware of this, Shahida, after her mandatory 96 day period of waiting (iddat), remarried. Her first husband, rebounding from a failed attempt at a second marriage, decided he wanted his first wife Shahida back. Shahida's second marriage was ruled invalid. She and her second husband, Sarwar were charged with adultery. They were sentenced to death by stoning.[23] The public criticism led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Shariah Court.

Ministry of Women's Development (MWD) established Women's Studies centres at five universities in Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Lahore in 1989. However, four of these centres became almost non-functional due to lack of financial and administrative support.[3] Only the center at University of Karachi (funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) was able to run a master of arts programme.

The First Women Bank Ltd. (FWBL) was established in 1989 to address women's financial needs. FWBL, a nationalised commercial bank, was given the rôle of a development finance institution, as well as of a social welfare organisation. It operates 38 real-time online branches across the country, managed and run by women. MWD provided a credit line of Rs 48 million to FWBL to finance small-scale credit schemes for disadvantaged women. The Social Action Programme launched in 1992/93 aimed at reducing gender disparities by improving women's access to social services.

Pakistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 29 February 1996.[28] The Ministry of Women Development (MWD) is the designated national focal machinery for its implementation. However MWD has been facing lack of adequate resources for the implementation.[3] Pakistan failed to submit its initial report that was due in 1997.[29] Also, Pakistan neither signed nor ratified the Optional Protocol of the Women's Convention, which has led to non-availability of avenues for filing grievances by individuals or groups against Pakistan under CEDAW.[15]

Nawaz Sharif Government[edit]

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif, a political protégé of Zia-ul-Haq, was elected as the Prime Minister. He had also held office for a truncated term (1990–1993), during which he had promised to adopt Islamic law as the supreme law of Pakistan.

In 1997, the Nawaz Sharif government formally enacted the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, which institutes shariah-based changes in Pakistan's criminal law. The ordinance had earlier been kept in force by invoking the president's power to re-issue it every four months.[22]

Sharif then 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.".[30] The proposal was approved in the National Assembly (lower house), where Sharif's party has a commanding majority, but, it remained stalled in the Senate after facing strong opposition from women's groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties.[31]

A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicised Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman's right to marry freely but called for amendments to the 1965 Family Laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage "love marriages".[22]

The report of the Inquiry of the Commission for Women (1997) clearly stated that the Hudood legislation must be repealed as it discriminates against women and is in conflict with their fundamental rights. A similar commission during Benazir Bhutto's administration had also recommended amending certain aspects of Hudood Ordinance. However, neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif implemented these recommendations.

The enhancement of women's status was stated as one of the 16 goals listed in the Pakistan 2010 Program (1997), a critical policy document. However, the document omits women while listing 21 major areas of interests. Similarly, another major policy document, the "Human Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy" (1999), mentioned women as a target group for poverty reduction but lacks gender framework.

The country's first all-women university, named after Fatima Jinnah, was inaugurated on 6 August 1998. It suffered from delays in the release of development funds from the Federal Government.[3]

Pervez Musharraf's régime[edit]

In 2000, the Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons.[32] In 2002 (and later during court trials in 2005), the case of Mukhtaran Mai brought the plight of rape victims in Pakistan under an international spotlight. On 2 September 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was made an independent ministry, separating from the Social Welfare and Education Ministry.

In July 2006, General Pervez Musharraf asked his Government to begin work on amendments to the controversial 1979 Hudood Ordinance introduced under Zia-ul-Haq's régime.[33] He asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology (under the Ministry of Religious Affairs) to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws. On 7 July 2006 General Musharraf signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1300 women who were currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.[34]

In late 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Women's Protection Bill, repealing some of the Hudood Ordinances. The bill allowed for DNA and other scientific evidence to be used in prosecuting rape cases.[35] The passing of the Bill and the consequent signing of it into law by President General Pervez Musharraf invoked protests from hard-line Islamist leaders and organisations.[36][37] Some experts also stated that the reforms will be impossible to enforce.[38]

The Cabinet has approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services in its meeting held on 12 July 2006.[39] Earlier, there was a 5% quota for women across the board in all Government departments. In December 2006, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the proposal by Ministry of Women Development, to extend this quota to 10%.[40]

In 2006, The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was also passed.[41] In December 2006, for the first time, women cadets from the Military Academy Kakul assumed guard duty at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.[42]

The Women's Protection Bill, however, has been criticised by many including human rights and women's rights activists for only paying lip service and failing to repeal the Hudood Ordinances.[43][44]

President Asif Zardari[edit]

President Asif Ali Zardari led Pakistan People's Party government was responsible for landmark development in women rights' legislation and empowerment in Pakistan and commended by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and on international level.

