KPK has a rich history, diverse culture and a mix of rural and urban areas. The province is slowly but surely moving towards modernization despite various challenges. However, women are still facing basic human rights issues and lags behind their counterpart in every facet of life. Existence of cultural, social and behavioral challenges are physically and mentally affecting their lives.
Education is the basic right of every human on this planet. Even the International human rights law prohibits discrimination against women in the area of education. But almost half of the women population in the province are illiterate due to cultural and traditional barriers. Despite improvement in overall literacy rate, there is significant disparity between male and female literacy rate in KP. Many women are unable to get proper education due to early marriage and patriarchal society.
Another challenge is sexism and gender bias which limits women’s rights in general. KP society is generally conservative and has an erroneous belief that women determine the gender of children. Women are viewed as ‘baby making machines’ only. They also face pressure by extended family members to conceive immediately after birth neglecting any reproductive health challenges or lifestyle choices both parties involved might have.
Domestic violence, sexual abuse and harassment have become more prevalent in recent times. Honor killings and forced marriages of minor girls are common in the province with many blaming it on the inefficiency of the provincial commission on the status of women.
Even a decade after its formation, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Commission on the Status of girls has not deliver on its promise of empowering the women in the province by checking gender-based violence and disparity. In 2009, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly legislation on promoting women’s rights and elimination of all kinds of discrimination has not brought any change in women situation.
According to an annual report issued in 2019 by Aurat Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working for the rights of women in Pakistan, 7,206 cases of violence against women were reported in KP and 4,504 women and girls were killed during the last 11 years. The report included details of only those incidents that had been reported in media. Therefore, the number of unreported cases is even much higher. The report also mentioned that 778 women were killed in 2019. In most cases, the killers were close relatives of the victim and were able to evade the justice system.
Many girls remain unsafe at their homes and are sexually abused by a relative taking advantage of joint family system. Various such cases have surfaced recently, however, most of such incidents goes unreported to protect so called family honor. Social perception about family honor have only link with women chastity giving a free pass to men.
One more major challenge is unequal and discriminative treatment at workplaces due to rigid employment models, poor facilities and lack of a critical mass of women to support each other. Women at work places also face sexual harassment and if not complicit are forced to resign. The trauma and memory of such harassment at times leads to psychiatric issues, as women find it hard to speak up in public due to fear of being stigmatized.
These challenges are all rooted in the complicated social fabric and cultural beliefs of KP which stereotype women, limiting it to traditional roles only. Provincial government as well as private sector are not putting required efforts to empower women and shelve the traditional barriers. There is a need to focus more on rural areas where violence against females is much more pronounced and prevalent.
It is imperative to recognize that the societies only prosper when true gender equality exist and women have complete access to their rights i.e. access to education, equal wages, land ownership rights, sexual rights, freedom from violence, and maternal health rights. To overcome these obstacles and challenges, a change in attitudes is needed alongwith provincial government focused efforts.