The brutal murder of Noor Mukadam has hit a nerve in Pakistani society even if the mainstream and social media’s obsession with the horrific incident has dissipated. This incident is, however, not the first of its kind. We recurrently read stories of similar acts of brutality occurring across different parts of the country and amongst families of different levels of prominence. It is about time for the Pakistani society to wake up to reflect on the toxic culture of misogyny prevalent in our midst which national and international observers have aptly described to be of epidemic proportions.
Collectively, Pakistani society may consider itself to be conservative, religious, or traditional, but it has no right to endorse norms and values which place half the population of the country in a very vulnerable position. An average person may like to think that Pakistani women enjoy respect and the standing granted to them by our culture and religion. The truth seems to be at odds with this complacent sense of actual ground realities.
Pakistan has unacceptably high rates of domestic abuse, which some international organisations estimate to range between 70 and 90 per cent. Gender violence is not the only problem in our country. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for 2021, Pakistan’s overall gender disparities are shocking. Gender disparity is no doubt a global problem. Given current trends, it will take nearly 136 years to close the gender gap around the world. The untenable situation in countries like Pakistan is a major reason why it will take so long for an average woman to achieve parity with men.
The index used by the WEF’s report benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions, namely economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment. Pakistan ranked 153 out of 156 countries on this index which was just above conflict-ravaged Afghanistan. We may dispute the validity of such a dismal ranking but there are many other indicators such as disparity in girls’ education, the high mother and child mortality rate, the employment gap between men and women, which demonstrate that Pakistan has a very long way to go to do right by its female population.
The lack of women’s empowerment, along with prevailing patriarchal attitudes, myopic interpretations of religion, and the government’s failure to tackle violations combine to pose serious threats to the safety of women. Women are treated like personal property and routinely subjected to violence in the name of honour. The current pandemic has also amplified pre-existing gender gaps and led to rising rates of domestic abuse. While comprehensive and nationwide data is unavailable, statistics released by Punjab Safe City Authority (PSCA) and Punjab Unified Communication and Response (PUCAR-15) had shown a spike in domestic violence during Covid-19 lockdown last year. PUCAR-15 statistics alone indicated a 25 per cent rise in domestic violence reports during lockdown across the Punjab.
Gender violence is a lingering and complex problem, and it will not go away by wishing it away or ignoring it. Sporadic demands to publicly execute criminals who engage in particularly horrific acts of gender violence — such as the torture and beheading of Noor Mukadam — will serve no meaningful purpose. A public hanging does not act as a sufficient deterrent against reprehensible crimes. Such punishments instead only serve to further brutalise our society.
Pakistan needs to establish an effective system for the protection, relief, and rehabilitation of victims of violence. A much-lauded domestic violence bill was shelved in early July after objections raised by the Council of Islamic Ideology, despite it being passed by the National Assembly. It is time that momentum was built to push through this bill and to call for more effective implementation of other existing legislation to protect gender rights and to take perpetrators of gender-based crimes to task.
Instead of refuting varied forms of empirical evidence, our society needs to do some soul searching to see why Pakistan remains at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ensuring women’s rights and protecting them from physical and mental abuse, including the most horrific acts of violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2021.