enabling tomorrow's human rights leaders, today
The following blog post is written by Sabrina Ghaus, a sophomore at Tufts University, MA. She is an Oslo Scholar and will be working with Asma Jahangir this summer.
To say that Pakistan is undergoing an “awakening” would be somewhat of an overstatement. It is not undergoing its own version of an “Arab Spring”. It is not in the throes of revolution. But Pakistan is in progress, and for the 173 million-plus voices clamoring for change under the green and white crescent banner there is reason to hope.
The situation of minorities and women in Pakistan is dire, but it is changing, albeit slowly. Two steps forward, one step back – this is how Pakistan plays its game.
The oppressive Hudood Ordinance put in place by the religious fanatic General Zia-ul-Haq during his 11-year regime was modified by the Women’s Protection Act of 2006. Adultery and rape are no longer grouped together, nor are rape cases tried in religious courts – so women do not need four male witnesses to prove their case. The Women’s Protection Act, however, has come under fire by the Shariah Court, and its provisions do not apply to tribal areas. Still, the Women’s Protection Act has stopped hundreds and thousands of rape victims from languishing in horrific jails because they were accused of committing zina, or adultery.
But Pakistan’s parliament has also unanimously passed a bill outlawing acid attacks in aftermath of Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar-winning documentary, Saving Face, chronicling the lives of acid attack survivors and a British-Pakistani surgeon who helps them recover. The hijra, or transgender community, has recently won the right to vote, to nominate candidates for parliament, and to have their own official gender category. Hundreds of people turned out onto the streets to protest the death sentence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman condemned under the retrogressive blasphemy laws that has existed since the days of General Zia-ul-Haq, and which forbids the defamation of “any recognized religion” – namely, Islam – but is used to persecute religious minorities for the smallest of charges. And the Supreme Court is pursuing a lawsuit against the human rights abuses of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency – a landmark attempt to hold the notorious ISI accountable for its actions.
Of course, laws on paper do not always translate to practice. Last summer, I got to know of a cousin’s friend who had suffered rape, but would not press charges for fear of sullying her name. Two of Pakistan’s heroes in fighting the blasphemy laws, Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, were murdered in one year. And the persecution of journalists, the target killings of Shia Muslims, the kidnappings in Balochistan, and the repressive, often violent attitudes towards women still abound. But the difference is that people are talking about it, and that is how we know Pakistan is moving forward. Asma Jahangir has been one of the most formidable opponents of the blasphemy law and played an integral role in the “Black Revolution”, leading lawyers to stand up against General Musharraf’s attempt to depose of the Supreme Court. It is with the help of the Asma Jahangirs, Salman Taseers, Shahbaz Bhattis, and countless other individuals in Pakistan who are choosing to stand up for their rights and the rights of others that we will see continuing progress in the battle for human rights in Pakistan.