Faisalabad: hundreds of "white ribbons" to protest against violence against women
by Shafique Kholkar
On the eve of International Women's Day, hundreds of people march to demand an end to abuse in all its forms. They appeal to the government for "new laws" to protect women, who are discriminated in the family and the workplace. This battle is "cultural" as well as societal in a country that does not fully recognise equal rights for women.

Faisalabad (AsiaNews) - The government must adopt "new laws" to protect women, particularly in cases of "domestic violence" or when abuses are committed by the "state machine," in prison for example where government officials are the ones who perpetrate the worst crimes, this according to protesters who rallied yesterday as part of the 'White Ribbon Campaign' in front of the Faisalabad Press Club, in Punjab.

Called 'Time for Action to End Violence against Women', the rally was held two days before International Women's Day, which will be celebrated around the world tomorrow, 8 March.

Hundreds of people from Pakistan's many communities, various walks of life and different religions, answered the call made by activists from the Peace and Human Development (PHD) Foundation, the Association of Women for Awareness and Motivation (AWAM) and the Adara Samaji Behbood (ASB), which have  always been at the forefront of human rights protection.

Wearing "white ribbons" as a symbol of opposition to violence against women, demonstrators chanted and shouted slogans against abuses against women, which are commonplace across the country.

Protesters called on the government and parliament to take "concrete measures" against gender-based discrimination and against all forms of violence, be they physical, sexual, emotional, and economic, that occur within the family, most often in an atmosphere of total silence.

For PHD Foundation Director Suneel Malik, the campaign aims to raise awareness especially among men, who are called to eradicate all forms of violence against women.

This kind of violence is a gross violation of human rights, he explained, but "regrettably there is a general acceptance of violence based on gender diversity."

In fact, most "people do not recognise its many forms [. . .], but rather consider it an integral part of the culture and the fate of women." What is more, "When the state fails to prosecute the perpetrators, this [. . .] only encourages further abuse".

AWAM director Nazia Sardar agrees. In Pakistan, prevention and repression are a problem because there is no constant and efficient monitoring. For this reason, the government should implement better controls and ensure that laws are enforced.

Women's rights activist Shazia George blames the "patriarchal system," which prevents victims from even reporting their aggressors.

For Naseem Anthony, Pakistan's "dual system" of law, based on Islam and tribal traditions, does not give sufficient legal protection and opportunities to women.

National Minority Alliance-Pakistan (NMAP) president Robin Daniel made serious allegations against the police, in theory charged with protecting people, but who are "in some cases" involved in violence against women, especially "in prison and shelters."

ASB President Irshad Parkash noted an "urgent need for reform," even in the workplace, whilst activist and educator Khadim Patras spoke about women from religious minorities, who are victims twice, because of their gender as well as their religious belief.

Often abducted, non-Muslim women are forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslim men, leaving their family with little recourse in the face of indifferent government authorities.

With a population of more than 180 million people (97 per cent Muslim), Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world, the second largest Muslim nation after Indonesia.

About 80 per cent of Muslims are Sunni, whilst Shias are 20 per cent. Hindus are 1.85 per cent, followed by Christians (1.6 per cent) and Sikhs (0.04 per cent).