March 7th, 2014
11:47 AM ET

Time for Pakistan's leaders to stand up for women

By Farahnaz Ispahani, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Farahnaz Ispahani, a former member of Pakistan’s parliament, is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

International Women’s Day, being marked Saturday, is as good a time as any not just to celebrate how much progress has been made, but also how much farther there is to go on the road toward guaranteeing women’s rights. Sadly, for women in at least one country, the journey is getting increasingly arduous.

For decades, the status and rights of women in Pakistan have been a casualty of concessions made by the state to those clamoring for what they describe as Islamic rule. But with the Taliban’s call for the imposition of Sharia law during current peace talks between the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Pakistani government, there are growing concerns that women’s freedoms will be further eroded.

The reality is that Pakistan’s women have no real voice in the government’s talks with the Taliban – not only is there a lack of representation on the government’s negotiating team, but negotiators from both sides represent a similar conservative religious viewpoint. And despite some changes in the negotiating procedure, and the men who will negotiate, the government remains committed to working with the Taliban instead of fighting them."

As we have seen in numerous conflict zones over the centuries, women’s participation in negotiations increases the chance of humanitarian concerns being at the center of the negotiating process. Without their involvement in the peace and security process, their voices and rights – as well as those of minorities – are generally ignored.

It is ironic that the country that gave the Muslim world its first female prime minister is today held hostage by reactionary ideologues and their appeasers. The late Benazir Bhutto was murdered for taking a stand against extremist forces, while young Malala Yousafzai was attacked on a bus by extremists for having the courage to challenge the Taliban’s writ against female education. But those leading Pakistan today sadly lack the will and the strength displayed by these two women to defend Pakistan against the forces of barbarism.

The Pakistani Taliban has officially existed since 2002 and, although comprised of disparate groups, its members share the worldview of the Afghan Taliban, which ruled most of Afghanistan during the late 1990s. And the Taliban’s misogyny is well known – it imposed a violent and narrow view of religion in a way that resulted in great suffering among Afghan women, children and religious and ethnic minorities.

Unfortunately, there is no indication that the Pakistani Taliban is any different.

When the TTP secured control of the Swat Valley in 2008-2009, its rule was as brutal as that of Mullah Omar’s Afghan gangs a few years earlier. Women were forced to stay at home. Female children were denied schooling. Public lashings of women took place – for perceived infidelities or sometimes just stepping out of their homes. Pakistani women, including those from the tribal areas, deserve better than to have to live in such a barbaric culture.

Fast forward to today, and the Taliban’s refusal to accept Pakistan’s constitution is a complete repudiation of the Pakistan that was envisaged by the country’s founder, Quaid-e- Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Since the Objectives resolution, passed by Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly in 1949, successive Pakistani governments have gradually ceded ground to Islamists, hoping each time that the latest concession would hold extremism at bay. That strategy, if it can be called such a thing, has resulted in anti-women Hudood ordinances and anti-minority blasphemy laws.

Already, around two-thirds of Pakistan’s women are illiterate, while around 1,000 women and girls are victims of “honor killings” each year, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission. Previous estimates have suggested between 70 and 90 percent of women in Pakistan have faced domestic violence.

The picture is no better economically – the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report ranked Pakistan 135th in the world in terms of gender equality, and it has previously cited physical and sexual violence, honor killings, forced marriages and structural inequalities within society as factors responsible for the abysmally low ranking.

The Taliban’s version of Sharia will diminish women’s education opportunities while increasing violence against women, violence that is justified in the name of religion. On International Women’s Day, I urge Pakistanis to consider the disastrous consequences for the country’s women of appeasing the Taliban before the country turns down a road from which it won’t be able to return.

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Topics: Pakistan • Women

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. same situation in Iran

    Tehran, Iran, is also known for "party police" that burst into parties, in Tehran, and arrest everybody, saying that the Ayatollah told them to do so! It has become so crazy, that pretty much every single party has gone to an underground basement. People are actually building their houses with a sound proof underground basement, where they can party in peace and so that the "party police" will no hear the sound. Crazy stuff. I guess the Ayatollahs don't want people to be happy, because they are so unhappy themselves?

