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Tuesday July 26, 2016
The Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch
What one woman’s social media activism and her murder by her own brother means for Pakistan. By Maham Javaid
Qandeel Baloch, Pakistans first female social media celebrity, who belonged to a working class rural family from the province of Punjab and had over 750,000 followers on Facebook alone, was strangled to death by her brother in what the police described as an honor killing last week.
Baloch’s exponential rise to fame began with her posting narcissistic selfies and videos in which she asks viewers how she is looking; she then entered the national consciousness by promising internationally acclaimed cricketer Shahid Afridi a striptease if he defeated India in a regional tournament. For Baloch, things took a dangerous turn when last month she dabbled in the political realm by exposing the religious clergys sexual perversions, which resulted in her receiving numerous death threats.
In the week proceeding murder if one glanced at Pakistans print and online media, it could be seen that while her life impacted the country in abstract ways, her subsequent death affected Pakistan in a potentially tangible manner.
While alive, Baloch celebrated her sexuality in a manner that was unprecedented for Pakistan her impact stemmed from the fact that Baloch’s videos and selfies, and declarations of love and female desire made the country uncomfortable.
Qandeel represented a deep paradox in our society because we want to control and regulate womens bodies but at the same time we want to consume them, explains Sarah Suhail, a doctoral student in women and gender studies at Arizona State University, to The Diplomat. So the same people who judged and abused her simultaneously derived pleasure from her videos, and the same talk show anchors that vilified her, used her for their ratings, said Suhail.
Baloch’s death may be long remembered by those fighting for justice in honor killing cases because in the wake of her death the government has, yet again, promised stricter laws regarding honor killings.
Additionally, the fact that Baloch’s murder is being investigated by a female police officer is no mean feat. Before the murder, Attiya Jaffri, the 52-year-old policewomen in charge of Baloch’s case, had never headed a homicide investigation.
Its common for the Central Police Officer to put at least one or two policewomen in the team that investigates honor killings, said Jaffri to The Diplomat. Because in honor- related cases we often need to engage with the mothers or sisters of the victims. But I’ve never before been made the Investigating Officer of a murder case.
In her opinion she was trusted with this duty because currently her team has the best record of solving murder crimes in the district of Multan. She then adds that this is no ordinary case. Baloch was a female celebrity murdered in a gruesome way and her killing has created a national wave of sorts, so maybe those in charge thought it best that a women head the case.
The Life of Qandeel Baloch
Baloch, born with the name Fauzia Azeem, hailed from Shah Saddardin a little-known village that only entered the national imagination after Baloch was buried there. By her own admission, and that of her parents, she belonged to a conservative family, that she herself supported. In the last year alone, Baloch bought her parents a house in Multan (the same house in which her brother drugged her and her parents and then strangled her while she slept), and financed a younger sister’s wedding.
The fact that Baloch did not come from privilege is one of the reasons she stands out. Qandeel is a feminist in the original sense, says academic Suhail. She explains that according to Baloch’s own narrative, in which she was a victim of an abusive marriage that she walked away from without any financial or emotional support, it can be seen that throughout her life Baloch had to fight the systems of patriarchy that prevented her from achieving her goal of standing on her own two feet.
Baloch’s feminism was also novel because she reclaimed online spaces for Pakistani women in an unprecedented manner.
One of our missions is to teach females that a mobile phone is a tool and it can be used to destroy patriarchy, says Nighat Daad, a lawyer and the founder of Digital Rights Foundation. Qandeel did exactly that; she used her mobile phone to celebrate her sexuality.
It should be noted that Baloch was not the only Pakistani woman to be deemed as bold by the media. There have been others before her: Mathira, Meera, Veena Malik, to name a few. But Baloch was different in that she was unapologetic and unabashed by people calling her out.
In a television interview earlier this year, a TV host asked Baloch why she resorted to being vulgar. She did not shy away from the question. You need to watch my videos again, Baloch challenged. I dont see any vulgarity in my videos. I think I look hot. And sexy.
