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Women in Pakistan

  (Redirected from Gender discrimination in Pakistan)

The status of women in Pakistan is one of systemic gender subordination even though it varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women's lives.[3][4] In modern Pakistan, women have held high offices including that of the Prime Minister, Speaker of the National Assembly, Leader of the Opposition, as well as federal ministers, judges,[5] and serving commissioned posts in the armed forces. Major General Shahida Malik, attaining the highest military post for a women.[6][7]

Women in Pakistan
Zadi, with her son Tahir, Sindh, Pakistan (5367573164).jpg
A Pakistani woman with child
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.536 (2014)
Rank121st out of 157
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.550 (2018)
Rank148th out of 149

Many religious groups in Pakistan, who have had more political power since the Zia-ul-Haq regime in the 1980s, advocate subordination of women in Pakistan. Even rape victims have not been allowed to use DNA evidence to prove their cases,[citation needed] however the All Pakistan Ulema Council recently issued fatwas denouncing "honour killings".[8] Other improvements are also being made as Lahore has inaugurated its first service of lady traffic wardens to manage the traffic[9] and the country's most conservative province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is planning to increase the percentage of women in the police force.[10]

Even with these improvements, rampant domestic abuse and a high rate of child marriages and forced marriages still remain.

Pakistan has a dual system of civil and sharia law. The Constitution of Pakistan recognizes equality between men and women (Art. 25(2) states "There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex") but also recognizes as valid Sharia law (Chapter 3A. – Federal Shariat Court).[11]


Fatima Jinnah (1893–1967) was a Pakistani dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman and one of the leading founders of Pakistan

Historically, Muslim reformers such as Syed Ahmad Khan tried to bring education to women, limit polygamy, and empower women in other ways through education.[4] The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was known to have a positive attitude towards women.[4] After the independence of Pakistan, women's groups and feminist organisations started by prominent leaders like Fatima Jinnah started to form that worked to eliminate socio-economic injustices against women in the country.

Jinnah points out that Muslim women leaders from all classes actively supported the Pakistan movement in the mid-1940s. Their movement was led by wives and other relatives of leading politicians. Women were sometimes organised into large-scale public demonstrations. Before 1947 there was a tendency for the Muslim women in Punjab to vote for the Muslim League while their menfolk supported the Unionist Party.[12]

Many Muslim women supported the Indian National Congress Quit India Movement. Some like Syeda Safia Begum of Muslim Town Lahore started the first English School for Muslim Children in Muslim Town in 1935. Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947,[13] and they were reaffirmed the right to vote in national elections in 1956 under the interim Constitution.[14] The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.

Had General Ayub Khan run fair elections, Ms. Fatima Jinnah of Pakistan would have become the first Muslim President of the largest Muslim country in the world. However, despite that setback, during 1950–60, several pro-women initiatives were taken. Also the first woman Lambardar or Numberdar (Village Head Person) in West Pakistan Begum Sarwat Imtiaz took oath in Village 43/12-L in Chichawatni, District Montgomery (now Sahiwal) in 1959. The 1961 Muslim Family Law Ordinance,[15] which regulated marriage, divorce, and polygamy[16] continues to have a significant legal impact on the women of Pakistan.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto GovernmentEdit

The regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (1970–1977) was a period of liberal attitudes towards women. All government services were opened to women including the district management group and the foreign service (in the civil service), which had been denied to them earlier. About 10% of the seats in the National Assembly and 5% in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women, with no restriction on contesting general seats as well. However, the implementation of these policies was poor as the Government faced a financial crisis due to the war with India and consequent split of the country.[3]

Gender equality was specifically guaranteed in the Constitution of Pakistan adopted in 1973. The constitution stipulates that "there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex alone." The Constitution additionally affords the protection of marriage, family, the mother and the child as well as ensuring "full participation of women in all spheres of national life.".[17] However, many judges upheld the "laws of Islam", often misinterpreted, over the Constitution's guarantee of non-discrimination and equality under the law.[18]

In 1975, an official delegation from Pakistan participated in the First World Conference on Women in Mexico, which led to the constitution of the first Pakistan Women's Rights Committee.

Zia-ul-Haq's Military RegimeEdit

General Zia ul-Haq, then Army Chief of Staff, overthrew the democratically elected Zulfikar Ali Bhutto government in a military coup on 5 July 1977. The Sixth Plan during the martial law régime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1986) was full of policy contradictions. The régime took many steps toward institutional building for women's development, such as the establishment of the Women's Division in the Cabinet Secretariat, and the appointment of another commission on the Status of Women. A chapter on women in development was included for the first time in the Sixth Plan. The chapter was prepared by a working group of 28 professional women headed by Syeda Abida Hussain, chairperson of the Jhang District council at that time. The main objective as stated in the Sixth Plan was "to adopt an integrated approach to improve women's status".[3] In 1981, General Zia-ul-Haq nominated the Majlis-e-Shoora (Federal Advisory Council) and inducted 20 women as members, however Majlis-e-Shoora had no power over the executive branch.[19] In 1985, the National Assembly elected through nonparty elections doubled women's reserved quota (20 percent).

