In times of conflict we tend to forget the suffering of vulnerable groups, most often women and children as they have less voice and less access. The International Crisis Group has published a report on Wednesday, looking at the case of gender discrimination in Pakistan. The report found that the Pakistani state as been absolutely inadequate in acknowledging repression and cruelty towards women, what to talk of taking actual steps to protect women.

In 2006, civil society successfully lobbied parliament to pass the Protection of Women Act (PWA), returning rape from those ordinances to the Penal Code. The act separates zina from zina-bil-jabr, and thus prevents rape charges from being converted into charges of extramarital sexual intercourse. Filing a complaint against rape was no longer risky. However, the amended Hudood Ordinances still retained religious extremism and discrimination by still criminalising zina and allowing testimony only by Muslim males in Hadd cases reinforcing the impression that women and non-Muslims are inferior citizens. This is one observation made by the report among many. What stands out is that there has been no initiative on the part of the sitting government and there is none expected by the PMLN at all. What has worked in the past has been civil society gaining momentum, women’s rights groups, and such. But these groups have not been able to be consistent with their lobbying efforts.

Our legal framework has institutionalised discrimination and helped fuel religious intolerance and violence against women. The criminal justice system is dysfunctional and has failed to protect them and emboldened extremists. Even three decades on, we continue to lament the Hudood Ordinance. The report has detailed description of legislation that discriminates against women. It is now in the hand of the Parliament, a body unwilling to repeal or even reform discriminatory laws. There does not exist a national domestic violence law in Pakistan. The statistics are alarming. One in ten women has experienced violence during pregnancy and 52 per cent of women who experience violence kept it secret. While the parliament is sleeping on the job as usual, we must remember that it is a societal problem as well. We teach our young girls that suffering is a way of life, education is what destroys minds and marriages, that it is a man world, that domestic abuse is normal, and that there is no such thing as emotional abuse.

One wonders how many women reading this have tried to advocate on behalf of their sisters, or joined a rights group to change the status quo? And how many of the men reading this would let them?