The status of women in Pakistan 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. The Pakistani women of today enjoy a better status than most Muslim and Middle Eastern women. However, on an average, the women's situation vis-à-vis men is one of systemic subordination, although there have been attempts by the government and enlightened groups to elevate the status of women in Pakistan.
Historically, in the 19th century, feminist-sympathetic movements within the South Asian Muslim community tried to counter social evils against Muslim women through the custom of purdah (where women were forcibly isolated from social contact, primarily with men). Other Muslim reformers such as Syed Ahmad Khan tried to bring education to women, limit polygamy, and empower women in other ways through education. The founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was known to have a positive attitude towards women. After the formation of Pakistan, women's groups and feminist organizations started by prominet leaders like Fatima Jinnah to form that worked to eliminate social injustices against women in Pakistan.
The Pakistani women were granted the suffrage in 1947, and they gained the rights to vote in national elections in 1956. The provision of reservation of seats for women in the Parliament existed throughout the constitutional history of Pakistan from 1956 to 1973.
 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Government
The democratic regime of Zulfiqar 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 percent of the seats in the National Assembly and 5 percent in the provincial assemblies were reserved for women. 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.
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.". However, many judges upheld the "laws of Islam", often misinterpreted, over the Constitution’s guarantee of non-discrimination and equality under the law.
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 regime
Main article: Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization
General Zia ul-Haq, then Army chief of staff, overthrew the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto government in a military coup in July 1977. The Sixth Plan during the martial law regime of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1986) was full of policy contradictions. The regime 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 a 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". 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. In 1985, the National Assembly elected through nonparty elections doubled women's reserved quota (20 percent).
However, Zial-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. 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
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. 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. Under Qanun-e-Shahadat, a woman's testimony was not weighed equally to that of a man. 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 offense 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?" to highlight the oppression and sufferings of women under the Hudood Ordinances.
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).
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.
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.
The International Commission of Jurists mission to Pakistan in December 1986 called for repealing of certain sections of the Hudood Ordinances relating to crimes and so-called "Islamic" punishments which discriminate against women and non-Muslims.
There is considerable evidence that legislations during this period have negatively impacted Pakistani women's lives and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. Majority of women in prison were charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national level study conducted in dar-ul-amans (shelters for women) mentioned that 21 percent of women had Hudood cases against them. 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.
 Benazir Bhutto Government
After Zia-ul-Haq's regime, there was a visible change in the policy context in favor of women. The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth plans formulated under various democratically elected regimes 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.
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. 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 Islamization 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. .
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. The public criticism led to their retrial and acquittal by the Federal Shariah Court.
Ministry of Women's Development (MWD) established Women's Studies centers at five universities in Islamabad, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Lahore in 1989. However, four of these centers became almost non-functional due to lack of financial and administrative support. Only the center at University of Karachi (funded by the Canadian International Development Agency) was able to run a master of arts program.
The First Women Bank Ltd. (FWBL) was established in 1989 to address women's financial needs. FWBL, a nationalized commercial bank, was given the role of a development finance institution, as well as of a social welfare organization. It operates 38 branches across the country, managed and run by women. MWD provided a credit line of Rs48 million to FWBL to finance small-scale credit schemes for disadvantaged women. The Social Action Program 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 February 29, 1996. The Ministry of Women Development (MWD) is the designated national focal machinery for its implementation. However MWD has been facing lack of adequate resources for the implementation. Pakistan failed to submit its initial report that was due in 1997. Also, 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.
 Nawaz Sharif Government
In 1997, Nawaz Sharif, a political protégé of Zia-ul-Haq, 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.
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.". 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.
A 1997 ruling by the Lahore High Court, in the highly publicized Saima Waheed case, upheld a woman's right to marry freely but called for amendments to the family laws, on the basis of Islamic norms, to enforce parental authority to discourage "love marriages".
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 regime had als 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.
 Pervez Musharraf's regime
In 2000, the Church of Pakistan ordained its first women deacons. 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 September 2, 2004, the Ministry of Women Development was made 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 Ordinances introduced under Zia-ul-Haq's regime. He asked the Law Ministry and the Council of Islamic Ideology (under Ministry of Religious Affairs) to build a consensus for the amendments to the laws. On July 7, 2006 General Musharaff signed an ordinance for the immediate release on bail of around 1300 women who are currently languishing in jails on charges other than terrorism and murder.