However, Zia-ul-Haq initiated a process of Islamization by introducing discriminatory legislation against women such as the set of Hudood Ordinances and the Qanun-e-Shahadat Order (Law of Evidence Order). He banned women from participating and from being spectators of sports and promoted purdah.[3] He suspended all fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution that had been adopted in 1973, including the right to be free of discrimination on the basis of sex. He also proposed laws regarding Qisas and Diyat, Islamic penal laws governing retribution (qisas) and compensation (diyat) in crimes involving bodily injury. When the victim was a woman, the amount of diyat was halved[20]

The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance, 1979 was a subcategory of the Hudood Ordinance. Zina is the crime of non-marital sexual relations and adultery. The Zina Ordinance included zina-bil-jabr, the category of forced intercourse. If the woman who accuses a man of zina-bil-jabr (rape) cannot prove to the judicial system that she was raped, she faces adultery charges.[21] In order for a rapist to receive "hadd," the maximum punishment provided for under the Quran, either the rapist must confess to the rape, or four pious adult Muslim men must witness the "act of penetration" itself and testify against the rapist.[22]

Under Qanun-e-Shahadat, a woman's testimony was not weighed equally to that of a man.[23] Thus, if a woman does not have male witnesses but does have female witnesses, their testimony would not satisfy the evidence requirement. The perpetrator may be acquitted and the victim may face adultery charges. The threat of being prosecuted discourages victims from filing complaints.

In addition, the legal possibility of marital rape was eliminated; by definition, rape became an extramarital offence according to the Zina ordinance. The ordinance prompted international criticism. Women's rights groups helped in the production of a film titled "Who will cast the first stone?" filmmaker by Sabiha Sumar to highlight the oppression and sufferings of women under the Hudood Ordinances.[24]

In September 1981, the first conviction and sentence under the Zina Ordinance, of stoning to death for Fehmida and Allah Bakhsh were set aside under national and international pressure. In September 1981, women came together in Karachi in an emergency meeting to oppose the adverse effects on women of martial law and the Islamization campaign. They launched what later became the first full-fledged national women's movement in Pakistan, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). WAF staged public protests and campaigns against the Hudood Ordinances, the Law of Evidence, and the Qisas and Diyat laws (temporarily shelved as a result).[25]

In 1983, an orphaned, thirteen-year-old girl Jehan Mina was allegedly raped by her uncle and his sons, and became pregnant. She was unable to provide enough evidence that she was raped. She was charged with adultery and the court considered her pregnancy as the proof of adultery. She was awarded the Tazir punishment of one hundred lashes and three years of rigorous imprisonment.[26]

In 1983, Safia Bibi, a nearly blind teenaged domestic servant was allegedly raped by her employer and his son. Due to lack of evidence, she was convicted for adultery under the Zina ordinance, while the rapists were acquitted. She was sentenced to fifteen lashes, five years imprisonment, and a fine of 1000 rupees. The decision attracted so much publicity and condemnation from the public and the press that the Federal Shariah Court of its own motion, called for the records of the case and ordered that she should be released from prison on her own bond. Subsequently, on appeal, the finding of the trial court was reversed and the conviction was set aside.[27]

The International Commission of Jurists' December 1986 mission to Pakistan called for repeal of the sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and of Islamic punishments that discriminate against women and non-Muslims.

There is considerable evidence that legislation during this period has negatively impacted Pakistani women's lives and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. The majority of women in prison had been charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national study found that 21% of those residing in shelters for women (Darul Aman) had Hudood cases against them.[28] According to a 1998 report by Amnesty International, more than one-third of all Pakistani women in prison were being held due to having been accused or found guilty of zina.[29]

Benazir Bhutto GovernmentEdit

Benazir Bhutto became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. She was assassinated while campaigning for the Pakistani general election of 2008.

After Zia-ul-Haq's regime, there was a visible change in the policy context in favour of women. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth plans formulated under various democratically elected governments have clearly made efforts to include women's concerns in the planning process. However, planned development failed to address gender inequalities due to the gap between policy intent and implementation.[3]

In 1988, Benazir Bhutto (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter) became the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country.[30] During her election campaigns, she voiced concerns over social issues of women, health and discrimination against women. She also announced plans to set up women's police stations, courts and women's development banks. She also promised to repeal controversial Hudood laws that curtailed the rights of women However, during her two incomplete terms in office (1988–90 and 1993–96), Benazir Bhutto did not propose any legislation to improve welfare services for women. She was not able to repeal a single one of Zia-ul-Haq's Islamisation laws. By virtue of the eighth constitutional amendment imposed by Zia-ul-Haq, these laws were protected both from ordinary legislative modification and from judicial review.[25]

In early 1988, the case of Shahida Parveen and Muhammad Sarwar sparked bitter public criticism. Shahida's first husband, Khushi Muhammad, had divorced her and the papers had been signed in front of a magistrate. The husband however, had not registered the divorce documents in the local council as required by law, rendering the divorce not legally binding. Unaware of this, Shahida, after her mandatory 96-day period of waiting (iddat), remarried. Her first husband, rebounding from a failed attempt at a second marriage, decided he wanted his first wife Shahida back. Shahida's second marriage was ruled invalid. She and her second husband, Sarwar were charged with adultery. They were sentenced to death by stoning.[26] The public criticism led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Shariah Court.

Ministry of Women's Development (MWD) established Women's Studies centres at five universities in Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Lahore in 1989. However, four of these centres became almost non-functional due to lack of financial and administrative support.[3] Only the center at University of Karachi (funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) was able to run a master of arts programme.

The First Women Bank Ltd. (FWBL) was established in 1989 to address women's financial needs. FWBL, a nationalised commercial bank, was given the rôle of a development finance institution, as well as of a social welfare organisation. It operates 38 real-time online branches across the country, managed and run by women. MWD provided a credit line of Rs 48 million to FWBL to finance small-scale credit schemes for disadvantaged women. The Social Action Programme launched in 1992/93 aimed at reducing gender disparities by improving women's access to social services.