What Does It Mean to be Killed for Honor in Pakistan?
On the surface, it appears that it was this very celebration of sexuality that got Baloch killed. After all, her brother confessed that he committed the murder because Baloch brought dishonor and disrepute to the family.
Moreover, if the case does make it to court, it will be dealt with as a case of murder in the name or pretext of honor.
But researchers such as Suhail and Nabiha Meher, the founder of Pakistan Feminist Watch, who have been observing patterns of gender based violence in Pakistan, urge that this line of argument is too simplistic.
In Pakistan, and much of the neighboring region, gender based violence becomes (legally and culturally) palatable when put under the umbrella of crimes related to honor. Society has created a justifiable category [honor killing] to place violence against women, said Suhail.
The notion is that the moment women cross a transparent line where they challenge societal norms, their life is endangered.
Until she was sharing videos proposing to Imran Khan or Shahid Afridi and asking her fans how she looked, it was all fun and games, but when she challenged the religious clergy and exposed the Mufti Qavi for what he is, her life changed drastically, says Daad. All of a sudden her anonymity ended, and her past and personal life was splashed on television screens across the country.
Meher agrees: Her death threats began after the episode with Qavi, after she took on the extreme markers of religion in the country.
On June 20, Baloch released videos and selfies of her and Qavi inside a hotel room in Karachi. Local news channels invited Qavi and Baloch to appear on television to ask them what transpired between them. Qavis non-responses strengthened Baloch’s claim that she has exposed the dirty cleric for what he is. Qavis fellow clergymen did not approve of this and he was suspended from his coveted position in Pakistans religions moon-sighting committee.
Media critics say that such talk shows put Baloch’s life is further danger.
It seems that we are living in the twilight zone of journalism, says Suhail. The media simply has no ethics.
Unfortunately, Suhails claim is hardly far from the truth. Two weeks ago when Abdul Sattar Edhi, an international icon of social welfare, passed away, a local TV reporter prepared a news package on Edhis funeral from inside Edhis freshly dug grave.
Daad also claims that describing this murder as an honor killing is unfair.
This was a killing because of a hurt male ego, says Daad. A mix of incidents led to this unfortunate death: the medias treatment of Qandeel; the clergy played a role, especially the Mufti episode; the government that didnt provide her security; and lastly, we, as internet users who enjoyed her but didnt protect her.
A Posthumous Investigation
Honor killings are not exclusive to Pakistan, or even South Asia; according to the Honor Based Violence Awareness Network out of the 5,000 international honor killings every year, 1,000 can be ascribed to Pakistan.
It had been a longstanding demand of womens rights groups for stricter laws to prevent such crimes. Hence the the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2005, which introduced offenses in the name or on the pretext of honor as a specific category of violence, was much lauded.
According to Asad Jamal, a lawyer engaged in drafting amendments to curb crimes committed in the name of honor, because of these amendments an honor killing must necessarily lead to a minimum punishment of 10 years of imprisonment or life imprisonment or death.
He tells The Diplomat that the court has no option but to punish the offender and a waiver or compounding of the offense have no effect on the courts decision.
It appears, however, that lawyers, prosecutors, and even judges in the country do not understand the amendment. Many are critical of the government for not doing enough to bar heirs from from forgiving the perpetrators of honor killings. Even in Baloch’s case this fear is widespread.
They might have lodged a case against him but it is likely that eventually they will forgive him and the court will allow the family to settle the matter privately, said Advocate Sheikh Jamshed Hayat, the president of the Multan High Court, the court where Baloch’s case will be heard.
Even though Baloch’s father, in an interview with the BBC, states outright that his son should be categorically shot to death, Hayat is convinced that if Baloch’s parents have already lost a daughter, why would they want to lose their son as well?
Hayat insists that he has witnessed and dealt with scores of killings since 2005 that were committed due to honor and rarely has the law been able to punish perpetrators. The amount of honor crime suspects that make it behind bars is like a drop in the ocean, he told The Diplomat.