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. 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. Some experts also stated that the reforms will be impossible to enforce.
The Cabinet has approved reservation of 10% quota for women in Central Superior Services in its meeting held on 12 July 2006. Earlier, there was a 10% 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%.
In 2006, The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act was also passed. In December 2006, for the first time, women cadets from the Military Academy Kukul assumed guard duty at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Purdah norms are followed in many communities of Pakistan. It is practiced in various ways, depending on family tradition, region, class, and rural or urban residence.
Child marriage/ (Vani)
Although the Child Marriages Restraint Act makes it illegal for girls under the age of 16 to be married, the instances of child marriages can be found. 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; the Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet, to other clan. Swara, Pait likkhi and Addo Baddo are similar tribal and rural customs that often promote marriage of girls in their early teenage.
Watta satta is a tribal custom in which brides are traded between two clans. In order for you to marry off your son, you 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.
A majority of the victims of honor killings are women and the punishments meted out often tend to be lenient. 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. Many cases of honor killings have been reported against women who marry against their family's wishes, who seek divorce or who have been raped.
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Although the women's dress varies depending on region, class and occasion, shalwar kameez is principal garment worn by Pakistani women. Gharara's (a loose divided skirt worn with a blouse) and lehenga's were very common earlier, but now they are worn mostly at weddings.
Many Pakistani women wear the hijab or burqa in public although the degree to which they chose to cover varies. Many Pakistani women who do not wear hijab wear the dupatta or chadar instead.
Saris is a formal dress worn on special occasions by some mainly urban women. The so-called "Islamization" under General Zia ul Haq's dictatorship branded the sari as an "unIslamic" form of dress. The sari is now making a comeback in fashionable circles. Western garments such as T-shirts and Jeans are common amongst young urban women.
 Education and economic development
In Pakistan, the women's access to property, education, employment etc. remains considerably lower compared to men's. The social and cultural context of Pakistani society is predominantly patriarchal. Women have a low percentage of participation in society outside of the family.
Despite the improvement in Pakistan's literacy rate since its independence, the educational status of Pakistani women is among the lowest in the world. The literacy rate for urban women is more than five times the rate for rural women. The school dropout rate among girls is very high (almost 50 percent), the educational achievements of female students are higher as compared with male students at different levels of education.
 Workforce participation
Although women play an active role in Pakistan's economy, their contribution has been grossly underreported in some censuses and surveys. The 1991-92 Labour Force Survey revealed that only about 16% of women aged 10 years and over were in the labour force. The World Bank's reports of 1997 stated that women constituted only 28% of the country's labor force. 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. 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.
Pakistani women play a major role in agricultural production, livestock raising and cottage industries.
 Land and property rights
Around 90% of the Pakistani households are headed by men and most female-headed households belong to the poor strata of the society
Women lack ownership of productive resources. Despite women's legal rights to own and inherit property from their families, there are very few women who have access and control over these resources.
 Crimes against women
The violence against women in Pakistan is a major problem. Feminists and women's groups in Pakistan have criticized the Pakistani government and its leaders for whitewashing the persecution of women and trying to suppress information about their plight in the international arena. Skepticism and biased attitudes against women's complaints of violence are common among prosecutors, police officers and medicolegal doctors in Pakistan. According to reports from 1990s, such complaints often face delayed/mishandled processing and inadequate/improper investigations.
 Sexual violence
Rape is one of the most common crimes against women but grossly underreported due to the shame attached to the victim. Many cases of sexual harassment and acid attacks have also been reported.name=BBC>Pakistan votes to amend rape laws, BBC
Marital rape is not recognized as a criminal offense in Pakistani law. Many cases of rape in police custody have also been reported. According to Report of the Commission of Inquiry for Women (1997), 70 percent of women in police stations were subjected to sexual and physical violence.
Trafficking of women is on the rise in Pakistan. Foreign women from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar are brought to Pakistan and sold.