Pakistan acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on 29 February 1996.[31] The Ministry of Women Development (MWD) is the designated national focal machinery for its implementation. However MWD faced a lack of resources initially.[3] Pakistan failed to submit its initial report that was due in 1997.[32] Pakistan neither signed nor ratified the Optional Protocol of the Women's Convention, which has led to non-availability of avenues for filing grievances by individuals or groups against Pakistan under CEDAW.[18]

Nawaz Sharif GovernmentEdit

In 1997, Nawaz Sharif was elected as the Prime Minister. He had also held office for a truncated term (1990–1993), during which he had promised to adopt Islamic law as the supreme law of Pakistan.

In 1997, the Nawaz Sharif government formally enacted the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance, which institutes shariah-based changes in Pakistan's criminal law. The ordinance had earlier been kept in force by invoking the president's power to re-issue it every four months.[25]

Sharif then proposed a fifteenth amendment to the Constitution that would entirely replace the existing legal system with a comprehensive Islamic one and would override the "constitution and any law or judgment of any court.".[33] The proposal was approved in the National Assembly (lower house), where Sharif's party has a commanding majority, but, it remained stalled in the Senate after facing strong opposition from women's groups, human rights activists, and opposition political parties.[34]

A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicised Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman's right to marry freely but called for amendments to the 1965 Family Laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage "love marriages".[25]

The report of the Inquiry of the Commission for Women (1997) clearly stated that the Hudood legislation must be repealed as it discriminates against women and is in conflict with their fundamental rights. A similar commission during Benazir Bhutto's administration had also recommended amending certain aspects of Hudood Ordinance. However, neither Benazir Bhutto nor Nawaz Sharif implemented these recommendations.

The enhancement of women's status was stated as one of the 16 goals listed in the Pakistan 2010 Program (1997), a critical policy document. However, the document omits women while listing 21 major areas of interests. Similarly, another major policy document, the "Human Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy" (1999), mentioned women as a target group for poverty reduction but lacks gender framework.

The country's first all-women university, named after Fatima Jinnah, was inaugurated on 6 August 1998. It suffered from delays in the release of development funds from the Federal Government.[3]

Pervez Musharraf's régimeEdit

In 2000, the Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons.[35] In 2002 (and later during court trials in 2005), the case of Mukhtaran Mai brought the plight of rape victims in Pakistan under an international spotlight. On 2 September 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was made an independent ministry, separating from the Social Welfare and Education Ministry.

In July 2006, General Pervez Musharraf asked his Government to begin work on amendments to the controversial 1979 Hudood Ordinance introduced under Zia-ul-Haq's régime.[36] He asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology (under the Ministry of Religious Affairs) to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws. On 7 July 2006 General Musharraf signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1300 women who were currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.[37]

In late 2006, the Pakistani parliament passed the Women's Protection Bill, repealing some of the Hudood Ordinances. The bill allowed for DNA and other scientific evidence to be used in prosecuting rape cases.[38] The passing of the Bill and the consequent signing of it into law by President General Pervez Musharraf invoked protests from hard-line Islamist leaders and organisations.[39][40] Some experts also stated that the reforms will be impossible to enforce.[41]

The Cabinet has approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services in its meeting held on 12 July 2006.[42] Earlier, there was a 5% quota for women across the board in all Government departments. In December 2006, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz approved the proposal by Ministry of Women Development, to extend this quota to 10%.[43]

In 2006, The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was also passed.[44] In December 2006, for the first time, women cadets from the Military Academy Kakul assumed guard duty at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.[45]

The Women's Protection Bill, however, has been criticised by many including human rights and women's rights activists for only paying lip service and failing to repeal the Hudood Ordinances.[46][47]

President Asif ZardariEdit

Appointment of womenEdit

Coming into power it appointed a female member of parliament and party loyalist Dr. Fehmida Mirza as the first female speaker in South Asia. During the tenure Pakistan saw its first female foreign minister, Hina Rabbani Khar, first secretary of defence, Nargis Sethi,[48] deputy speaker of a province Shehla Raza and numerous female ministers, ambassadors, secretaries including Farahnaz Ispahani,[49] Media Advisor to former President of Pakistan and co-chairman PPP, Sherry Rehman[50] former ambassador of Pakistan to US, Fauzia Wahab, Firdous Ashiq Awan, Farzana Raja, Shazia Marri, Sharmila Faruqi and others held prestigious positions within the administration.

Legislation for protection of womenEdit

On 29 January 2010 the President signed the 'Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace Bill 2009' which the parliament adopted on 21 January 2010.[51] Two additional bills were signed into law by the President in December 2012 criminalising the primitive practices of Vani, watta-satta, swara and marriage to the Quran which used women as tradable commodities for settlement of disputes. In addition the punishment for acid throwing to life imprisonment.[52] The government further established special task force in the interior Sindh region to for action against the practice of Karo-Kari establishing helplines and offices in the districts of Sukkur, Jacobabad, Larkana and Khairpur.

In 2012 the government revived the National Commission on Status of Women established by General Musharraf for three years in 2000, later being revived for three years at a time. The bill moved by government established the commission as a permanent body with the task to ensure the implementation of women protection legislation and abuses against women.

In February 2012, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement held the world's largest women's political rally in Karachi, with an estimated 100,000 women in attendance.[53]



A meeting of the All-India Muslim League in Lahore in 1940 shows Amjadi Begum in a body length burqa.

Purdah norms are followed in few communities of Pakistan.[54][55] It is practised in various ways, depending on family tradition, region, class, and rural or urban residence.[56] Purdah is most likely to be practised among the Pashtuns[57] and the Muslim Rajputs.[58] Now, many women in Pakistan don't practice Purdah, which is opposed by many religious scholars. Generally, women living in more developed areas like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad are more liberal in terms of dressing than women living in less developed areas.

