On Thursday, three women were attacked by two men in Kalat, Baluchistan who sprayed them with acid. The culprits escaped, and the three women — sisters — have been admitted to the hospital, with one, according to the BBC, in serious condition.
This is not the first time an incident like this has happened in Pakistan, and it’s not the last. Having covered the state of human rights in the city of Karachi for more than four years now, I am encouraged that more and more women are registering reports about violence against them with the police. But what is appalling is that the number of incidents has also been steadily increasing. Whether it’s beating up women or subjecting them to horrific acts of violence like throwing acid on them under the pretext of "honor," women, especially in the rural areas of Pakistan, are being subjected to all kinds of brutal acts, with little or no support from the Pakistani government.
In the summer of 2008, five women were buried alive in Baluchistan because they wanted to choose their own husbands. A few days after the news broke, the issue was raised in the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament: Senator Israrullah Zehri defended the ghastly act, saying it was part of "tribal traditions." A few months after his statement, Zehri was made a federal minister.
The fact that a man — an elected representative, no less — who approves such acts of violence can be given a plum federal job demonstrates the Pakistani government’s apathy towards the state of human rights, especially when it comes to women. Legislation, both existing and new, will allegedly afford women protection and imposes strict punishments on offenders, but somehow is never implemented.
Last year, after months of struggling through drafts and consultations with NGOs, women’s rights groups, and other parties, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party government introduced a bill in the National Assembly protecting women against domestic violence. While the bill was passed in the lower house, it never saw the light of day in the Senate and eventually lapsed.
What is needed, immediately, is for legislators to start work on implementing existing bills and laws that protect women’s rights — to ensure the police arrest the culprits of violence against women and bring them to court, so that they can be tried according to the laws of the land. As a second step, elected representatives must start working with the locals of their areas to bring about a change in the mindset of many Pakistanis, especially when it comes to women’s rights. In some parts of Baluchistan, elected representatives are already the heads of their tribes, which would make this simpler. Change may take years to achieve, but we must at least start the process. If not, then Pakistan will continue to be a country where women are deprived of the most fundamental human right: the right to live.
Huma Imtiaz works as a journalist in Pakistan.