United States of America.
And virtually every other nation on earth.
What do all these countries have in common? Alarming rates of violence against women, of course!
Women’s rights, feminism, sexual violence, gender equality, etc. These terms are consistently thrown around in discourse surrounding the current state of how women are treated globally. As the Western world positions itself as a champion of women’s rights, it’s imperative to point out that all women in Canada were not given the right to vote until 1960. History books and teachers will tell you that women were enfranchised in 1918, however this privilege, like many during this era, was only given to white women. Asian women would wait until 1948 and indigenous women would wait until 1960, around forty years after their white counterparts.
As we revisit the state of women’s rights across the world, let’s remember some key facts about how “liberated” women are:
- 23% of parliamentarians around the world are women.
- Two-thirds of the 815 million illiterate population in the world are women.
- 16 countries in the world have female heads of state.
- On average, for equal work, men earn 20% more than women.
- According to the World Economic Forum, if we continue at this rate, gender equalities at work will not disappear until 2234.
Discussing how dire the situation for women is globally comes hand in hand with increased rates of violence against women. Pakistanis in the country and abroad flooded the internet with outrage regarding the brutal beheading of a Pakistani woman this week. With a deeply troubling women’s rights record, violence against women is commonplace. Ranked the 6th most dangerous nation in the world for women, with 70% of women experiencing abuse in their lifetime. According to Human Rights Watch, there are 1000 so-called “honor killings” every year. In fact, at least 66 women alone were murdered in Faisalabad District in the first half of 2018. Girls as young as 6 years old are raped, and there is an average of 11 cases of child sexual abuse reported daily. More than 5 million children, mostly girls, are out of school in Pakistan. 21% of young girls in Pakistan marry below the age of majority.
The daughter of former Pakistani diplomat Noor Mukadam was found dead in her home in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. Mukadam’s body showed signs of torture and stabs according to the Washington Post, speaking to the grave brutality behind this heinous crime. Despite the swift arrest of the alleged suspect of the crime, many point to how this is anything but ordinary. Weak laws and little enforcement of whatever laws against violence against women result in rare justice for women and girls slaughtered, and no accountability for perpetrators. It is believed that due to her status as a diplomat’s daughter and how high-profile the case was that the police engaged in any sort of meaningful action.
The USSD HR Report 2018 found that “A 2004 law on honor killings, the 2011 Prevention of Anti-women Practices Act, and the 2016 Criminal Law Amendment (Offenses in the Name or Pretext of Honor) Act criminalize acts committed against women in the name of traditional practices. Despite these laws, hundreds of women reportedly were victims of so-called honor killings, and many cases went unreported and unpunished. In many cases, the male involved in the alleged “crime of honor” was allowed to flee. Because these crimes generally occurred within families, many went unreported. Police and NGOs reported that increased media coverage enabled law enforcement officials to take some action against these crimes.” Thus, this demonstrates that the media attention that each case gets dictates if action is taken or not, exposing a deep-rooted flaw in the legal system. Is one more entitled to justice due to the online exposure their case gets? Are lives measured by their media presence? Do the women and girls raped, murdered, and “honor” killed by family members they lived with and trusted not deserve to be avenged for the violent crimes committed against them? What does justice look like when there is no rule of law? Is there justice without the rule of law?
It begs the question of why killings that are perpetuated against women by family members are rarely prosecuted. According to Human Rights Watch, “In a patriarchal culture like Pakistan’s, where domestic violence is rampant, it is not unusual for men to murder female relatives to punish behavior they deem unacceptable.” The Patriarchy is deadly, and one of the leading causes of death for women and girls. Why do men think they have the right to take a woman’s life because he believes she is acting “dishonorably.” Men are not the final authority on what honor is or means, nor is murder a way to bring honor back to a family; it is a way to forever condemn a man to being a viscous and dishonorable murderer. Women and girls are “honor” killed for being raped, being accused of “running away” with men like 13-year-old Naghma, or even being decapitated for refusing to quit her job.
In Pakistani society, “‘honor’ code concerning women revolves around sexual shame which entails restraint in the expression of sexual behavior such as staying virgin before marriage, modesty, decorum in dress, and a sense of shame in their social relations with men. The conduct and reputation of women in the family in terms of sexual shame is the most important determinant of the status of family honor. Lack of sexual shame on the part of women in the family is a significant antecedent for the loss of the family ‘honor’ thereby caring for women’s sexual conduct become the main concern of the men of the family to protect the family’s ‘honor’. As women are conceived as the repository of family’s ‘honor’, their movements and patterns of behavior are directed by close men relatives whether it be a father, husband, or a brother.”
In turn, this results in tremendous cases of women being killed for perceived “sexual immodesty.” Let me leave you with one question: why is an entire family’s honor tied to the hymens and virginity of women?