Child marriage (vani)Edit

Although the Child Marriages Restraint Act makes it illegal for girls under the age of 16 to be married, instances of child marriages are commonly found in rural areas. Vani is a child marriage custom followed in tribal areas and the Punjab province. The young girls are forcibly married off in order to resolve the feuds between different clans;[59] the Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet, to other clans.[60] Swara, Pait likkhi and Addo Baddo are similar tribal and rural customs that often promote marriage of girls in their early teenage years. In one extreme case in 2012, a local Jirga in Aari village, Swat ordered that Roza Bibi, a girl of six, must be married off to settle a dispute between her family and the rival family.[61] As of 2018, the trend of Vani is decreased very much, allowing more young girls to live their childhood freely.

Watta sattaEdit

Watta satta is a tribal custom in which brides are traded between two clans. In order to marry off a son, one must also have a daughter to marry off in return. If there is no sister to exchange in return for a son's spouse, a cousin, or a distant relative can also do. Even though Islamic law requires that both partners explicitly consent to marriage, women are often forced into marriages arranged by their fathers or tribal leaders.[18] Watta satta is most common in rural parts of northwest and west Pakistan, and its tribal regions.[62][63]


Like in other parts of South Asia, the custom of dowry is practised in Pakistan,[64] and conflicts related to it often result in violence, even dowry deaths. At over 2000 dowry-related deaths per year, and annual rates exceeding 2.45 deaths per 100,000 women from dowry-related violence, Pakistan has the highest reported number of dowry death rates per 100,000 women in the world.[65][66]

Violence against womenEdit

In 1999, at least 1000 women were murdered in Pakistan and 90% of women reported being subject to domestic violence. Law enforcement authorities routinely dismiss domestic violence as private disputes.[67] With domestic violence cases, it is important to acknowledge that marital rape is not considered a crime. Most women do not report the abuse they experience because they want to avoid ruining their family's reputation, they are scared the abuse will worse, and they are afraid they would be separated from their husband and kids.[67] For the women that do report abuse, they are often harassed by the police and their families; about 33% of women were a victim of physical abuse and did not make any reports.[67] When it comes to marital abuse, pregnant women are even victims. In order to cope, some women enter religious communities or religious events to avoid being home and further altercations. Some ask for help from their friends and family, but most are reluctant to make formal complaints because they feel as if they would not be understood[68]


Women who report rape or sexual assault by strangers are often disbelieved and treated with disrespect by abusive police, forensic doctors who focus on virginity status instead of injuries and skeptical judges. Police in Pakistan often refuse to record the complaint of women when an officer may have been involved.[69] Pakistan's rape law allows marital, does not define statutory rape and in some cases women are not allowed to testify.[67] Instances such as rape are not taken towards action because of Islamic beliefs. The words of rape victims are not taken with serious matter and fail to prove that the victim is telling the truth.[70] In the year 2006, President Pervez Musharraf passed the Protection of Women Act. The purpose of it was for women to be provided with relief and to be able to have protection under the Hudood Ordinance and back into the prosecution under the Pakistani Criminal code. The act recognized rape under five circumstances, against [a woman's] will, without [a women's] consent, with [a woman's] consent, when the consent has been obtained by putting a women in fear or of hurt, with her consent, when the man knows that he is not married to her and that the consent is given because she believes that the man is another person to whom she is or believes herself to be married; or with or without her consent when she is under sixteen years of age. Because of the act, a person in Pakistan was punishable by either death or imprisoned up to 10 to 25 years. Although the act was passed, there were no significant effects in which investigations were done on rape victims.[71] On April 17, 2002, a woman by the name Zafran Bibi, who was 26 at the time, was sentenced to death by stoning in Pakistan. Zafran Bibi stepped forward as a rape victim in Pakistan. Bibi was recast as guilty for having sexual intercourse outside of valid marriage and was sentenced to death because of this incident. Bibi stated that she was tortured and raped by her brother-in-law, Jamal Khan. Her husband was in jail when the incident occurred.[72] Human rights groups saw that Zafran Bibi sentence was bizarre and the actions that were taken towards her case were not taken in the matter that it should have been. The pressure of the Human Rights group ultimately led the court to overturn her sentence.

Honour killings (karo-kari)Edit

A majority of the victims of honour killings are women and the punishments meted out to the murderers are very lenient.[73][74]


The practice of summary killing of a person suspected of an illicit liaison is known as karo kari in Sindh and Balochistan. In December 2004, the Government passed a bill that made karo kari punishable under the same penal provisions as murder.[76] In 2016, Pakistan repealed the loophole which allowed the perpetrators of honour killings to avoid punishment by seeking forgiveness for the crime from another family member, and thus be legally pardoned.[77] Many cases of honour killings have been reported against women who marry against their family's wishes, who seek divorce or who have been raped. In addition, women of lower classes are more prone to being victims of honor killings or rape.[78]

Acid AttacksEdit

Acid Attacks occur within the public sphere. Acid and kerosene are thrown at women, mostly in the direction of their faces, as a form of permanent punishment.[79] Many women do not report these attacks out of fear of getting attacked again or to protect the groups of people committing the attacks.[79] Hundreds of women are victims of these attacks and some die from their injuries.[79] When these attacks are reported they are written off as mistakes or suicides at times.[79] In order to help with these attacks, the Depilex Smileagain Foundation provides victims of acid attacks with the opportunity to undergo surgery to heal their faces with the help of experienced doctors, while receiving the medical services they need to recover.[79]

Marriage to QuranEdit

In some parts of Sindh, the practice of marrying a woman to Quran is prevalent among landlords, although this practice is alien to Islam and has no religious basis. The practice is often used by men to keep and grab the land of their sisters and daughters.[80]


School girls wearing Shalwar Kameez, in Abbotabad.
Women and girls in Shadadkot, north-west Sindh, Pakistan.

