Women’s Days Better These Days in Pakistan, India and Here at Home?

With this being Women’s History Month and yesterday being International Women’s Day should we try to cram in a crib sheet on the complex and varied “women’s issues,” of the day? One might argue that such issues are most powerful, and all the more relevant, when addressed as human issues, just as we should all look at Hillary not as the female candidate, Obama not as the black one. But, alas, we humans do love to compartmentalize, so here goes.

As an opportunity to demonstrate international solidarity groups took full advantage of IWD yesterday. Women (and men) all around the world attended demonstrations and rallies calling for equal rights and a stop to violence against women. And while many recognize that there are some initiatives and laws that theoretically secure and guarantee gender equality, in practice much remains to be done.

In Pakistan yesterday activists repeated the demand for a complete abolition of the Hudood Ordinances. Some background: last year’s much advertised Protection of Women Act amends the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 and was touted by President General Musharraf as a measure to “safeguard the rights of women.” But it only partially repeals the ordinances. Previously, rape was subject to the Sharia law; now, a judge can choose whether the rape case should be tried at a criminal court or under the Sharia, based on ” forensic and circumstantial evidence.” Little wonder that Pakistani women’s groups have severely criticized the bill, charging that Musharraf is still beholden to the radical mullahs. In order to placate the mullahs, Pakistanis who want change, and international criticism of women’s rights in Pakistan, he recently introduced this half-assed bill which is arguably no different from the Ordinances.

Pakistan’s next door neighbor, the “largest democracy” in the world, India, also has its share of problems regarding the situation of women: child trafficking, the sex trade, female foeticide, illiteracy, discrimination, and Hindu fundamentalists that police Hindu women and direct sexual violence towards Muslim women. The country’s Domestic Violence Act of 2005, which took effect last year, does not require women to provide physical evidence of abuse in contrast to previous laws –meaning emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse are now recognized as potential forms of abuse. Moreover, it includes all females, whether they are spouses or not. A step forward though this act is not a remedy for all social ills: phenomenon such as female foeticide must be effectively targeted.

And a word on the home front. Perhaps because most of the western media heavily focuses on the status of women in the Third World and in conflict-ridden areas, we’re under the impression that we don’t have equally serious problems here at home. Think again: According to a UN Report from last year, “between 40 and 70 percent of female murder victims are killed by husbands or boyfriends in Australia, Canada, Israel, South Africa and the United States.” And, “in Europe, North America and Australia, more than half of women with disabilities have experienced physical abuse, compared with one third of non-disabled women.” And the numbers reflecting abuse against females in the US indeed prove that violence against women is “pervasive” across the globe, even in America. More on women’s plight here at home in our package of articles on domestic violence, “No Safe Haven”.

–Neha Inamdar


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