Jaffri, the officer in charge of Baloch’s investigation, agrees with Hayat. Most of such cases end in compromises. We do our job by finding the culprit but mostly the courts allow the family to reach a compromise, says the policewoman.
This shows that despite the fact that in the case of honor killings the court has no option but to punish the offender, from police officers to advocates no one is able to recognize the law and hence the number of prosecutions remain negligible.
According to Jamal, this is because many do not understand the law. Lawyers dont know how to read the law in Urdu, much less in English. And the way the draft was written makes it very complicated for lawyers, judges and prosecutors to understand, he said.
The second reason the amendment is not understood and hence not implemented by courts is because the Islamic laws of Qisas and Diyat are often conflated and confused with amendments in the countrys criminal codes.
Reema Omer, a legal adviser for the International Commission of Jurists, adds that unless there is reform of the entire framework of Qisas and Diyat, there is always a chance for more loopholes to emerge as a result of these piecemeal amendments.
Such low rates of prosecution result in very little fear of retribution and hence suspects like Baloch’s brother fearlessly continue to take lives in the name of honor.
The national conversation Baloch’s murder began acted as a catalyst and just a few days after the killing the government announced that stricter anti honor killing laws would be implemented within weeks.
But it remains to be seen what good these rushed amendments would do. It is time we stop resorting to knee-jerk measures and shortcuts in our pursuit of justice and confront the glaring flaws in our criminal justice system, said Omer.
Maham Javaid is a journalist for The News on Sunday in Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has also appeared in Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Refinery29, Timeline, and The Nation.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
A symbol of feminismWaqqas Mir
Qandeel Baloch represented those who make irreverent choices
I hope she stays alive, mused one of my female colleagues about Qandeel Baloch. This was months ago. That hope, like the hopes and dreams of Qandeel as well as millions of other women, is now extinguished.
The very fact that one woman in our society has to fear for the safety of another, who challenges tradition, says a lot. I did not know a lot about Qandeel Baloch, nor did I follow her. All I knew was that she was a rebel, someone challenging the status quo a brave woman who challenged our notions of what is proper and acceptable. She refused to let others define what was honourable for her. She was her own person and hence worthy of admiration.
During her lifetime, she was mocked by many of the people who are now claiming to mourn for her. She was a joke for many except that she was no joke. She was a living breathing woman who challenged both men and women in this society.
What defined Qandeel for me was the one thing that is the essence of human existence, thought and freedom: making your own choices. Her stubborn, irreverent assertion of her freedom to choose and be her own person was what defined her life and actions. Others are free to choose differently but not free to judge or condemn her.
This takes us back to what Adam Smith said in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith broke away from the Kantian tradition of classifying actions as right or wrong and was more interested in the why of human nature. Moreover, he arrived at the conclusion that those who cannot empathise or sympathise lack imagination. Sympathy, Smith said, is an act of imagination because we can never truly feel or go through what another feels. We can merely imagine it in order to lend sympathy and empathy.
And, therefore, those who say that Qandeel was no role model or no feminist must admit their lack of imagination that someone can choose differently and that act of choice is just as legitimate a choice as being a senator. She did not want to fall into your straitjacket of a role model.
I feel sorry for those who are trying to distance themselves from her actions while condemning her death. In effect, many of these individuals are furthering the same retrogressive agenda that got her killed. Passing a judgment on her while saying that the judgment did not extend to killing her does not help in any way. She did not pollute our culture, norms or religion so you need not try so hard to be seen as washing yourself of your association with her.
Yet many are spraying a disinfectant before condemning her murder.
Who is a role model in a society where most people, benefitting from privilege of birth or fortune, condone, aid or profit from some corruption (moral or financial) every single day? How are any of those saying she was no role model themselves worthy of being emulated when they choose to stay silent or be gagged in the face of injustice or naked abuse of power only because they think they need to move ahead in society? This includes me and you.
Qandeel Baloch does not or did not require our approval she only asked for the right to make her own choices, to be tolerated, to be allowed to exist. And we denied her even that.