    March 11, 2014 at 1:23 am | Reply
  2. what do I know

    too much partying is wrong, too much austerity is wrong, how about we find middle of the road approach, just like Buddha (Gautama Siddhartha) recommended, Buddhism teaches: seek MODERATION in all things, how wise, how brilliant, how correct........ can we just flush all the rest (religious nonsense) down the toilet??????

    March 11, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  3. what do I know

    and as far as the muslim world treating their women unfairly goes, yes, there is much truth to that allegation, because all those muslim texts and sharia law were written by men, with women having no say in the matter. so the muslim world needs to back off on treating their women so harshly! and as far as the western world goes, yes, all that women's liberation had resulted in women achieving much more and getting advanced degrees and high posts etc, but the western world needs to look more closely at what is happening to their kids, growing up parentless, with divorce and drugs everywhere. yes, too much freedom is a dangerous thing. why are 58% of women single/divorced/lonely in the west??? why are so many women miserable, in spite of so much so-called freedom????

    March 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Reply
    • shootmyownfood

      Because no-one has taught men to behave themselves. Why should a woman stay married to a philanderer? Why should men be absolved of assisting in raising the children they have fathered? The "decline" of the west has nothing to do with women being "liberated" and everything to do with lack of respect.

      March 12, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Reply
  4. christian texts also written only by men

    But, the Christian texts were also written only by men. In fact, the Catholic Church excludes nuns from saying Holy Mass, even today. Talk about women being treated unfairly in a male dominated world!

    March 12, 2014 at 2:03 am | Reply
    • B Fleisner

      All the countries with the best gender parity have Christians in majority.
      All the countries with the worst gender parity have Muslims in majority.
      You can pick the worst countries in the world for gender parity - they all are Muslim countries. Yemen, Pakistan, Syria, Mauritania, Iran, Saudi Arabia... The common theme is Islam.

      March 12, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  5. edgeslider

    What is the point of this (f)article? Why is this woman barking at mostly non-Pakistani audience on CNN. Go back to Pakistan and preach this to your medieval compatriots.

    March 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
    • shootmyownfood

      Are you under the impression that no-one of Pakistani descent lives anywhere else in the world? Really? Talk about lacking in education.

      March 12, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  6. Larry M

    Islamic women should learn from Aisha and stand up for themselves. Aisha was r@ped repeatedly by Mohammed starting when she was just 9 years old. She was tormented s*xually and psychologically ever since she was a child. Soon after her r@pist Mohammed died, Aisha decided to overcome her se*ual oppression by killing Mohammed's grandson for revenge. She was one heck of a vindictive broad – but the revenge was certainly sweet.

    March 12, 2014 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • adil

      Larry you would come to know about your views once you have your eyes closed.....you would see where you stand by laughing about the messengers of God......wait till the day you come out of ur scientifically advanced world to the world of spirits.....

      March 13, 2014 at 8:27 am | Reply
  7. Greg

    I watched a show on PBS, The Fathers Sell their Young Daughters for some sheep, equaled to $40 US Dollars This One girl was ONLY TEN YEARS OLD ... given to an older Perverted man for some SHEEP ...... I cried for once in 40 years ..

    March 13, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      This Ten year old girl playing in the dirt with rocks , with her sister , Picked Up and Traded to an Old Perveted Man to be taken as his next Wife that night – for $40 dollars worth of sheep , where is the Outrage ?? I dont care what color or nationality , God or Godless , its W R O N G when animals are held in higher regard than women...

      March 13, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  8. Pontius Pilate King of the Jews

    Ever heard that song? Pontius Pilate King of the Jews, sold his wife for a pair of shoes, Inky Pinky Parle Vous! In fact, the Romans used to treat their captured slaves much worse than animals, and watched them being torn to shreds, by Lions and Tigers, in their infamous Coliseum Arena, in Rome, for FUN and entertainment!!!!! So yes, you people of European descent wrote the book on inhuman, bestial perverted, sick behavior. Just ask Sigmund Freud! And aren't you the buggers that dropped 2 million bombs on Vietnam and killed 1.7 million Vietnamese people for no reason whatsoever???? Wake up and smell your own stink, you ignoramus!!!!!!!!!