Appointment of Women[edit]

Coming into power it appointed a female member of parliament and party loyalist Dr. Fehmida Mirza as the first female speaker in South Asia. During the tenor Pakistan saw its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, first secretary of defence, Nargis Sethi,[45] deputy speaker of a province Shehla Raza and numerous female ministers, ambassadors, secretaries including Farahnaz Ispahani,[46] Media Advisor to former President of Pakistan and co-chairman PPP, Sherry Rehman[47] former ambassador of Pakistan to US, Fauzia Wahab, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Farzana Raja, Shazia Marri, Sharmila Faruqi and others held prestigious positions within the administration.

Legislation for protection of women[edit]

On 29 January 2010 the President signed the 'Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009' which the parliament adopted on 21 January 2010.[48] Two additional bills were signed into law by the President in December 2012 criminalising the primitive practices of Vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to Holy Quran which used women as tradable commodoties for settlement of disputes. In addition the punishment for acid throwing to life imprisonment.[49] The government further established special task force in the interior Sindh region to for action against the practice of Karo-Kari establishing helplines and offices in the districts of Sukkur, Jacobabad, Larkana and Khairpur.

In 2012 the government revived the National Commission on Status of Women established by General Musharraf for three years in 2000, later being revived for three years at a time. The bill moved by government established the commission as a permanent body with the task to ensure the implementation of women protection legislation and abuses against women.

In February 2012, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement held the world's largest women's political rally in Karachi, with an estimated 100,000 women in attendance.[50]


Purdah norms are followed in many communities of Pakistan.[51][52] It is practised in various ways, depending on family tradition, region, class, and rural or urban residence.[53]
Child marriage/ (Vani)
Although the Child Marriages Restraint Act makes it illegal for girls under the age of 16 to be married, instances of child marriages can be found. Vani is a child marriage custom followed in tribal areas and the Punjab province. The young girls are forcibly married off in order to resolve the feuds between different clans;[54] the Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet, to other clans.[55] Swara, Pait likkhi and Addo Baddo are similar tribal and rural customs that often promote marriage of girls in their early teenage years. In one extreme case in 2012, a local Jirga in Ashari village, Swat ordered that Roza Bibi, a girl of six, must be married off into a rival family to settle a dispute between her family and the rival family.[56]
Watta satta
Watta satta is a tribal custom in which brides are traded between two clans. In order for you to marry off your son, you must also have a daughter to marry off in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son's spouse, a cousin, or a distant relative can also do. Even though Islamic law requires that both partners explicitly consent to marriage, women are often forced into marriages arranged by their fathers or tribal leaders.[15]
Honor killings
A majority of the victims of honour killings are women and the punishments meted out often tend to be lenient.[22][57] The practice of summary killing of a person suspected of an illicit liaison is known as karo kari in Sindh and Balochistan. In December 2004, the Government passed a bill that made karo kari punishable under the same penal provisions as murder.[58] Many cases of honour killings have been reported against women who marry against their family's wishes, who seek divorce or who have been raped.[59]
Marriage to Quran
In some parts of Sindh, the practice of marrying a woman to Quran is prevalent among landlords, although this practice is alien to Islam and has no religious basis. The practice is often used by men to keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.[60]


Although the women's dress varies depending on region, class and occasion, shalwar kameez is principal garment worn by Pakistani women.[61] Ghararas (a loose divided skirt worn with a blouse) and lehengas were very common earlier, but now they are worn mostly at weddings.

Few Pakistani women wear the hijab or burqa in public and the degree to which they choose to cover varies. Some Pakistani women who do not wear the hijab; they may wear the dupatta or chadar instead.

A Sari is a formal dress worn on special occasions by some mainly urban women. The so-called "Islamization" under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship branded the sari as an "unIslamic" form of dress.[61] The sari is now making a comeback in fashionable circles. Western garments such as T-shirts and Jeans are common amongst young urban women.

Education and economic development[edit]

Three school girls celebrating Independence day at the Mazar-e-Quaid in Karachi, with colourful headscarves, national make-up and jewellery.