It is not uncommon for victims of patriarchy to internalise the discourse that furthers it. Many victims of domestic violence blame themselves in some measure as if they are, somehow, responsible for bringing it upon themselves. So it is my contention that Pakistani women who distance themselves from Qandeel are in fact internalising patriarchal discourse instead of arguing that she had a right to live by her choices, they first feel the need to clarify that they disapprove of her actions or do not see that a symbol of feminism has been lost. The conformity expected of Qandeel Baloch, even and especially by women, is rooted in male-defined and male-controlled norms. This is the real problem.
Feminism and the dignity of women is hurt each time a woman is oppressed or killed for making her own choices. That is how Qandeel Baloch was a symbol of feminism she represented all those who are marginalised and make irreverent choices. Any harm that came her way therefore damages the greater cause of being able to break taboos, of indulging in the healthy activity of challenging the thinkable and asserting individual identity.
The threat she posed to what is thinkable is obvious from the statement of a cleric who was embarrassed after being photographed with her. He reportedly thinks that her death, albeit sad (notice the similarities with many women saying the same thing), will serve as a lesson for anyone who shows irreverence towards the self-proclaimed scholars of religion.
This brings us to another contribution by Qandeel Baloch: her refusal to revere those who want us to believe that asking questions of the self-righteous should be discouraged.
Qandeel Baloch spoke for many in Pakistan when she showed irreverence towards the religious right. She was not afraid of exposing hypocrisy and the irony is that even in death she continues to remind us of our hypocrisies.
To go back to Adam Smith again, she held up to us a moral looking glass and we did not like the wrinkles we saw.
Many in Pakistan may feel that unless you march on the streets or brave arrests for your political party, you are not a symbol of feminism. But this is no longer true in the current age. If feminism is about independence, making your own choices and not succumbing to the norms that patriarchy lays down then she was a symbol of feminism. And every woman who defies the path spelled out by patriarchy for her life is a symbol of feminism. That is what we must realise. Feminism lives in every independent woman and the men who help them make those choices. Every casualty therefore hurts women and the larger discourse.
The state, in response, has promised us that a law on honour killing will soon be introduced. Many are celebrating it. But a state that has not been able to prevent thousands of women being murdered (and murder remains a crime in this country) will not miraculously become all-powerful to enforce this new law. The attitude of the state and its agents, defined by patriarchy, will not change.
Things will only change when we look at someone like Qandeel Baloch, respect her choices and move on with our lives. Without feeling the need to spray a disinfectant. That day, however, is not coming any time soon.
Next, she caught the attention and wrath of audiences because she owned and flaunted her sexuality with defiance and abandonment.
Third, she provoked and pushed the boundaries of male-set norms and expectations. She threatened the status quo and, unlike many squeamish women who benefit from feminist progress, Qandeel claimed her modern feminist allegiance with little academic anxiety.
Fourth, she arguably had more male supporters than regular Pakistani womens rights activists or, for that matter, Malala. Despite her mocking of the religious clergy, she was not accused of being a traitor or an Imperialist feminist who exposed Muslim male misogyny. But, the PTI does consider womens sexuality a disease that must be counseled with archaic electric shock therapy.
The murders of Mahmud and Sabri may have been motivated by those who considered them guilty of shirk, bidat or being anti-Islam. And yes, those who create an enabling environment for the extreme act of murdering creative, imaginative and especially, skeptical thinkers are also culpable. But such an anti-progressive milieu has not been exclusively created by fundamentalist or conservative forces.
Censorship of the arts, writing, social and even, the natural sciences has been routine in Pakistan. Proponents of critical thinking have been punished and expelled from relevance systematically. But, liberal thought has been crushed as much within the fraternity itself, through actual and self-censorship, cover-ups and exaggerated self-importance and petty jealousies and ghettoized seminars and conferences. Social media has aided in the neutralising of debates and its members are guilty of remaining silent out of a deep-seated fear of being unfriended by one side or another.
