Women’s Rights in Pakistan

by Aric John
Do women have rights in Pakistan?  This is a huge question raised in the West.  It is believed, that women have no rights or privileges in the male dominated society of Pakistan.  Women in Pakistan make up 34% of the more than 140 million inhabitants and the adult literacy rate for women is 25%.  Pakistan, as an Islamic society, bases its personal Code Law in the Islamic Sharia.  One of the challenges faced by Pakistani women is their right work.  Women stand at less than 20% of the salaried labor force.  Already in some cities, there have been some changes.  In Karachi, the Government established a post office completely run by women and women now work as bus conductors in some areas.  However, some Pakistani Islamic groups believe that women should not work outside the home and that if they do, they should not mix with men.
Before discussing whether women have rights in Pakistani society or not, we must first understand Pakistani society.  Pakistan is an Islamic state, where people, not only take pride in strictly adhering to the Islamic values but are ready to sacrifice their loved belongings for the glory and sanctity of Islam.  Islam has accorded a highly venerated social position to women.  Islam acknowledges the rights and privileges of the women in society.  Likewise, Islam does not impose any restrictions that may hamper the social growth and development of the woman.  A woman is equally important member of society.  The woman plays a 
vital role in building the society to healthier and stronger foundations.
The women in Pakistan have been constantly complaining of having being isolated from the mainstream of society.  Women feel disillusioned on being maltreated by the male-oriented set up in Pakistan.  They strongly claim that if they are given a chance, they can contribute more positively towards the development of all social aspects.  However, the Pakistani society usually adopts a hostile attitude towards the women.  Their development in society is hindered due to many factors.  Particularly the rural woman has to sustain, a sometimes-unbearable dominance by the other sections of society.  Numerically the women in Pakistan are almost equal to men.  They are equal in potential as the men.  The Pakistani women live in the most diversified location of the tribal, feudal, or urban environments.  She can be a highly qualified and self-confident professional or a different peasant toiling along with her men-folk.  Women in Pakistan observe “Pardha” while coming out of domestic environs or mixing up with other sections of society.  “Pardha”, or the veil, is meant to segregate the women-folk from the male section of the society .The women are not prohibited from working but at the same time are supposed to observe strictly the rules of morality.  Due to the Pardha system, most of the women (particularly of low education) have to take up work at home.  They involve themselves in knitting, dressmaking, embroidery, etc.
A woman weaving. Textile work has historically...Image via WikipediaIn the areas like NWFP and Baluchistan, life is governed and regulated by strict beliefs and behavioral patterns.  A woman has no say in any aspect of her life, including her marriage.  In the populated provinces of Sindh and Punjab, a woman may keep her connections with her family after marriage .She expects support from her brothers and father in case of separation and divorce from her husband.  In Punjab and Sindh women is seen working in the fields with their men-folk collecting fuels and in some cases working on the construction sites shifting material from one place to another.  Most of the women in rural areas have to bear a double burden of domestic and outside work.  They are the first to rise and last to bed .The convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women.
In the course of my research, I shall ponder over of a few important questions: what is the historical / cultural position of women in Pakistan.  What constitutional rights the women in Pakistan are enjoying?  What is the position of Pakistani women in personal law?  What property , maintenance and marital rights she has under the constitutional and legal protection .Whether the women of Pakistan can enjoy their rights in accordance with convention on the elimination of all form of discrimination against women (CEDAW) that obligates  states to abolish all forms of discrimination against women in public and the political rights is a question of interpretation.
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