Although Pakistan's population is almost entirely Muslim (96.4% as of 2010[81]), women's status differs significantly by community.[82] Women's dress varies depending on region, class and occasion, but shalwar kameez is the principal garment worn by Pakistani women.[83] Ghararas (a loose divided skirt worn with a blouse) and lehengas were once common, but are now worn mostly at weddings.

Few Pakistani women wear the hijab or burqa in public, and the degree to which they choose to cover varies; with the use of the burqa being primarily predominant in Pashtun territories.[84] Some traditionally Afghan clothing styles have become prevalent in recent decades in some areas of Pakistan.[84] Pakistan has no laws banning or enforcing the hijab. Surveys conducted in Pakistan show that most women wearing the hijab do so of their own choice. The veil is not an absolute requirement, and women may even wear jeans and T-shirts in urban areas of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and other big cities. In the last five years, western dressing has become much more common among women in cities. Many women wear pants, plazzo and tight jeans with long shirts as well as short shirts. Most women in small cities and rural areas wear the Shalwar Kameez, which consists of a tunic top and baggy trouser set which covers their arms, legs and body. A loose dupatta scarf is also worn around the shoulders, upper chest and head. Men also have a similar dress code, but only women are expected to wear a dupatta in public.[85][86]

Some Pakistani women who do not wear the hijab may wear the dupatta or chadar instead. A sari is a formal dress worn on special occasions by some, mainly urban, women. The Islamization under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship branded the sari as an "un-Islamic" form of dress.[83] but it has made a comeback in fashionable circles.[citation needed]

Education and economic developmentEdit

In Pakistan, the women's access to property, education, employment etc. remains considerably lower compared to men's.[55] The social and cultural context of Pakistani society has historically been predominantly patriarchal.[3] Women have a low percentage of participation in society outside of the family.[87]


Pakistani school girls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Despite the improvement in Pakistan's literacy rate since its independence, the educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world.[55] The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women.[54] The literacy rate is still lower for women compared to men: the literacy rate is 45.8% for females, while for males it is 69.5% (aged 15 or older, data from 2015).[81]

At the end of the 20th century, the school drop-out rate among girls was very high (almost 50 percent), even though the educational achievements of female students were higher than male students at different levels of education.[3] Since then, education for women has improved rapidly. In Lahore there are 46 public colleges out of which 26 are female colleges and some of the others are co-educational. Similarly the public universities of Pakistan have female enrollment than male.[88]

UNESCO and the Orascom subsidiary of Pakistan telco, Mobilink have been using mobile phones to educate women and improve their literacy skills since 4 July 2010. The local BUNYAD Foundation of Lahore and the UN's work via the Dakar Framework of Action for EFA are also helping with this issue.[89] As of 2010, the literacy rate of females in Pakistan was at 39.6 percent compared to that of males at 67.7 percent.[90] More recent statistics provided by the UNICEF - shows that female education amongst 15-24 year olds has increased substantially to 61.5% - an increase of 45%. Male education is at a steady rate of 71.2%.[91]

The objectives of education policies in Pakistan aim to achieve equality in education between girls and boys and to reduce the gender gap in the educational system.[92] However, the policy also encourages girls, mainly in rural areas of Pakistan, to acquire basic home management skills, which are preferred over full-scale primary education. The attitudes towards women in Pakistani culture make the fight for educational equality more difficult. The lack of democracy and feudal practices of Pakistan also contribute to the gender gap in the educational system.[90] Girls of rural areas are facing many problems regarding their studies. There are several issues and causes of education problems for girls in rural areas of Pakistan. Inaccessibility of education in Pakistan, especially in backward areas is a result of distance, child labor, scarcity of teachers, local leaders, frequent policy changes and fear of losing power. In KPK and Balochistan women are severely bound by cultural constraints and prejudices. They are involved in reproductive and productive and community work for 14 to 18 hours. Women which are the 51% on the country population, have been forced to just bear children for their husband and remain within their houses. In Balochistan, female literacy rate stands between 15 and 25%. In backward areas, girls schools are far away from their homes, many families cannot afford traveling expenses for their children. Separate schools for girls are not available. Girls are living under the fear of extremist. In KPK militant groups have blasted thousands of schools because they are against women education, they have given threats to several governments and private girls school for stopping girls education.[93]

This feudal system leaves the underpowered, women in particular, in a very vulnerable position. The long-lived socio-cultural belief that women play a reproductive role within the confines of the home leads to the belief that educating women holds no value. Although the government declared that all children of the ages 5–16 can go to school, there are 7.261 million children out of school at the primary level in Pakistan, and 58% are female (UNESCO, Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011).[94] Although girls have the right to get an education legally, in many rural regions of Pakistan girls are strongly discouraged from going to school and discriminated against, as there are violent acts such as acid throwing which many girls fall victim to for attending school.

Rural/urban divide and government policyEdit

Females are educated equally like Males in urban areas such as Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. However, in rural areas, the education rate is substantially lower. This has begun to change with the issuance of government policy, in which 70% of new schools are built for girls,[95] and also plans to increase the size of women's school so that the infrastructure matches those of men's schools[96] and more female colleges have also been established in order to provide women with higher education.[97]

Women in elite urban districts of Pakistan enjoy a far more privileged lifestyle than those living in rural tribal areas. Women in urbanized districts typically lead more elite lifestyles and have more opportunities for education. Rural and tribal areas of Pakistan have an increasingly high rate of poverty and alarmingly low literacy rates. In 2002 it was recorded that 81.5 percent of 15- to 19-year-old girls from high-income families had attended school while 22.3 percent of girls from low-income families had ever attended school.[90]

In comparison, it was recorded that 96.6 percent of Pakistani boys ages 15–19 coming from high-income families had attended schooling while 66.1 percent of 15- to 19-year-old boys from low-income families had attended school.[90] Girls living in rural areas are encouraged not to go to school because they are needed in the home to do work at a young age. In most rural villages, secondary schooling simply does not exist for girls, leaving them no choice but to prepare for marriage and do household tasks. These rural areas often have inadequate funding and schooling for girls is at the bottom of their priorities.


