Women’s Rights in Pakistan- Afzal Kohistani, Legislation on Women, and keyboard Jihadis

By Dr. FP

In 2012, Kohistan video scandal led to the murder of five women on the orders of a Jirga guided by 12 elders. The surfaced viral video displayed two men dancing on a local tune and five women clapping for them. The video of this private event from a wedding was leaked and the honour of the family of the women was attacked. Thus, they murdered all the participants of the video, including the two men. The suspects denied the allegation and the women that were presented before the commission (set by the supreme court for interrogation) were misidentified. This bitter story does not end here. Afzal Kohistani, brother to the two boys dancing in the video has recently been shot as well. Three of his brothers were already dead post the video leak due to condemnation by the Jirga for organising a mixed gathering of two different tribes as well as gender. This isn’t the first story of honour killing in the tribal areas of Pakistan and unfortunately it will not be the last. Afzal, wanted justice for the lives lost and in the quest lost his own life as well i.e. death for demanding justice. 

As I was reading the story of how some imposters were presented before the court by the suspects, I wondered if the video had not gone viral, the court will have to accept the proof with testimonies. Just the thought of it sent chills down my spine. Such cases don’t get reported most of the times but if they did, they could have gotten away with it with either a fake evidence or also killing anyone demanding justice. Murder of a human being, a step clearly condemned by the religion is openly done in places like Kohistan. In fact, Afzal Kohistani was murdered in the Bazaar of a big city, Abbottabad of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 

Who will fight for justice now that Afzal is also dead. Very often there aren’t many set of rules, laws or guidelines for the law regulating agencies and many cases reach either the supreme court after failing to serve justice locally or are abandoned because no one follows up with case. I am not saying that we don’t have any regulations at all. The very constitution of Pakistan ensures equality and women participation in all spheres of life. National regulations have been developed on; dowry and bridal gifts (1976), acid control and acid crime prevention act (2011), prevention of anti-women practice act (2011), criminal law-rapes and honour- (2016), protection of women act (2004), electronic crimes and forced marriages act (2017), Pakistan Penal code –penalties to ensure safety in the streets, events and public places- (1860), protection against harassment of women at workplace act (2010). The 18th Amendment has also given provinces the responsibility for legislation regarding women’s rights which has led Punjab assembly to pass many bills such as protection of women against violence bill in 2015. The most relevant to the story quoted in the beginning of the essay is probably the Electronic crimes ordinance, ETO (2002), and prevention of electronic crimes act, PECA (2016). Both these laws have been used to address online harassment. Putting content related to an individual online without their consent has been addressed. One of the reasons behind the death of the young ladies in the video was its availability online without their knowledge or consent. There hasn’t been any update on the case after the death of Afzal. By highlighting this one event and segment of our society I wanted to highlight the overall issues in the system, It is not my intention to prove that this happens to all the women in Pakistan. Many societies are evolving as the women in the societies evolve and women have found their voices and spaces but it does not mean that we can forget the under privileged and marginalised women of this society. 

Online content in Pakistan can be sensitive as women have and are facing issues of privacy breach and misuse of contents on their virtual profiles. But even if they were an online celebrity the content they put online can backfire against them. The discussion on this topic will be incomplete if we do not mention the late Qandeel Baloch. She was murdered by her own brother in 2016, all in the name of honour. She had put content online that most people in Pakistan hated but also loved to watch and share. What happened with Qandeel is a demonstration of hypocrisy faced by many women in Pakistan.  

Thinking on the same lines, during my five years stay in the UK, except for a few insurance scams calls I never got any random phone call from a stranger, despite sharing my number at various platforms. Two days after I bought a sim card in Pakistan, I started receiving phone calls from strangers requesting on the text to talk to them. The frequency of the calls makes life very difficult and stressful. I blocked the number and Its now nine months past my return to homeland and blocking numbers has become a part of my regular telecom routine. 

Receiving messages from strangers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is a norm but getting a “Hi, how are you, what are you doing these days, what is your number?” sort of messages on linkedIn as well, can only happen in Pakistan. I am yet to understand why men of all age, size and shape would do that to a woman on a network dedicated strictly for professional use. If this is how they reach women online, I can only imagine how they treat women in their work places. I also hope that the safety of women within their reach is not at stake.

In terms of cyber bullying there is also a whole lot of honour brigade online, who have taken it upon themselves to create accounts on social media, follow female actors and comment on their character and slut shame them all the time. I don’t know how the actors deal with that scale of toxicity, toxic masculinity and religious scare mongery on a virtual space that belongs to them. I hope that just because they receive so much love from their fans, they do not neglect the hatefulness on their timelines and encourage people to spread love and be less judgmental. I say this because once one of our actors was seen smoking abroad and faced massive backlash for her dress selection and smoking and thus threatening our culture and faith. The actor chose to remain silent on it and I had respected that decision of hers. All until she said in an interview ‘Hardtalk’ to be precise, that she gets a lot of love from her fans and she understands that why they were upset. Unfortunately, the amount of love received does not justify the level of hate displayed. 

Right now we need men and women from all walks of life to stand up, speak up and carry smaller and bigger debates pertaining to the issues related to women at home and workplace. 

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