In Pakistan, the women's access to property, education, employment etc. remains considerably lower compared to men's.[52] The social and cultural context of Pakistani society is predominantly patriarchal.[3] Women have a low percentage of participation in society outside of the family.[62]


Further information: Women's education in Pakistan

Despite the improvement in Pakistan's literacy rate since its independence, the educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world.[52] The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women.[51] The school drop-out rate among girls is very high (almost 50 percent), the educational achievements of female students are higher as compared with male students at different levels of education.[3] This is the story of few years ago but now the Education in Pakistan for women is improving rapidly. In the Lahore city there are total 46 public colleges out of which 26 are female colleges and if we talk about the rest of 20 colleges some of them are offer co-education. Similarly the public universities of Pakistan has female enrollment more than boys.[63]

UNESCO and the Orascom subsidiary of Pakistan telco, Mobilink have been using mobile phones to educate women and improve their literacy skills since 4 July 2010. The local BUNYAD Foundation of Lahore and the UN's work via the Dakar Framework of Action for EFA are also helping with this issue.[64]


Patterns of women's employment vary throughout the Muslim world: as of 2005, 16% of Pakistani women were "economically active" (either employed, or unemployed but available to furnish labour), whereas 52% of Indonesian women were.[65]

Workforce participation[edit]

Although women play an active role in Pakistan's economy, their contribution has been grossly underreported in some censuses and surveys.[52] The 1991–92 Labour Force Survey revealed that only about 16% of women aged 10 years and over were in the labour force. The World Bank's reports of 1997 stated that women constituted only 28% of the country's labour force.[66] According to the 1999 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, only two percent of Pakistani women participate in the formal sector of employment.[67] However, the 1980 agricultural census stated that the women's participation rate in agriculture was 73%. The 1990–1991 Pakistan Integrated Household Survey indicated that the female labour force participation rate was 45% in rural areas and 17% the urban areas.[52] Pakistani women play a major role in agricultural production, livestock raising and cottage industries.[52]


Land and property rights[edit]

Around 90% of the Pakistani households are headed by men and most female-headed households belong to the poor strata of the society[51][52]

Women lack ownership of productive resources. Despite women's legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, there are very few women who have access and control over these resources.[3]

Crimes against women[edit]

The violence against women in Pakistan is a major problem. Crime against women is increasing in Pakistan due to weak laws providing protection to women. There is no available data for crime against women but some organisations collect monthly data about crime against women including Samaaj Tv (Social TV) on montly basis. Feminists and women's groups in Pakistan have criticised the Pakistani government and its leaders for whitewashing the persecution of women and trying to suppress information about their plight in the international arena.[68] Skepticism and biased attitudes against women's complaints of violence are common among prosecutors, police officers and medicolegal doctors in Pakistan.[22][59] According to reports from 1990s, such complaints often face delayed/mishandled processing and inadequate/improper investigations.[22]

Sexual violence[edit]

Rape is one of the most common crimes against women but grossly underreported due to the shame attached to the victim. Many cases of sexual harassment and acid attacks have also been reported.[69] It is used as an illegal way to punish women who are deemed to have deviated from marital norms[70][71] Marital rape is not recognised as a criminal offence in Pakistani law. Many cases of rape in police custody have also been reported.[24] According to Report of the Commission of Inquiry for Women (1997), 70 percent of women in police stations were subjected to sexual and physical violence.[72]

Pakistani women face atrocities like rape, acid throwing, honour killings, forced marriages, forced prostitution and the buying and selling of women.[73] The past few years have been witness to a steep increase in such crimes.[73] Recently, conviction rates have improved for those who throw acid [10]


Further information: Human trafficking in Pakistan

As in most other countries, trafficking of women exists in Pakistan. Dubai and other Arab cities are a prime destination for trafficked Pakistani women, where they are sometimes gang raped.[74][75] In addition, women from Bangladesh and Myanmar have also been reported to have been brought to Pakistan and sold.[76] "Trafficked Iranian women transit Afghanistan en route to Pakistan."[77] Trafficking of women is on the rise in Pakistan. Foreign women from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are brought to Pakistan and sold.[3][23]

Dowry abuse[edit]

Main article: Dowry

Many cases of bride burning due to dowry issues have been reported in Pakistan.[26] The wife is typically doused with kerosene,[78] gasoline, or other flammable liquid, and set alight, leading to death by fire.[79]

