Pakistani women speak up on rape - BBC News
Last Updated: Monday, 26 September 2005, 00:54 GMT 01:54 UK
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Pakistani women speak up on rape
After a series of rape controversies in Pakistan, the BBC News website spoke to women across the country to find out how this contentious issue was viewed.
Here they talk about women's rights, Islamic laws and foreign NGOs.
Uzma Saeed is campaigning for the repeal of the controversial Hudood laws, which rule that all extra-marital sex is illegal.
Hudood laws are a tool in the hands of men - with these laws they can rape women and be totally unaccountable.
Under Hudood if a woman makes a rape allegation she must provide four pious male witnesses or face a charge of adultery herself.
So a woman is in the ridiculous position of having to produce four Muslim adult male eyewitnesses, men who just stood there and watched.
If sex by force is not proved, this woman can be charged with "zina" - sex outside of marriage.
Uzma Saeed believes the Hudood ordinances should be repealedAbout 60% of women in our jails have been imprisoned as a result of Hudood laws.
I know many cases where a husband has wanted to marry again and so accused his wife of illicit relations with another man.
A repeal is essential.
I'm working on a legislative watch programme - the first of its kind in Pakistan. We are lobbying parliamentarians, media and political parties to raise awareness.
We are engaging village mullahs in this process. Rather than going on the defensive against extreme religious groups, we are playing on their own pitch.
Many religious scholars are producing research which says that these laws are not in accordance with the Holy Koran.
They are political tools to control women in our country.
Robina Nawab works for a radio network which produces programmes on women's issues. She says that coverage of rape in Pakistan obscures the achievements of women across the country.
Robina says that women in Pakistan can lead independent lives
I work for a radio project called "Hear My Voice".
We have covered rape victims, bonded labour, mine workers, drug issues and focus on subjects relevant to women and children. We go to rural villages and meet women in far-flung places to talk about their lives and hardships.
Having been exposed to the huge variety of problems across Pakistan, I can say that there is too much coverage of rape.
Such problems exist elsewhere in the world and I fear that the international community has the wrong image of women in Pakistan.
I encounter problems everyday on the streets with men staring at me, making funny expressions, sometimes touching me.
I show them that I am confident enough to face such challenges.
Our problem is not a high incidence of rape but laws which prevent women from reporting rape without getting jailed themselves.
But I believe the government is working to address it and I believe these changes will come.
Meanwhile, I live an independent life in my city.
Sadia Suhail works from inside the women's prison in Karachi for a legal aid organisation.
She meets women from the poorest sectors of society, many of whom have been imprisoned for extra-marital sex.
It is not that rape is a particular problem for Pakistan, but that this country outlaws extra-marital sex for women.
Our office is literally inside the premises of the Karachi women's jail. We have two windows which open onto the prison.
We are the only set-up in the world where a lawyer can meet their imprisoned client and also be sitting inside their office.
About half of the women in this prison are here because of zina. Some of these women are here for enticing another woman into zina.
These women are totally illiterate, hardly aware of their rights
Sadia SuhailMost of these cases are acquitted and many of the charges are false.
If a girl escapes from home and marries against the will of her family, they sometimes forge a prior marriage certificate to try and prove that she has married twice.
By the time the case is heard and she is released, she could have spent years in jail.
These women are totally illiterate, hardly aware of their rights, they don't know about zina laws and know nothing of the problems that exist for women in Pakistan.
Most of them are here without any support. Sometimes, their family is the cause of their plight.
Zunaira Mehfooz believes that NGOs publicise the issue of rape just in order to attract funding for themselves.
Zunaira is suspicious of the motives of NGOs
It's very easy to criticise Pakistan when you don't live there.
Rape is a problem in rural areas. But this needs to be tackled by the country and within the country.
I'm not convinced that NGOs do much to alleviate our problems. Their role has always been vague and I'm not sure they have played a significant role in enabling women in Pakistan.
They have their own agenda - they are run by the affluent and the rich and do not appear to be working seriously for the people.
A good way of getting foreign money is to highlight something and make it an issue.
Rapes happen all over the world but if we are serious about handling the issue in this country, we need to strengthen our laws and deal with village courts.
Speaking out to the world does nothing to address these problems.
Mussarat Shefi works for a women's crisis centre in Kohat in the North West Frontier Province.
She argues that the rural and provincial perspective is crucial for understanding the condition of women in Pakistan.
The women's crisis centre in Kohat serves the remote NWFP
Sexual abuse and rape is not the prevalent problem in this province.
In our crisis centre we deal with problems such as domestic violence, physical torture, harassment, illegal confinement, murder and elopements.
Poverty is a big issue and this is what prompts violence against women.
In 2002 we only handled one case of zina. But within the last eight months there were two honour killings here.
The main problem is that society is very conservative and extremely religious. Women are socially oppressed and cases of zina cannot be exposed because of social pressure.
The social set-up in this part of Pakistan is different. Local religious leaders find ways of protecting womenfolk who are sexually violated. Some people are armed.
Locals also have a very negative view of NGOs. Firstly, they think they are all funded by Americans or foreigners.
They reason that we belong to an Islamic society and that western-funded NGOs work against Islamic traditions and values.
But we have slowly won their confidence and trust. We have told them that this crisis centre is their organisation and we are here to solve their problems.