News Alert: Pakistan: Equality Now Calls on the Government of Pakistan to Protect the Rights of Women and Girls in the Swat Valley and Federally Administered Tribal Areas

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17 Feb 2009

Please find below an opinion piece from today's UK Independent newspaper written by Equality Now. The piece highlights the deteriorating situation of law and order in the Swat and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan which is leading to increased violence and discrimination against women. It also questions the Government of Pakistan’s plans to implement shariah (Islamic law) as part of a peace deal with militants. Government sanction of any parallel legal system which is not codified and is open to interpretation—particularly by people who deny the basic rights of women and girls – is unconstitutional and unacceptable.

Pakistan ignores justice and holds women in contempt
The Independent
By Anber Raz
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

More than 100 schools for girls have been torched or blasted by militants in the Swat valley and other tribal areas, where it is feared that as many as 100,000 girls may now be denied their basic right to an education.

The militants have warned all parents to remove their daughters from school or face direct attacks on the girls. Women have been told to wear the veil and not leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. The Pakistani government is said to have agreed the introduction of sharia law with the militants as an inducement to stop the fighting.

Government sanction of a parallel legal system used to deny the basic rights of women and girls, is both unconstitutional and unacceptable. Reports suggest that more than 70 Taliban courts are already operating in the region, handing down punishments that include flogging. With no indication of when girls' schools in the region will reopen and with appeasement of the militants an apparent priority, the government claims to be doing all it can to restore law and order, but it seems to have excluded consideration of more than half its population.

Law and order is certainly something that would be very much welcomed by Mukhtar Mai. She was gang-raped in 2002 on the orders of an illegal tribal court in punishment for an alleged crime of her 12-year-old brother. She has still not won justice. After years of struggling to bring her attackers to account after the High Court overturned their convictions in 2005, she had a message at the end of last year – which she says was sent by the Federal Minister for Defence Production, Sardar Abdul Qayyum—warning her to drop all charges against the 13 men accused.

If she failed to do so, he and his associates would ensure the case did not go in her favour. The case has been adjourned indefinitely by the Supreme Court, and Ms Mai believes that naming the minister has put her life in further danger.

The disregard of justice and contempt for women's rights has spread through government. Women's groups protested when Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani was appointed Minister of Education last year, months after he had presided over an illegal tribal court which gave away five girls, aged two to five, as compensation in a local dispute.

The Pakistani government also elevated Israrullah Zehri to the position of Minister of Postal Services, after he had defended the slaughter of three teenage girls and two adult women in Balochistan because the girls sought to choose their own marriage partners. He is said to have answered parliamentary questions with: "These are centuries-old traditions and I will continue to defend them."

Observers may be forgiven for questioning the resolve of the government to insist on girls' education, an end to violence against women and equal rights in the Swat valley and other tribal areas. As equal citizens, the women of Pakistan deserve to see their rights safeguarded, not sacrificed at the altar of extremism or left in the hands of cabinet members for whom Pakistan's constitutional protections have little meaning.

If the government of Pakistan is truly committed to ending violence against women and promoting equality, it must send the clear message that women's rights are not negotiable. And start by putting its own house in order.

Anber Raz is the Asia Programme officer of Equality Now, an international women's rights organisation.

What You Can Do: 

Please contact the officials below urging them to ensure the rights of women and girls are protected and not sacrificed in order to appease militants in Swat and FATA.

President Asif Ali Zardari
President of Pakistan
President's Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan

Mr Farooq Naik
Minister of Law, Justice and Human Rights
S Block Pakistan Secretariat
Islamabad, Pakistan

Mr Ameer Hussain Hoti
Chief Minister of North West Frontier Province
Tel: +92- 92-9211705

Please also send copies of your messages to the Speaker of the House of Parliament:

Dr Fehmida Mirza
Speaker, National Assembly of Pakistan
Parliament House
Islamabad, Pakistan



[add address of relevant official]

Dear [name]

I am writing to express my deep concern about the violence and discrimination being faced by women and girls in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in Swat in Pakistan and, in particular, the latest reports that the Government of Pakistan is ready to approve the implementation of shariah law in these areas as part of a peace agreement.

A parallel, uncodified, justice system would not only bring confusion to those seeking to assert their rights, it would also risk denying them the protections provided by Pakistan’s national laws as well as under Pakistan’s Constitution. Given the record of the militants to date, evidence suggests that rights already provided by Pakistan’s Constitution, especially those of women and girls, would be denied or diminished under any system administered by the militants. This would be a violation of constitutional guarantees of equality among other things.

I would therefore respectfully urge the Government urgently to reject endorsement of any alternative legal system which does not guarantee equality to all. We would also urge you to take active steps to uphold and protect the rights of women and girls, including by effectively countering the militants’ ban on girls’ education and ensuring girls’ safe access to education.

I thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely