The last few months have been particularly frustrating for Pakistani women.
From the horrific incident of 2-year-old Nur Mukaddam, who was brutally tortured and beheaded in the country’s capital on 21 July, to Tiktok creator Ayesha Ikram, who was harassed on the country’s Independence Day and suffered even more. At the base of the country’s main national monument, the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, 400 men-it seems that violence against women has reached epidemic proportions.
Many even call it “feminism” to draw attention to the scale of the problem and its systemic nature. But gender-based violence is not new in the country.
According to the 2017-2018 Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, 28 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have been victims of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. This is a slight decrease from 322 percent of women who were physically abused at the hands of their partners in the 2012-201 survey. But given that domestic violence is a problem shrouded in secrecy and shame, both figures are probably estimated under a total.
One suspects that there seems to be a surge in violence because the cases are getting more attention. Mainstream media is more relevant to the issue, and it is being highlighted and discussed on social media platforms.
These conversations have created a higher awareness, especially among young women, who are becoming increasingly vocal about their rights. The majority of these women are educated, urban middle class and upper class.
This is the latest in a long history of the struggle against gender-based violence in Pakistan.
In the past, special cases have attracted national and international attention, leading to concerted action by rights activists.
One such case was that of 228-year-old Samia Sarwar, who was assassinated by her family in 1999. Family name.
Hina Jilani, a respected Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist, was shot dead in her office. Sarwar was there for a pre-arranged meeting with his mother to receive the divorce papers.
His assassination sparked a national debate about honor killings. A women’s rights activist, including Jilani and her sister Asma Jahangir, a well-known human rights lawyer and activist, called for an end to gender-based violence.
But religious conservatives countered by arguing that Sarwar’s feminist lawyers had no business interference in the “family honor” question. To date, the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
Another registered case is Mukhtaran Mai, who was gang-raped in June 2002 by four men in Mirwala village in Muzaffargarh district of South Punjab. Mike was raped by a village council order as “punishment” for his younger brother’s alleged illicit affair with a woman from a rival tribe.
And most recently, the murder of 2-year-old Kandil Baloch by her younger brother in July 2011 for her “unbearable” behavior was a turning point for many young feminists. Baloch was a social media star who was bold and open about her sexuality. Her murder sparked a public debate surrounding the question of women’s sexuality and victim-blame.
Although such cases make headlines every few years, their frequency seems to have increased in the last five years. There are several possible reasons for this.
The rate of female education is gradually increasing in Pakistan, where the rate of female secondary education is 2.6 in 2011. percent percent to 20.2 percent in 2021. Now there is a new generation of young educated women who have the awareness and confidence to claim their rights.
In addition, as technology and social media became more readily available, news of the case began to spread more widely and at a much faster pace.
As of this year, about 27.5 percent of the country’s total population uses the Internet, mostly through their mobile phones. While this is much lower than the global average of 60.9 percent, it is still important for 223 million countries.
There are only 2.1 million Twitter users in the country, which is a relatively low percentage, tweets are often displayed by media outlets and used for further discussion.
The state has identified social media as a potential threat to Pakistan’s national image. The country’s information minister, Fawad Chowdhury, recently accused Indian and Afghan accounts of “falsely” creating the notion that Pakistan is “unsafe for women”, which he argued was part of an international conspiracy to discredit the country.
As social media plays an important role in advancing conversations, women also face constant threats and harassment on these channels.
Conservative commentators and groups have argued in response to feminist claims that Pakistan is indeed one of the safest countries for women – a claim echoed by Prime Minister Imran Khan. In June, rights activists condemned Khan’s remarks, saying, “If a woman wears very little clothing, it will affect men, unless they are robots. It’s just common sense. ”
He later tried to back down on the issue, saying that only one rapist was responsible for their crime, but it was also problematic in a discussion about the need to reduce “temptation” in society.
The last four years have also seen the rise of Aurat March (Women’s March) in major cities across the country on International Women’s Day on March 8.
They were first held in 2018 in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, where hundreds of people attended. In 2019, they spread to Multan, Faisalabad, Larkana and Hyderabad, attracting thousands of participants.
Although most of the participants are from the urban upper and middle class, the organizers are working to make the processions more inclusive; Encouraging transgender women to participate and providing transportation for working women to facilitate their presence.
The protests highlighted gender-based injustices, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, devaluation of women’s paid and unpaid labor, and lack of access to women’s health care. The issue of gender-based violence was consistently at the front and center.
Social media can also be partially blamed for the rise in popularity of these processions, with a lot of publicity and conversations before and after March on various online platforms.
Not part of the conversation
These are, of course, all hopeful signs of resistance, but a large number of women in Pakistan are still not part of this conversation and movement. There is still a long way to go in terms of diversification.
For example, all the high-profile cases mentioned earlier happened in Punjab province. Incidents of violence against women from lower socio-economic classes and provinces other than Punjab, which historically is the most economically and politically influential province, rarely attract national attention.
Pakistanis living on the country’s border complain that women’s rights activists rarely take their problems seriously.
Supporters of the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), the country’s second-largest ethnic group, have claimed responsibility for the killing of a woman in the village of Khaisor in the former tribal region of Waziristan. He has been accused of being harassed by the security forces over the details of the case on social media in 201 security. Due to the gap between women in urban centers and rural areas, the case receives very little attention from both feminist activists and the mainstream media, and in remote areas.
Therefore, while social media is helping to increase the incidence of violence against women, it has not been able to address the long-standing ethnic and class divisions in the country.
In addition to these, a large number of women in Pakistan still do not use social media. Pakistan has a 5 percent gap in digital use between women and men, the largest gender gap in the world, and the women who have access are upper and upper-middle class.
Moreover, as historically has historically been, the advancement of women’s rights is still often blocked by religious conservative groups, which often work in concert with the state.
Most recently, the Domestic Violence Bill – despite being passed by the National Assembly to ensure legal protection and relief for victims – was shelved after the Prime Minister recommended sending an adviser to the Islamic Ideology Council for review.
Victims of domestic violence wait to find out what legal channels are available to them.
Although women’s rights activists face various obstacles to the country’s ethnic and economic divisions, ranging from religious conservatives, there are signs of a major shift in attitudes towards gender-based violence, not just in virtual states.
After the Minar-e-Pakistan incident, for example, hundreds of young women and men descended on the same spot where the tick talk star was harassed a week ago, to declare women’s right to occupy public space.
On television talk shows, albeit dominated by male commentators, female journalists are increasingly voicing their voices against gender-based violence and refusing to be silenced by male anchors and conservative commentators.
Feminists are also creating alternative forums for discussion. For example, a group of women journalists recently launched a channel on YouTube called Aurat Card (Oman Card). The program presents critical views on various social and political issues.
As a teacher, I have seen a change in university students over the last ten years, where conversations about harassment on campus continue. However, a female third education rate is only 8.3 percent, even these conversations are confined to a small section of society, and even in large urban centers.
Thus, when violence against women is at an all-time high and protest forces are as vocal as ever, there are positive signs that women, especially those young and educated, are becoming more aware and vocal in their resistance.
It may be premature to call it a gender revolution, but of course a change is happening. There is still a long way to go in the struggle for women’s equal rights, but the conservatism of conservative men is gradually being challenged and relaxed, and they have good reason to fear.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Al Jazeera.