Pakistan: women disenfranchised, persecuted

The Guardian reports May 29 that women are being officially denied the vote in "the most socially conservative regions" of Pakistan, where local elections were held over the weekend. In races for district and village council seats in Hangu and Malakand districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, deals have been struck with village elders barring women from voting—and not for the first time. In a parliamentary by-election in KP's Lower Dir district earlier in May, none of the eligible 50,000 women in the constituency turned out to vote. Reporta said mosques broadcast warnings to women, and polling stations were guarded by "baton-wielding men" who blocked the few women who did show up to vote. A court in Peshawar threw out a petition brought by 12 women from Lower Dir who demanded the election be re-run. The case was dismissed in just 15 minutes.  Siraj-ul-Haq, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, argued that the women of Lower Dir had chosen to respect local traditions by not voting. Jamaat-e-Islami governs KP in coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the former cricket star Imran Khan

It gets better. At a press conference in Islamabad May 30, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islami Fazl (JUI-F), called upon Pakistan's armed forces to launch a nationwide military operation…against women wearing jeans. Just to make it better still, this learned mullah said that the immodesty of women is the cause behind earthquakes, inflation and other disasters. He asserted that a woman who is not covered like a "sack of flour" is a "mobile weapon of mass destruction," and that Pakistan has multitudes of such metaphorical "nuclear missiles" in all its major cities. (New Indian Express, May 30)

The Press Trust of India noted May 30 that the US has provided Pakistan with over $30 billion in aid since 9-11, in the ironic guise of fighting the Taliban. Where women's rights and dignity are concerned, fighting the Taliban appears to mean giving them everything they want.