In some cases, accidents are engineered (such as the tampering of a kitchen stove to cause victim's death) or the victims are set ablaze, claimed to be yet another accident or suicide.[15][80]

According to a 1999 report, of the sixty "bride-burning" cases that made it to the prosecution stage (though 1,600 cases were actually reported), only two resulted in convictions.[57] However dowry abuse cases are low after 2001. The BBC reckoned roughly 300 Pakistani brides were burnt to death in 1999.[81]

Domestic violence[edit]

Domestic violence is not explicitly prohibited in Pakistani domestic law[15][82] and most acts of domestic violence are encompassed by the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance. The police and judges often tend to treat domestic violence as a non-justiciable, private or family matter or, an issue for civil courts, rather than criminal courts.[83]

A 1987 study conducted by the Women's Division and another study by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1996 suggested that domestic violence takes place in approximately 80 percent of the households in the country.[84][85] Domestic violence occurs in forms of beatings, sexual violence or torture, mutilation, acid attacks and burning the victim alive.[70][80][86]

Acid throwing[edit]

Acid throwing (acid attack[87][88] or vitriolage) is a form of violent assault.[89] Perpetrators of these attacks throw acid at their victims (usually at their faces), burning them, and damaging skin tissue, often exposing and sometimes dissolving the bones.[90] The consequences of these attacks include blindness and permanent scarring of the face and body.[91][92][93][94][94][95][96] These attacks are most common in Cambodia,[97] Afghanistan,[98] India,[99] Bangladesh,[94][94][95] Pakistan[94][94] and other nearby countries.[96] According to Taru Bahl and M.H. Syed, 80% of victims of these acid attacks are female and almost 40% are under 18 years of age.[96]

Women in the Islamic Fundamentalist parts of Pakistan, such as the northern reaches around the Swat Valley, who do not cover their faces risk being attacked. The men's theory is that if the women won't hide their supposedly 'alluring faces', then they will be made 'too ugly' to be 'alluring to men'.[87]

It is also used to illegally settle family disputes in many other secular places[93] and as a way of settling financial or property issues in and around Multan.[93]

Pakistan had 48 registered cases 2009, but only 1/3 attacks are officially reported, estimates the Acid Survivors Foundation NGO.[100] About 150 acid throwing incidents of nationally every year of which about 50 occur in Balochistan in 2009.[93]

A Pakistani government report, "Acid Terrorism Against Women in Pakistan", revealed some cases of this horrific crime on 12 December 2009.[93]

Charities, hospitals and NGOs known to be fighting this terror of acid throwing are

Head and eyebrow shaving[edit]

This is the traditional, enforced buzz cuting or shaving off of a woman's head hair and sometimes her eyebrows to, as an often abused method of humiliation and chastisement.[101][102] Pakistan does not have a separate law under the Women Protection Act to declare malicious head and eyebrow shaving.[101][102]

A case was reported in village of Jaddar Bhanda, in the Punjab, on 18 December 2002.[70] The woman had her head shaved and her four-year-old daughter forcibly married to the five-year-old son of her lover as punishment for committing adultery, which is considered unislamic and sinful.[70] The man was ordered to give his bullock cart to the woman's cheated husband.[70]

On 3 January 2011, in Larkana district, in Sindh province,[103] a mother of 12 had her head and eyebrows shaved by her ex-husband and her three nephews, who had also beaten her, as punishment for divorcing him.[86] He started casting bad aspersions on her character for saving other people's phone numbers on her cell phone. He said were drug addicts attending the local sports teams and not just friends, which has never been proven to be true.[71]

Forty-seven-year-old Ghulam Ali, of Iqbal Town,[disambiguation needed] near Rawalpindi, allegedly tortured and then shaved his 15-year-old wife's head to further humiliate her on 22 December 2011.[101][102] A Pakistani police spokesman said Ali started abusing physically assaulting his wife, Madiha Shaheen, now 15, for the last three months from the first week of marriage.[101][102] Madiha's mother subsequently lodged a complaint against Ali in the local police station in Sadiqabad and was directed to the Shahzad Town Police Station because it fell under Shahzad Town's legal jurisdiction. Ghulam Ali was known to Shahzad Town Police as being involved in numerous other local criminal acts.[101][102]

Other concerns[edit]

Dress code[edit]

Main articles: Hijab and Hijab by country

Pakistan has no laws banning or enforcing the ħijāb. Surveys conducted in Pakistan show that most women wearing the ħijāb do so of their own choice.[104][105] Most women wear the Shalwar Kameez, which consists of a tunic top and baggy trouser set which covers their arms, legs and body. A loose dupatta scarf is also worn around the shoulders, upper chest and head since showing ones hair is considered rude and in bad taste. Men also have a similar dress code, but only women are expected to wear a veil in public.[106][107] The ħijāb and Burquas is only worn in Islamist areas.