Pakistan is a largely rural society (almost two thirds of the population lives in rural areas[81]) and women are rarely formally employed. This does not mean that women do not participate in the economy: quite on the contrary, women usually work on the farm of the household, practice subsistence agriculture, or otherwise work within the household economic unit.[82][98] However, women are often prevented from advancing economically, due to social restrictions on women's movement and gender mixing, as well as due to low education.[99]

Workforce participationEdit

Although women play an active role in Pakistan's economy, their contribution has been grossly underreported in some censuses and surveys.[55] Part of the understimation of women's economic role is that Pakistan, like many other countries, has a very large informal sector.[100] The 1991–92 Labour Force Survey revealed that only about 16% of women aged 10 years and over were in the labour force. According to World Bank, in 2014, women made up 22.3% of the labour force in Pakistan.[101]

According to the 1999 report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, only two percent of Pakistani women participate in the formal sector of employment.[102] However, the 1980 agricultural census stated that the women's participation rate in agriculture was 73%. The 1990–1991 Pakistan Integrated Household Survey indicated that the female labour force participation rate was 45% in rural areas and 17% the urban areas.[55] Pakistani women play a major role in agricultural production, livestock raising and cottage industries.[55]

In 2008, it was recorded that 21.8 percent of females were participating in the labor force in Pakistan while 82.7 percent of men were involved in labor.[103] The rate of women in the labor force has an annual growth rate of 6.5 percent. Out of the 47 million employed peoples in Pakistan in 2008, only 9 million were women and of those 9 million, 70 percent worked in the agricultural sector. The income of Pakistani women in the labor force is generally lower than that of men, due in part to a lack of formal education.[103] The low female literacy rate is a large obstacle in women taking part in the workforce.

Due to the religious and cultural values in Pakistan, women who do try to enter the workforce are often pushed into the lower of the three employment structures. This structure level, unorganized services sector, has low pay, low job security and low productivity. In order to improve this situation, governmental organizations and political parties need to push for the entrance of women into the organized services sector.[104] Conservative interpretations of Islam have not promoted women's rights in the workforce, since they value women as keepers of the family honor, support gender segregation, and institutionalization of gender disparities.[105]

Furthermore, women who do work are often paid less than minimum wage, because they are seen as lesser beings in comparison to men, and “their working conditions vis-à-vis females are often hazardous; having long working hours, no medical benefits, no job security, subjected to job discrimination, verbal abuse and sexual harassment and no support from male oriented labor unions”(An In-Depth Analysis of Women's Labor Force Participation in Pakistan).

Although these religious and cultural barriers exist keeping women away from the workforce, studies have shown that women-only entrepreneurial training that allows participants to develop capital and competences, can break these down. Programs such as this can go a long way in an Islamic socio-cultural context to develop tolerance and understanding.[106]


Land and property rightsEdit

Around 90% of the Pakistani households are headed by men and most female-headed households belong to the poor strata of the society[54][55]

Women lack ownership of productive resources. Despite women's legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, in 2000 there were very few women who had access and control over these resources.[3]

Other concernsEdit

Forced conversion of non-muslim girls to IslamEdit

Dargah pir sarhandi, a frequent crime scene of forced conversion and marriage of kidnapped underage Hindu girls.

In Pakistan, Hindu and Christian girls in Pakistan are kidnapped,raped,forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslim men[107].These girls are generally 12 to 18 years old.[108]According to the Aurat Foundation,about 1,000 non-muslim girls are forcibly converted to Islam in Pakistan every year.[109]

Gender rolesEdit

A girl in North Pakistan.

Pakistan is a patriarchal society where men are the primary authority figures and women are subordinate.[110] Gender is one of the organizing principles of Pakistani society. Patriarchal values embedded in local traditions, religion and culture predetermine the social value of gender. Islam heavily influences gender roles in particular. An artificial divide between production and reproduction, made by the ideology of sexual division of labor, has placed women in reproductive roles as mothers and wives in the private arena of home and men in a productive role as breadwinners in the public arena.[111]

Pakistani women lack social value and status because of negation of their roles as producers and providers in all social roles. The preference for sons due to their productive role often dictates the allocation of household resources in their favor. Traditionally, male members of the family are given better education and are equipped with skills to compete for resources in the public arena, while female members are imparted domestic skills to be good mothers and wives. Lack of skills, limited opportunities in the job market, and social, religious and cultural restrictions limit women’s chances to compete for resources in the public arena.[111]

This situation has led to the social and economic dependency of women that becomes the basis for male power over women in all social relationships. However, the spread of patriarchy is not even. The nature and degree of women’s subordination vary across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide. Patriarchal structures are relatively stronger in the rural and tribal setting where local customs establish male authority and power over women's lives. On the other hand, women belonging to the upper and middle classes have increasingly greater access to education and employment opportunities and can assume greater control over their lives.[111]