So-called supporters of the liberal arts and human rights have enabled opponents by shrinking and limiting liberal space to the virtual world; by mocking the efforts of those who remain active in the field rather than on keyboards and; by carrying a generic cynicism that is all too ready to play victim and is apologetic about the failures of acclaimed liberal political leaders.
They also turn a blind eye to the sexism and misogyny rampant amongst liberal men the ones who frequent their drawing-rooms. All the extremist needs to do then is to pull a trigger because we have collectively contributed to the culture and pattern that mourns online and then moves on to the next blog that needs commentary. Liberals may support sexual freedoms as a lifestyle but they are equivocating, flippant and unsupportive of the politics of womens sexuality.
War-time Japan used to recruit Comfort Women to gratify the sexual needs of soldiers as part of their national duty. Pakistan needs more women like Qandeel to scale up the discomfort of those privileged hypocrites and morality-mongers who fear sexual women more than its murderous men.
~ July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
A tragic storyBy Umber Khairi
‘Qandeel’ was tripped up by hurdles of class and gender
Although it’s been over a week since the murder of the outrageous social media celebrity known as Qandeel Baloch, and much has been written about her and her death, the very tragic nature of her real story continues to haunt me.
The glamorous young woman of Instagram and YouTube turned out to be a mere facade. The well turned out, elaborately made up and well-coiffed woman, with all her sexual innuendo and her risqué broadcasts, was revealed as a disadvantaged girl from a poor area of south Punjab. Her social media broadcasts gave little indication of her humble beginnings or the tremendous odds she must have battled in her rise to fame.
The woman who was such a star on social media (over 46,000 Twitter followers and over one million ‘friends’ on Facebook) was killed by her brother, in the house where her parents were staying. This was a house in Multan that she paid the rent on so that her elderly father could receive the medical treatment that she was paying for.
Subsequent to her murder, much was written and much was said about the broader issue of (so-called) honour killings and about the nature of her celebrity, and whether or not her work or brazenness could be classified as in any way as feminist in its assertion of sexual power.
The whole discussion of the life and death of Fauzia Azeem aka ‘Qandeel Baloch’ began to be framed in a discourse on honour killing and feminism. But that actually was not the real story although certainly a part of the story.
This girl’s story is about her journey from poverty and oppression to a form of self-determination and financial betterment that was made possible by the voyeuristic nature of social media. She re-invented herself, developed a bold and shocking persona that gained her a huge following, and was savvy enough to know what to use as material, and when. Indeed, her productions seem to reveal both a canny news sense and an impressive ability to read the public mood in terms of topicality and demand. She was totally outrageous, shameless in her attention-seeking.
And she was an enigma nobody really knew who she was or where she came from.
Alas, as her true story began to come to light, her media persona began to fall apart. Poverty, forced marriage, motherhood, initial work as a bus hostess, unsuccessful attempts to enter the world of show biz all revealed her as all too human and vulnerable. She was no longer the one who was in control of her image, no longer a powerful performer; she was just a poor girl with pretensions, a failure in her attempts to make it big in the world of modelling or acting.
There is certain poignancy to be found in the fact that this girl who actually did a pretty good job of acting out a fictitious character was unable to get a break in television drama. Even more so when you consider that although most TV drama productions today seem to focus extensively on female oppression and social disadvantage, the roles of poverty-stricken, disadvantaged characters are inevitably played by upper middle class actresses. Even the role of a Fauzia Azeem couldn’t be played by a Fauzia Azeem.
One of her last broadcasts was her outrageous tryst with a mullah from the Ruet-e-Hilal committee, which was hilarious in its exposure of how much the cleric seemed to be in her thrall and enjoying her attentions. And she would probably have gotten away with that had she been a star with some social standing or a wealthy family, instead of just a girl of poor stock.