Gender roles[edit]

Pakistan is a patriarchal society where men are the primary authority figures and women are subordinate.[108] Gender is one of the organizing principles of Pakistani society. Patriarchal values embedded in local traditions, religion and culture predetermine the social value of gender. Islam heavily influences gender roles in particular. An artificial divide between production and reproduction, created by the ideology of sexual division of labor, has placed women in reproductive roles as mothers and wives in the private arena of home and men in a productive role as breadwinners in the public arena.[109]

Pakistani women lack social value and status because of negation of their roles as producers and providers in all social roles. The preference for sons due to their productive role often dictates the allocation of household resources in their favor. Traditionally, male members of the family are given better education and are equipped with skills to compete for resources in the public arena, while female members are imparted domestic skills to be good mothers and wives. Lack of skills, limited opportunities in the job market, and social, religious and cultural restrictions limit women’s chances to compete for resources in the public arena. This situation has led to the social and economic dependency of women that becomes the basis for male power over women in all social relationships. However, the spread of patriarchy is not even. The nature and degree of women’s subordination vary across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide. Patriarchal structures are relatively stronger in the rural and tribal setting where local customs establish male authority and power over women’s lives. On the other hand, women belonging to the upper and middle classes have increasingly greater access to education and employment opportunities and can assume greater control over their lives.[109]

According to Pakistani standards, ‘good women’ could be either educated or uneducated and are expected to be unselfish, calm, tolerant, empathetic, reliable, able to organize, compromise, coordinate and maintain hospitality within the house and in keeping good relationships. They are also expected to do household chores, care for her children, husband and in-laws and, when needed, provide the home with external income.[110] Women are also expected to marry a man of their parent's choice, follow Islam's code of dress[111] and sacrifice their own dreams.[112]

In a study carried out by Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International, majority of the Pakistanis believe that both males and females have different roles to play in the society. In the recent years although women’s role has broadened beyond being a housewife, many people still give priority to men in politics, education, employment, and related walks of life. When the respondents were asked to give their opinion on a number of statements about gender roles 63% of the respondents agreed with the statement that "Boys’ education is more important than girls’"; 37% disagreed with it. The percentage of people agreeing with this statement was higher among rurallites (67%) as compared to the urbanites (53%). It must however be noted that more than 90% believe that female children should be educated, nearly half of them believing that, should opportunity be available, they should rise to college education and beyond.

Fifty five percent (55%) of the respondents believe that "Both husband and wife should work"; while 45% said it is wrong for both husband and the wife to work. Interestingly more than 50% of men including those from rural areas agree that both husband and wife should work for a better living. When the respondents were asked whether "Men are better politicians as compared to women or not"; 67% agree men are better politicians while 33% think otherwise. Surprisingly, more women agree with this statement as compared to men.

In response to the following statement "If jobs are in shortage should men be given priority for employment"; 72% of the respondents believe they should be given priority while 28% disagree. Eighty three percent (83%) of the respondents think that "To live a happy life women need children"; while only 17% think they do not. A vast majority of all respondents including 82% of women respondents believe that "prosperous women should raise their voice to support the rights of poor women."[113]

Marriage and divorce issues[edit]

Often, marriages out of religious sect, ethnic community or social class in Pakistan are met with violence against the women in the families involved. Women from low income who try to get an education are looked down upon and sometimes attacked, the case of Ghazala Shaheen being the most infamous one which prompted international outcry.[114]

The average age of women for marriage has increased from 16.9 years in 1951 to 22.5 years in 2005. A majority of women are married to their close relatives, i.e., first and second cousins. Only 37 percent of married women are not related to their spouses before marriage. The divorce rate in Pakistan is extremely low due to the social stigma attached to it.[3]