According to Pakistani standards, 'good women' could be either educated or uneducated and are expected to be unselfish, calm, tolerant, empathetic, reliable, able to organize, compromise, coordinate and maintain hospitality within the house and in keeping good relationships.[112] They are also expected to do household chores, care for her children, husband and in-laws and, when needed, provide the home with external income.[112] Women are also expected to marry a man of their parent's choice, follow Islam's code of dress[113] and sacrifice their own dreams.[114]

In a study carried out by Gallup Pakistan, the Pakistani affiliate of Gallup International, majority of the Pakistanis believe that both males and females have different roles to play in the society. Although women’s role has broadened beyond being a housewife over time, many people still give priority to men in politics, education, employment, and related walks of life. When the respondents were asked to give their opinion on a number of statements about gender roles 63% of the respondents agreed with the statement that "Boys’ education is more important than girls’"; 37% disagreed with it. The percentage of people agreeing with this statement was higher among rurallites (67%) as compared to the urbanites (53%). However, more than 90% believe that female children should be educated, nearly half of them believing that, should opportunity be available, they should rise to college education and beyond.

Fifty five percent (55%) of the respondents believe that "Both husband and wife should work"; while 45% said it is wrong for both husband and the wife to work. More than 50% of men including those from rural areas agree that both husband and wife should work for a better living. When the respondents were asked whether "Men are better politicians as compared to women or not"; 67% agree men are better politicians while 33% think otherwise. More women agree with this statement as compared to men. In response to the following statement "If jobs are in shortage should men be given priority for employment"; 72% of the respondents believe they should be given priority while 28% disagree. Eighty three percent (83%) of the respondents think that "To live a happy life women need children"; while only 17% think they do not. A vast majority of all respondents including 82% of women respondents believe that "prosperous women should raise their voice to support the rights of poor women."[115]

Marriage and divorce issuesEdit

The average age of women for marriage increased from 16.9 years in 1951 to 22.5 years in 2005. A majority of women are married to their close relatives, i.e., first and second cousins. Only 37 percent of married women are not related to their spouses before marriage.[citation needed] A study published in 2000 recorded that the divorce rate in Pakistan was extremely low due to the social stigma attached to it.[3]

Many girls are still married off into a child marriage, and many complications with this can occur as childbirth from a child can cause complications with the baby and mother.[116] A common system in place with marriage is the Dowry system in which a low or no status is assigned to a girl right from the prenatal stage.There are issues around the dowry system such as dowry related violence, in which the wife is abused by her husband. Before the marriage, the groom will make heavy financial demands on the bride's family as a condition of marrying their daughter.[117]

In order for many parents' daughters to get married, they start "obtaining loans from people, getting interest based loans from banks, utilising their life savings and even sell their homes" (JAHEZ (Dowry Conditions Set by the Groom for Marriage)). Within the dowry system, abuse is likely to occur after the marriage has taken place. Prior to the marriage, if certain conditions that the groom and his family have put in place are not met, they will threaten to break off the marriage, which would be devastating for the bride and her family because of the lengths the bride's family already had to go through to pay her dowry and because traditionally it is a great dishonor to the family.[118]


According to 1998 figures, the female infant mortality rate was higher than that of male children. The maternal mortality rate was also high, as only 20 percent of women were assisted by a trained provider during delivery.[3] Only 9 percent of women used contraceptives in 1985, but by 2000 this figure had increased substantially,[3] and as of 2012/13, the contraceptive prevalence rate was 35.4%.[81] The total fertility rate is 2.75 children born/woman (2015 est.).[81]

Pakistan has taken certain initiatives in the health sector to redress gender imbalances. The SAP was launched in 1992–1993 to accelerate improvement in the social indicators. Closing the gender gap is the foremost objective of the SAP. The other major initiative is the Prime Minister's program of lady health workers (LHWs). Under this community-based program, 26,584 LHWs in rural areas and 11,967 LHWs in urban areas have been recruited to provide basic health care including family planning to women at the grassroots level. Other initiatives include the village-based family planning workers and extended immunisation programs, nutritional and child survival, cancer treatment, and increased involvement of media in health education.

Notable womenEdit

Women in Pakistan have progressed in various fields of life such as politics, education, economy, services, health and many more.

Politics and activismEdit

Women from Rawalpindi queued for their chance to vote in Pakistan's elections.
Mukhtār Mā'ī, a survivor of a gang rape as a form of honour revenge.[119][120] She is one of Pakistan's most prominent women rights activists.
Malala Yousafzai, an activist, working for rights to education for children in Pakistan. She is the youngest Nobel Prize recipient ever.[121]

In 2000, women's presence in political parties as well as in the political structure at the local, provincial, and national levels was insignificant due to cultural and structural barriers.[3][dead link] The situation gradually improved, and by 2014, 20.7% of elected representatives were female, a statistic well ahead of the United States and less than 2% behind the United Kingdom.[122]

Miss Fatima Jinnah, sister of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was an instrumental figure in the Pakistan movement. In 1947, she formed the Women's Relief Committee, which later formed the nucleus for the All Pakistan Women's Association (APWA). She was the first Muslim woman to contest the presidency in 1965, as a candidate of the Combined Opposition Party.

Begum Shaista Ikramullah was the first woman elected member of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan.

Begum Mahmooda Salim Khan was Pakistan's first woman minister and member of the Cabinet of President General Ayub Khan.

Begum Ra'ana Liaquat Ali Khan (1905–1990) was a women's rights activists. She was the founder of the All Pakistan Women's Association. Begum Nusrat Bhutto wife of Prime Minister Zulfikhar Ali Bhutto, led the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations' first women's conference in 1975.

Benazir Bhutto was the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988)(1991) and the first woman elected to head a Muslim country. She was elected twice to the office of Prime Minister.

