Threats against Women on the Rise as Militancy Spreads in Pakistan
Thursday, May 28, 2009 2:36 PM

Despite the recent decrease in violence in northern Pakistan, religious militancy continues to gain popularity throughout the country, often resulting in increased harassment and restrictions on women.  Even in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, where women have long enjoyed a more liberal and cosmopolitan lifestyle, women are beginning to feel pressured to dress and behave more conservatively.  Karachi’s deputy mayor, Nasrin Jalil, described how militant attitudes from northern Pakistan have begun to seep into the metropolitan areas.  "The threats against women are a sign that all those of an extremist bent are coming into their own.  People ... feel empowered by recent successes in the northern areas and feel they have a license to approach Karachi's public."

Often the pressure on women to be more conservative comes in the form of veiled threats.  One female college student reported that she was confronted by two men in a shop. "They told us to have shame and only leave the house with our heads covered.  Before we could say anything, they added that no one would be able to keep us safe if we didn't obey."  While no recent violence against women in Karachi has been reported, some women have had eggs thrown at them or been threatened at gunpoint.  In the rest of the country, violence against women continues to be a serious problem as religious militancy spreads, with 7,733 cases of violence against women reported in 2008, including 472 honor killings.

On February 16, 2009, the Pakistani government signed a cease-fire with the Tehreek-e-Taliban, a militant Islamic branch of the Afghanistan-based Taliban, which had been in de facto control of the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan since 2007. As part of the cease-fire agreement, the Taliban has been allowed to govern the region under Islamic law. While this new peace has helped the region to restore normal business and educational activities, there are concerns that the situation for women may deteriorate. In April a video of a 17-year-old girl being publicly flogged for being with a man in public sparked outrage across the country, disquieting the fragile peace held in northern Pakistan.

Compiled from: Yusuf, Huma, “Pakistan's Taliban rising? Ask the women,” The Christian Science Monitor (26 May 2009); Ahmed, Issam, “Outrage over Taliban flogging of Pakistani girl could threaten peace deal,” The Christian Science Monitor (5 Apr 2009); “Over 7,700 cases of violence against women in 2008,” The Dawn Media Group (18 Feb 2009).