Women who seek a divorce are also often victims of honour killings.[15][70][86] One notable example is the high-profile case of Samia Sarwar, who was murdered in her lawyer's office on 6 April 1999 by a hitman hired by her family. She was seeking a divorce from her estranged, abusive husband, which was deemed as dishonorable by her family.[115] Due to Samia's father being a prominent figure in the community, the police charged Samia's lawyers, Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir, with "kidnapping" his daughter. Samia's father additionally "demanded that Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir be dealt in accordance with 'tribal and Islamic law'" and be arrested for "misleading women in Pakistan and contributing to the country's bad image abroad. Several people belonging to religious organizations issued fatwas [religious edicts] against both female lawyers and promised to pay rewards to anyone who would kill them. ".[57]


A case was reported in village of Jaddar Bhanda in the Punjab, on 18 December 2002.[70] The woman had her head shaved, and her 4 year old daughter forcibly marry of to the 5 year old son of her male lover as a punishment for committing adultery, which is considered unislamic and sinful[70] The man was ordered to give his bullock cart to the woman's cheated husband.[70]


The health indicators of women in Pakistan are among the worst in the world.[3] Intra-household bias in food distribution leads to nutritional deficiencies among female children. Early marriages of girls, excessive childbearing, lack of control over their own bodies, and a high level of illiteracy adversely affect women's health. More than 40 percent of the total female population are anaemic.[3]

According to 1998 figures, the female infant mortality rate was higher than that of male children. The maternal mortality rate is also high, as only 20 percent of women are assisted by a trained provider during delivery.[3] Only 9 percent of the women used contraceptives in 1985, however this figure has increased substantially.[3]

Women are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because of male dominance in sex relations and lack of access to information.[3]

Pakistan has taken certain initiatives in the health sector to redress gender imbalances. The SAP was launched in 1992–1993 to accelerate improvement in the social indicators. Closing the gender gap is the foremost objective of the SAP. The other major initiative is the Prime Minister's program of lady health workers (LHWs). Under this community-based program, 26,584 LHWs in rural areas and 11,967 LHWs in urban areas have been recruited to provide basic health care including family planning to women at the grassroots level. Other initiatives include the village-based family planning workers and extended immunisation programs, nutritional and child survival, cancer treatment, and increased involvement of media in health education.

Sex ratio[edit]

The sex ratio in Pakistan is somewhat unbalanced with 1.05 men per 1 female.[116] This phenomenon is attributable to male-favored sex ratio at birth (preference for sons).[52] In the urban areas, the sex ratio is still lower, which could be attributed to a large male out-migration from rural to urban areas.[51][52] The conservative Muslim families also refuse to give strangers any information about females in their household. This has been a major problem for census officials in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan.[117]

Eve teasing[edit]

Eve teasing is a euphemism used in India and sometimes Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal[118] for public sexual harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men, with Eve being a reference to the biblical Eve.[119]

Religious abuse[edit]

On 26 February 2012, a mob of 26–30 Muslims in the village of Kot Meerath, Sialkot district,[120][121][122] 80 km from Lahore, 60 year old Seema Bibi (alias Sabi, wife of Yousaf), was drugged, dragged out of her house, had her head shaved and paraded her around the village after she converted to Christianity (apostasy).[120][121][122] She was so frightened she and her family left the village, fearing further violence.[120][121][122]

The Baigowal police had arrested 21 suspects by 3 March, including Nawab Din, Naveed, Rafique, Ilyas, Farhan, Afzal, Shafaqat Ali, Zafar, Amanat Ali and M Ashraf. Police investigations are on-going.[123] SHO Begowala police station official Munawar Hussain Shah said the police were not aware of the incident at first, but would deal with it in due time.[124]

On 3 March 2012, a 19 year old Hindu girl called Rinkle Kumari from Mirpur Mahelo in Ghotki district, Sindh province was abducted a gang and "forced" to convert to Islam, before being head shaved.[120]

Political assassinations[edit]

On 20 February 2007, Zilla Huma Usman, the Minister for Social Welfare in the Punjab province and a political ally of President Pervez Musharraf, was assassinated at a public rally by a 'fanatic', who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and had no place in politics because she was a woman.[125]

Notable women[edit]

Women in Pakistan have progressed in various fields of life such as politics, education, economy, services, health and many more.

Politics and activism[edit]

Naela Chohan, Ambassador of Pakistan and Feminist Artist

Although the participation of women in politics is increasing, the presence of women in the political parties as well as in the political structure at the local, provincial, and national levels remains insignificant due to cultural and structural barriers[3]

Sania Nishtar, the first female cardiologist and the only woman Interim Cabinet Member 2013, is globally recognized for her work and accomplishments in health policy advocacy.