Fehmida Mirza is the first female speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan. Other prominent female Pakistani politicians include Begum Nasim Wali Khan, Raja Farzana, Syeda Abida Hussain, Sherry Rehman and Tehmina Daultana.

Hina Rabbani Khar became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan in 2011.

Mukhtaran Mai a victim of gang rape has become a prominent activist for women's rights in Pakistan.

Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani, prominent human rights lawyers and founders of the first all woman law firm in Pakistan, AGHS.

Malala Yousafzai, as a teenage education activist, was shot in the face in her hometown Mingora at the age of 15. After her hospitalisation and recovery she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with Kailash Satyarthi for their work for children's rights. At 17, Yousafzai became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and the first Nobel Peace Prize winner from Pakistan.

Sania Nishtar, the first female cardiologist and the only woman Interim Cabinet Member 2013, is globally recognized for her work and accomplishments in health policy advocacy.

Nigar Ahmad, women's rights activist, co-founder of Aurat (women's) Foundation, one of the oldest women's organisation in the country.

Naela Chohan is a Pakistani diplomat and feminist artist. She is currently serving as the Ambassador of Pakistan to Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Ecuador. She has been a vocal proponent of stronger ties between Pakistan and Latin America.[123][124]

Farida Shaheed and Khawar Mumtaz, human rights activists and authors, associated with Shirkat Gah, a woman's organisation.

Shahla Zia, human rights activist and lawyer, co-founder of AGHS with Asma Jahngir and Hina Jilani, and also co-founder of Aurat Foundation with Nigar Ahmad. Also the plaintiff in Shahla Zia v. WAPDA, the leading case on environmental law in Pakistan.

Tahira Abdullah, prominent human rights activist, associated with Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and was a prominent member of the Lawyers Movement.

Fatima Lodhi is an activist, who is Pakistan's first and Asia's youngest anti-colorism and diversity advocate.[125]

Anis Haroon, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).

Justice Majida Rizvi, one of the first female High Court judges, ex-Chairperson of the NCSW and a human rights activist.

Justice Nasira Iqbal, daughter in law of Allama Iqbal and one of the first female High Court judges and a prominent and vocal human rights activist.

Riffat Arif, also known as Sister Zeph, is a teacher, women’s activist and philanthropist from Gujranwala.[126]

Romana Bashir, Catholic woman activist since 1997 in interfaith harmony and women's education.[127]

Gulalai Ismail is a Pashtun human rights activist.

Aurat March is International Women's Day women's procession walk organized in various cities of Pakistan including Lahore, Hyderabad, Karachi and Islamabad. On March 8, 2018, Pakistan saw its first Aurat March in major cities across Pakistan.[128]

Women's rights Pakistani NGOsEdit

Pakistani civil society has produced a significant number of big and small, courageous NGOs which work to improve Pakistani women's global situation and particularly to prevent violence against women, for instance:

  • the All Pakistan Women's Association, founded in 1949,
  • the Aurat Foundation, registered in 1986,
  • Blue Veins, which works primarily on health issues in rural areas,
  • the Society for Appraisal and Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA), founded in 2004 in Khyber Agency, famous for the assassination of its founder Fareeda Afridi who was gunned down in June 2012.[129][130]
  • In a landmark legal challenge against state airline, Pakistan International Airline (PIA), in March 2018, plaintiff Komal Zafar argued that failure to select her as cadet pilot was unconstitutional. Justice Muhammad Farrukh Irfan Khan of Lahore High Court passed the orders on a petition, filed by Komal Zafar for the implementation of women quota in the pilots’ recruitment process of the PIA. During the hearing, the petitioner’s counsel submitted that women were ignored in the recruitment process for filling pilots’ vacancies despite 10 per cent quota specified in the policy. He contended that the step was a violation of the policy, and pleaded to issue directions for completing the recruitment process on the pilots’ posts reserved for women.

Arts and entertainmentEdit

Abida Parveen at her concert in Oslo, 2007




  • Fauzia Minallah is the first and youngest woman political cartoonist to win the All Pakistan Newspaper Society award. She is also the winner of Ron Kovic Peace prize.[131]


Sportswomen of Pakistan have always been plagued by the patriarchal society and many have come forward to claim that coaches, selectors and others who are in position of power demand sexual favours. Sexual abuse of this kind has led some athletes to commit suicide due to inaction of authorities in pursuing the suspects. In some cases the female athletes who register the cases of sexual abuse and harassment are banned or put on probation.[132][133][134][135]

In 1996, when sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan first tried to introduce women's cricket in Pakistan, they were met with court cases and even death threats. The government refused them permission to play India in 1997, and ruled that women were forbidden from playing sports in public. However, later they were granted permission, and the Pakistani women's cricket team played its first recorded match on 28 January 1997 against New Zealand in Christchurch.

Shazia Hidayat was the only female athlete on the Pakistan team competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, becoming the second woman to ever represent Pakistan in an Olympic event.[136]

Sidra Sadaf, a woman cyclist won a silver medal at the 11th South Asian Games in Dhaka, Bangladesh in January 2010. Naseem Hameed became the fastest woman sprinter in South Asia following the 2010 South Asian games; she gained widespread popularity for the remarkable feat.


Ismat Chughtai, who was part of the Progressive Writers Association, is considered one of the most important feminist writers of Urdu. Parveen Shakir, Kishwar Naheed and Fehmida Riaz are also renowned for their feminist poetry in Urdu. Modern fiction writers such as Rizwana Syed Ali and Bano Qudisa have also highlighted gender issues. Bapsi Sidhwa is one of Pakistan's most prominent English fiction writers. In 1991, she received Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest honour in arts.

Other fieldsEdit

Some of the notable Pakistani women in other fields including computing,[137] education and business are:

See alsoEdit


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