 Dowry abuse
Main article: dowry
Many cases of bride burning due to dowry issues have been reported in Pakistan. In some cases, accidents are engineered (such as the tampering of a kitchen stove to cause victim's death) or the victims are set ablaze, claimed to be yet another accident or suicide. According to a 1999 report, of the sixty "bride-burning" cases that made it to the prosecution stage (though 1,600 cases were actually reported), only two resulted in convictions. However Dowry abuse cases are low after 2001.
 Domestic violence
Domestic violence is not explicitly prohibited in Pakistani domestic law and most acts of domestic violence are encompassed by the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance. The police and judges often tend to treat domestic violence as a non-justiciable, private or family matter or, an issue for civil courts, rather than criminal courts.
A 1987 study conducted by the Women's Division and another study by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in 1996 suggested that domestic violence takes place in approximately 80 percent of the households in the country. Domestic violence occurs in forms of beatings, sexual violence or torture, mutilation, acid attacks and burning the victim alive.
 Other concerns
 Marriage and divorce issues
Often, inter-caste marriages in Pakistan are met with violence against the women in the families involved. Women from low Pakistani Castes who try to get an education are looked down upon and sometimes attacked, the case of Ghazala Shaheen being the most infamous one which prompted international outcry.
The average age of women for marriage has 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. The divorce rate in Pakistan is extremely low due to the social stigma attached to it.
Women who seek a divorce are also often victims of honor killings. One notable example is the high profile case of Samia Sarwar who was murdered in her lawyer's office on April 6, 1999 by a hitman hired by her family. She was seeking a divorce from her estranged, abusive husband, which was deemed as dishonorable by her family. Due to Samia's father being a prominent figure in the community, the police charged Samia's lawyers, Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir, with "kidnapping" his daughter. Samia's father additionally "demanded that Hina Jilani and Asma Jahangir be dealt in accordance with ‘tribal and Islamic law'" and be arrested for "misleading women in Pakistan and contributing to the country's bad image abroad. Several people belonging to religious organizations issued fatwas [religious edicts] against both female lawyers and promised to pay rewards to anyone who would kill them. ".
The health indicators of women in Pakistan are among the worst in the world. Intra-household bias in food distribution leads to nutritional deficiencies among female children. Early marriages of girls, excessive childbearing, lack of control over their own bodies, and a high level of illiteracy adversely affect women's health. More than 40 percent of the total female population are anemic.
According to 1998 figures, the female infant mortality rate was higher than that of male children. The maternal mortality rate is also high high, as only 20 percent of women are assisted by a trained provider during delivery.
Only 9 percent of the women used contraceptives in 1985, however this figure has increased substantially.
Women are also at a higher risk of contracting HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) because of male dominance in sex relations and lack of access to information.
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 recruited1 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 immunization programs, nutritional and child survival, cancer treatment, and increased involvement of media in health education.
 Sex ratio
The sex ratio in Pakistan is somewhat unbalanced with 1.05 men per 1 female. This phenomenon is attributable to male-favored sex ratio at birth (preference for sons). In the urban areas, the sex ratio is still lower, which could be attributed to a large male out-migration from rural to urban areas. The conservative Muslim families also refuse to give strangers any information about females in their household. This has been a major problem for census officials in Pakistan and also in Afghanistan.
 Notable women
Women in Pakistan have progressed in various fields of life such as politics, education, economy, services, health and many more.
 Politics and activism
See also: List of the first female holders of political offices#Pakistan
Although the participation of women in politics is increasing, the presence of women in the political parties as well as in the political structure at the local, provincial, and national levels remains insignificant due to cultural and structural barriers
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 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.
Dr.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.
Mukhtaran Mai a victim of gang rape has become a prominent activist for womens rights in Pakistan.
 Arts and entertainment
Madam Noor Jehan was the melodious lady singer of the sub continent. there are too many other female singers including Abida Parveen, Farida Khanum, Nayyara Noor, Iqbal Bano and Tahira Syed. Faryal Gohar Zeba Bakhtiar and Samina Pirzada are acclaimed Pakistani actresses.
Nazia Hassan was an iconic female Pakistani pop singer.
Nigar Nazar is the first woman cartoonist in Pakistan and the Muslim World.
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 January 28, 1997 against New Zealand in Christchurch.
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. Bapsi Sidhwa is one of Pakistan's most prominent English fiction writers. In 1991, she received Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Pakistan's highest honor in arts.