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Pakistan: Women Action Forum Condemns Assault on Uzma Khan and Denounces Zina Laws and Moral Policing

Monday 1 June 2020, by siawi3


Pakistan: WAF Condemns Assault on Uzma Khan and Denounces Zina Laws and Moral Policing

30 May 2020

Women’s Action Forum - Karachi chapter

May 30, 2020?: The Women’s Action Forum (WAF) condemns the assault on Uzma Khan and her sister which became public knowledge when videos of the incident were wrongfully shared and spread over social media. Since then, as has now become the norm, based on presumptions, public discourse has descended into moral policing, character assassination and slut-shaming, rather than condemnation of the assault and sexualized harassment and threats. Justifications for what motivated this, marital, class or political privilege do not excuse criminal assault. Concerning also are calls for zina charges to be filed.

WAF was founded in 1981 by a group of courageous women across Pakistan who organised a resilient resistance to Zia ul Haq’s military dictatorship. This period damaged the country’s social, legal and political fabric but especially, tore apart any hopes for egalitarian gender relations. The Zina laws under the Hudood Ordinances of 1979 criminalized all pre- and extra-marital sexual relations. Unregulated, these were used as a moral weapon against the poorer classes, especially the thousands of women who were raped, jailed, and persecuted by the state and also exploited by men to crush women’s autonomies and freedoms on campuses, workplaces, courts, police stations, public spaces. The Zina laws were manipulated by family members to prevent women’s independent choice of marital partners. Women were jailed for reporting rape and being unable to prove it. In the case of Safia bibi, who was impregnated as a result of rape, she was convicted and sentenced to lashes.

The reform of the Zina laws in 2006 under the Women’s Protection Act separated rape from pre- and extra marital sex, mitigating the impunity with which such bodily control was exercised, but the persistence of the law in the Pakistan Penal Code still criminalises pre- and extra-marital sexual relations.

WAF has been dealing with the horrific expanse of sex crime cases for nearly 40 years and while some high-profile ones draw outrage and moralistic preaching by observers, and tend to be amplified earlier by the media and now on social media, we regret that this only feeds the ignorance and narcissism of opportunist men who claim to swoop to the rescue of women victims rather than improving the legal or social justice systems. Encouraged by a now more muted media but otherwise media circus and amplified social media viewing, such willful performances only provide vicarious ‘entertainment’ for viewers. This cynical marketing of women’s experiences benefits those peddlers who masquerade as supporters of women and ply the industries that feed off people’s hurt and trauma. WAF has maintained that instead of sensationalising cases and usurping the victim’s trauma for benefit, due legal process must be followed for all crimes committed – be they abuse, harassment, assault, domestic violence or any bodily harm.

Specifically, on the Zina laws, since 1981 WAF has openly demanded for the repeal of the Hudood Ordinances, Blasphemy laws and all those passed under the anti-democratic military dictatorship of Zia ul Haq. It is not the business of the state to dictate personal choices of the people or impose any laws that proscribe their choices in personal relationships, marriage or lifestyles, wardrobe, choice of religion or method of worship, or where citizens wish to reside or how they wish to communicate or what they want to consume. Instead, the state should focus on upgrading its outdated family laws to include joint ownership of assets at the time of marriage and specify a clear formula for maintenance and equality in child custody in case of divorce. Matters of ‘infidelity’ should be of no concern to anyone except the parties involved.

Pakistan ranks as one of the most unequal countries with some of the highest number of cases for sex crimes against women, for illiteratacy and unvaccinated children, and unequal rights for religious minorities. It ranks lowest on development, education and other progressive indices, freedoms or human rights. It is time to address these through tangible means instead of indulging in moral outrage or preaching.


Statement Zina Laws