When I looked at ‘Qandeel Baloch’, I saw a shameless attention-seeker, a self-publicist with no great claim to fame. But now when I regard the story of Fauzia Azeem, I see an immensely courageous person who tried her best to rise from poverty and disadvantage, and who was obstructed at every turn by the hurdles of both class and gender. Yes, her death had to do with the deep seated misogyny of Pakistani society but it had as much to do with social oppression and class. The point is not whether she was a “feminist icon” or a “role model for women”; the point is she did the best she could despite immense disadvantages.
Despite the tragic nature of her story, one is filled with admiration for her ambition and her courage, and for the fact that, even at the peak of her celebrity, she continued to support her family.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
What killed her?
By Farman Kakar
Did Qandeel’s disagreement with the dominant culture warrant her murder?
From February 2014 to February 2016, a total of 1276 people were killed in the name of honour.
For many, it is the question of who killed her. I believe the question is what killed her? For many, she deserved the fate of being murdered. For others, she did not. It is in these two competing worldviews that the question of what killed Qandeel Baloch lies. Qandeel’s wilful murder is just a high profile case of otherwise occasional happenings of killing in the name of so-called honour across Pakistan.
For her brother, it was for the sake of Baloch honour that he murdered Qandeel. Nevertheless, killing in the name of restoring honour goes far beyond the confines of ethnicity and is equally shared by other ethnic groups from all across Pakistan. In fact, there is no monolithic culture, characteristic of a particular ethnicity. Every ethnicity has a culture, which has crosscurrents to its mainstream. Thus, if a particular person acts in the name of a particular ethnicity, it should not suggest that all members of a given ethnic group will act in a similar fashion.
Culture is not static. Some cultures are more dynamic than others, however. A culture is not uniform either. We have diverse sub-cultures within an overarching dominant culture. In the context of present article, dominant culture is the one which majority of people ascribe to. This culture justifies the killing of Qandeel in the name of honour. Within the same culture, a myriad set of sub-variant cultures either acquiesces to honour killing or at least condones it. For the majority, which subscribes to the overarching culture, Qandeel’s ‘provocative’ videos warranted her murder.
Unfortunately, in a deadly conservative society like ours, you normally do not have the privilege to decide your own choice. You have to give in to the overarching culture more often than not!
If we put the vast majority of subscribers to the dominant culture into the shoes of Qandeel’s brother, they will probably act in a strikingly similar fashion the way Qandeel’s murderer did. Here is the rub: the society we live in is the main hurdle to our individualistic self. An individual is seen through the prism of his or her family, clan and tribe and ethnicity. Especially a female is considered to be the honour of a family. When her reputation is at stake, the honour of whole family is at risk. The surrounding society taunts the families when a girl elopes with a boy or something else of the sort happens. People use profane language, engage in slander and as a result, it becomes too unbearable for the families to withstand the shame.
When violators of the so-called established norms are caught, they are killed. Only then honour is considered to be restored honourably. No different was Qandeel’s case. Her actions were an affront to family’s honour, at least her brother believed so.
What is noteworthy to mention is that every adherent of the dominant culture does not believe in killing in the name of honour. In Pakistan, from February 2014 to February 2016, a total of 1276 people were killed in the name of honour killing.
In opposition to the ascendant culture is its peripheral counterpart, which challenges Qandeel’s so-called honour killing. From this perspective, we might have disagreed with what Qandeel used to do or what she stood for. That was our choice. Did her disagreement with our choice warrant her murder? Of course not for the subscribers of the nonconformist rival culture who believe that each one of us lives a life of his/her own. They have typical laissez-faire attitude towards fellow human beings and believe that no one should dictate others. Identifying where the militant overarching culture takes its roots is important, in order to effect a positive change in the culture.
Religion is a very important ingredient of culture. In our case, it appears to be the most important component on various occasions. Honour killing is not an exception. Nevertheless, it is not Islam per se that enshrines honour killing but men’s interpretation, deeply rooted in patriarchy, of the religion that either espouses killing in the name of honour or at least condones it. Seen this way, the cultural rules are unambiguously made by men.