    March 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      WHY DO YOU THINK WE GO TO OTHER COUNTRIES AND BOMB?? TO HELP THE HELPLESS YOU IDIOT – VIETNAM – IRAQ – SADDAM WAS KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE LEFT AND RIGHT , YOU PEOPLE ARE THE ONES STILL KILLING INNOCENT PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      March 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      I WISH YOU SAY THAT TO MY FACE – YOUR A WEAK AND IGNORANT PERSON -

      March 13, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  9. Greg

    Farahnaz Ispahani THANK YOU I was born in a racist family, and a white lovers town in Tennessee – I feel for these helpless women and girls , kids that have no choice but to be sold off , mainly because its tradition and necessity for the poor fathers.. It is Horrible but its their way of life .. BUT IF WE ARE MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER SAFER PLACE TO LIVE THEN WE NEED TO RESCUE THESE WOMEN while we are in Afghanistan .. P E R I O D .. Ten year old girls sold for $40 dollars worth of sheep ??? To an Old Perverted Man to beat and torture them ? .. I Think This is MORE Important than Crimea or any other bs war going on ..

    March 13, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  10. Greg

    http://video.pbs.org/video/2274126880/ PLEASE WATCH THIS SHORT VIDEO PLEASE – WOMEN IN PAKISTAN AREA

    March 13, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  11. Greg

    Thinking of starting a website for these women over there .... im out , thanks for planting a seed here for those helpless women .. I always enjoy CNN Writers ..

    March 13, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  12. Pontius Pilate King of the Jews

    Ha! Ha! Ha! You have just entertained us Greg. Thanks for admitting that you are from a white racist family in Tennessee. So you're one of those truly ignorant racists that puts a white sheet over their heads, sneaks off to the forest, and dances & chants around a burning cross, with other like-minded nutcases, also with white sheets over their heads, all the while celebrating that you have murdered some poor black man????? My dear Greg, that's not what real men do, that what scared mice do, and using block capitals to reply to me does not make you any tougher, it makes you weaker. I could try to educate you about just how much you don't know about yourself, your country and other countries all over the planet, but what's the point? Just stay hiding under your white bedsheets and hating everyone that's different than you. At least I have introduced you to the awesome concept of requesting you to smell your own stink, that's a start. You don't even know why America went to Vietnam do you??? Ignoramus!!! Look in the mirror to see who the problem is on this planet!!!!!!!

    March 13, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  13. Pontius Pilate King of the Jews

    My dear Greg, who seems to be "oh so concerned" about those poor girls in Muslim countries, so that he can feel better about himself....... :) So let me dare to ask you, dear Greg, while America was dropping those 2 million bombs on Vietnam, from 1964-1975, and murdering over 1.7 million human beings, while their MIC = military industrial complex made billions, by billing the US Government 400% more than they should have, for each and every piece of military hardware, that was sold to the US military, which "helpless and weak" people were you guys helping Greg????? Do you think those 1.7 million human beings that died, with daisy cutter bombs, Napalm sprayed in their faces and Agent Orange sprinkled onto their heads, were pretty helpless?????????? Boy Oh Boy.......... it is almost scary to realize just how many Americans are completely ignorant and brainwashed about exactly what their country has been up to since WWII............. Greg, dude, sorry to burst your ignorant bubble, but your "not so wonderful" country, America, has dropped more bombs onto Planet Earth, since 1900 AD, than any country on Planet Earth, by a factor of TEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yeah right, it was all about helping those weak and helpless people.......... Ha! Ha! Ha!

    March 13, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  14. David

    Pakistan is galloping to become a Somalia...................... perv@rt profet MO even didn't leave his DEAD AUNT/9yr kid/War Bootis/s@x slaves and these medieval worship him ROFL

    March 13, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Reply
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