Seven-year-old Izzo Bibi* lives in a small village in the province of Sindh in southern Pakistan. Her father cannot afford to send her to school but her mother has taught her traditional Sindhi embroidery. Izzo’s older cousin Sheeno* used to help her learn new embroidery motifs.
When Izzo’s paternal uncle murdered his neighbour, the faislo (also called Jirga, the decision-making tribal gathering) demanded two girls from the murderer’s family as Sang Chatti (compensation marriage). At only 12 years of age, Sheeno was forcibly taken away by the aggrieved family. She did not even get to gather her belongings. The point was to punish the family by treating her harshly. No wedding ceremony took place. There was no music, no laughter — only Sheeno’s screams while she was being separated from her family.The only news her mother received was that her daughter was being made to do household chores, wear worn-out clothes, walk barefooted and live as the wife of a 40–year-old man. Today Sheeno lives with both physical and emotional abuse and for the rest of her life she will be a taano (insult) for being a murderer’s daughter.
The Jirga’s decision had not yet been fully enforced and Sheeno’s suffering was deemed insufficient to compensate for the crime. According to the local elders, 7-year-old Izzo Bibi was also to be handed over to the aggrieved family as compensation.
Having witnessed Sheeno’s fate with her own eyes, Izzo’s fears worsened when she was told by her friends that she would also be sent as compensation as a wife to a 28-year-old man. Anticipating this, Izzo’s father sent her away for a few days.
Furthermore Izzo’s father decided not to obey the tribal decree, risking his life to stand up to the tribal custom. With a local lawyer, he submitted an application to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. His case was heard by the Supreme Court in 2011 which gave directions to the police to arrest the Jirga members and suspend its decision.
However for Sheeno, help arrived too late. She refused to return to her parent’s house out of fear.
Jirgas and Panchayat
Parallel traditional legal systems continue to exist in Pakistan. Jirgas, the informal dispute-resolution system, also known as Panchayats undermines the authority of the State as these informal justice systems continue to exist even after the national courts have declared them illegal. Women and girls are often at the receiving end of the injustice and violation that stems from these mechanisms. A common perception among the general public is that the formal justice system has loop holes and many times does not provide speedy justice. As a result, the majority of the population uses these informal justice systems to resolve disputes – particularly in rural areas.
In this system women and girls usually have no say in decisions, for male members speak on their behalf, and other men deliver a judgment that has a grave impact on their lives.
Along with 186 other countries, Pakistan is a State party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women’s Bill of Rights. The CEDAW Committee, which monitors compliance with the international human rights treaty, last reviewed Pakistan’s progress in 2007. In the concluding observations adopted, the Committee urged the State of Pakistan to enforce the judgment of the Supreme Court calling for the elimination of such forums, like the Jirgas[i]. It also urged the Government to ensure that members of such forums who participate in the decisions that constitute violence against women be held accountable.
As Pakistan prepares for the review by the CEDAW Committee of its fourth periodic report on 12 February 2013, the State will detail what has been done to implement the recommendations of the CEDAW Committee, including to eliminate Jirgas and end violence against women.
Civil society organizations in their shadow reports for this CEDAW session, have urged the Government to ensure that legislation, such as laws banning Jirgas and Panchayat, be strictly enforced and that all tiers of Government, at both national and provincial levels, be aware of the State’s commitments under CEDAW. They also urge the Government to ensure that the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) is able to carry out its mandate and functions effectively and that its recommendations are considered by the Parliament in a timely manner.
UN Women assists Governments around the world in preparing CEDAW reports. In Pakistan, UN Women provided technical support initially to the Government and the National Commission to help monitor the country’s CEDAW commitments and report.
As a result of these efforts, for the first time in Pakistan a CEDAW unit was established within the Ministry of Women’s Development (MoWD) in 2009. Also that year, CEDAW Provincial Committees (CPCs)[ii] and an Inter-Provincial Ministerial Group (IPMG)[iii] were established to facilitate better oversight and monitoring of the implementation of the CEDAW Committee’s concluding observations. After sustained efforts by civil society and technical support from UN Women, the NCSW filed a petition against the Jirga/Panchayat system in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2012.
Through sustained efforts of civil society groups in Pakistan, and UN Women-led efforts, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill, that prohibits forced marriages, was also passed in 2011. To increase awareness of the law, UN Women-supported partners to conduct training workshops and awareness-raising activities with law enforcement agencies, doctors, lawyers as well as the general public on existing legislation, such as the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill 2011.
Laws need speedy implementation and can play a significant deterrent role. In Izzo’s case, it gave her family courage to challenge the customs –and ensured that Izzo did not serve a life sentence in the name of local traditions.
Izzo is now free from fear and is no longer given a tanoo (insult) by the villagers for being promised as compensation. She has the love and protection of her parents who refused to hand her over as compensation.
She continues to learn new embroidery motifs from her mother. She has embroidered a pillow cover for her cousin Sheeno.
*The names of the girls mentioned in this story have been changed so as to protect their identity
[i] Comentarios finales del Comité sobre la eliminación de la discriminación contra las mujeres: Pakistán, 11 de junio de 2007 (recomendaciones 24 y 25). Pakistán ha sido Estado parte de la Convención desde 1996.
[ii] Los Comités provinciales de la CEDAW se crearon para aumentar la conciencia y la apropiación del programa de igualdad de género y de empoderamiento de las mujeres. Están conformados por los principales ministerios o departamentos, por académicos y por organizaciones de la sociedad civil que velan por la implementación de la CEDAW en sus provincias respectivas e identifican las prioridades y estrategias.
[iii] An IPMG is a group of provincial ministers and secretaries for women’s development. It was launched on 8 April 2009. They hold quarterly meetings in each provincial capital on a rotational basis. There have been five IPMGs.
In light of Pakistan’s fourth periodic report to the CEDAW Committee in Geneva on 12 February, UN Women spoke to the recently appointed Chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW).
— UN Women (@UN_Women) February 12, 2013