Miss Fatima Jinnah, sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was an instrumental figure in the Pakistan movement. In 1947, she formed the Women's Relief Committee, which later formed the nucleus for the All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA). She was the first Muslim woman to contest the presidency in 1965, as a candidate of the Combined Opposition Party.

Begum Shaista Ikramullah was the first woman elected member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Begum Mahmooda Salim Khan was Pakistan's first woman minister and member of the Cabinet of President General Ayub Khan.

Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan (1905–1990) was a women's rights activists. She was the founder of the All Pakistan Women's Association. Begum Nusrat Bhutto wife of Prime Minister Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto, led the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations' first women's conference in 1975.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988)(1991) and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country. She was elected twice to the office of Prime Minister.

Fehmida Mirza is the first female speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Other prominent female Pakistani politicians include Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Raja Farzana, Syeda Abida Hussain, Sherry Rehman and Tehmina Daultana.

Hina Rabbani Khar became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan in 2011.

Mukhtaran Mai a victim of gang rape has become a prominent activist for women's rights in Pakistan.

Asma Jahingir and Hina Jillani, prominent human rights lawyers and founders of the first all women law firm in Pakistan, AGHS.

Nigar Ahmad, women's rights activist, co-founder of Aurat (women's) Foundation, one of the oldest women's organisation in the country.

Naela Chohan is a Pakistani diplomat and feminist artist. She is currently serving as the Ambassador of Pakistan to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador. She has been a vocal proponent of stronger ties between Pakistan and Latin America.[126][127]

Farida Shaheed and Khawar Mumtaz, human rights activists and authors, associated with Shirkat Gah, a woman's organisation.

Shahla Zia, human rights activist and lawyer, co-founder of AGHS with Asma Jahingir and Hina Jillani, and also co-founder of Aurat Foundation with Nigar Ahmad. Also the plaintiff in Shahla Zia v. WAPDA, the leading case on environmental law in Pakistan.

Tahira Abdullah, prominent human rights activist, associated with Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and was a prominent member of the Lawyers Movement.

Anis Haroon, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).

Justice Majida Rizvi, one of the first female High Court judges, ex-Chairperson of the NCSW and a human rights activist.

Justice Nasira Iqbal, daughter in law of Allama Iqbal and one of the first female High Court judges and a prominent and vocal human rights activist.

Arts and entertainment[edit]

Nasim Zehra interviewing then U.S. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Noor Jehan was the melodious lady singer of the sub continent. there are many other female singers including Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Nayyara Noor, Iqbal Bano and Tahira Syed. Faryal Gohar Zeba Bakhtiar and Samina Pirzada are acclaimed Pakistani actresses.

Nazia Hassan was an iconic female Pakistani pop singer.

Nigar Nazar is the first woman cartoonist in Pakistan and the Muslim World.

Fauzia Minallah is the first and youngest woman political cartoonist to win the All Pakistan Newspaper Society award. She is also the winner of Ron Kovic Peace prize.[128]


In 1996, when sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan first tried to introduce women's cricket in Pakistan, they were met with court cases and even death threats. The government refused them permission to play India in 1997, and ruled that women were forbidden from playing sports in public. However, later they were granted permission, and the Pakistani women's cricket team played its first recorded match on 28 January 1997 against New Zealand in Christchurch.

Shazia Hidayat was the only female athlete on the Pakistan team competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, becoming the second woman to ever represent Pakistan in an Olympic event.[129]

Sidra Sadaf, a woman cyclist won a silver medal at the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh in January 2010. Naseem Hameed became the fastest woman sprinter in South Asia following the 2010 South Asian games; she gained widespread popularity for the remarkable feat.


Ismat Chughtai, who was part of the Progressive Writers Association, is considered one of the most important feminist writers of Urdu. Parveen Shakir, Kishwar Naheed and Fehmida Riaz are also renowned for their feminist poetry in Urdu. Modern fiction writers such as Rizwana Syed Ali and Bano Qudisa have also highlighted gender issues. Bapsi Sidhwa is one of Pakistan's most prominent English fiction writers. In 1991, she received Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest honour in arts.

Other fields[edit]

Some of the notable Pakistani women in other fields including computing,[130] education and business are:

See also[edit]


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