In fact, Islam has varied cultural streams. No single, uniform interpretation of Islam informs the Muslim world. The religion is congenial to reinterpretation through Ijtihad, which implies solutions to ever-coming human problems within the light of the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH). The fact that Islam allows for reinterpretation of religion makes it conducive to accepting modernity. However, the problem is that the dominant clergy of Sunni-Deobandi persuasion is averse to ijtihad. Secondly, no two clergymen are open to each other’s interpretation. What are our options then?
There is an ever-increasing need to slowly and gradually separate politics from religion with state having absolute monopoly on the legitimate use of coercive means. In this context, state as a complainant in Qandeel murder case is a welcome step. This has barred the Baloch family to pardon her killer. The same should be the state attitude in every wilful murder case.
July 24, 2016 Shawwal 19, 1437 A.H.
This society killed her
By Daniyal Mirza
One thing that we gather from Qandeel Baloch’s cold-blooded murder, it is that we live in a highly intolerant, patriarchal society
As the smell of coffee wafts throughout the room, my eyes wander to the newspaper, I cant make out the headline and I make no effort to read it. Instead I open Facebook on my phone and the first thing I see on my newsfeed is that Qandeel Baloch has been killed by her brother.
I let the news sink in.
Of all the news in the world this shocked me the most. Did it really, though? With all the attacks on females in our beloved, tolerant society, news of a female star being killed to protect her familys honour was nothing out of the blue, for Pakistan at least.
Baloch’s antics on social media were well-known throughout Pakistan and even beyond, at least for those people who possess a Facebook account. She had been called Pakistans Kim Kardashian, a slut, a whore and a number of other colourful names. Her videos were full of comments abusing her, telling her she must have some respect, that she should die and that she is ruining Pakistans name.
Then she was no more. Strangled to death by her brother who thought he was protecting his familys honour.
It was just another day for Pakistan. A woman who, for all intents and purposes, was doing her own thing, was not afraid to show a bit of skin, and did some things that were far too wrong for this patriarchal society to handle, was killed in cold blood.
There was outrage. People rushed to put up statuses defending Baloch. The same people who had ridiculed her rushed to talk good about her and felt good about themselves. They were supporting a good cause, after all.
These same people tagged their friends on the videos of the late model-turned-actor-turned-social-media celebrity and made jokes about her, but after she was killed all of us started updating FB statuses in her defence and a representation of feminism.
If one thing that the majority of Pakistani people are best at, its hypocrisy. But what they are even better at is barbarity. With the death of Baloch, there came a flood of tweets and sentiments praising the killer for what he had done, that Baloch deserved it.
This is just another instance in a long list of the male gender overpowering the female. A few months back, a bill was being drafted by some religious scholars who believed it was okay to lightly beat your wife.
So, we are condoning domestic violence now. Top-notch stuff this is.
A religious scholar went on national television and refused to let a woman talk because, well, she was a woman. In 2015, there were almost 250 incidents of honour killings in Punjab alone.
I was watching a video of a girl who was singing an Arabic poem while playing the piano, and scrolling down to the comments, I found where hordes of men and women (yes, women also!) were bashing the girl for not wearing a dupatta over her head.
Instead of praising her voice they were shaming her for showing her face.
If one thing that we can learn from the past few months, it is that we live in a very intolerant society driven by men. For the feminine and, for that matter, any other gender to survive in this society, this kind of intolerance must be rid of. Qandeel brother didn't kill her, this society did.
Monday 11 July 2016
Female Infanticide Worldwide: The Case for Action by the UN Human Rights Council
TRANSCEND Media Service
Releasing its report, “ Female Infanticide Worldwide” (Read in full HERE) the first ever global study on the issue, Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) stated that female infanticide for son preference due to variety of reasons is a worldwide phenomenon with 1.5 million female foetuses being aborted every year.
Analysing the available statistics provided by “CIA World Fact Book” on child sex ratio at birth, ACHR’s study ranked the top countries in the world on skewed sex ratio at birth as follows:
Rank Name of the country Sex ratio at birth
No.1 Liechtenstein 126 males/100 females
No.2 China 115 males/100 female
No.3 Armenia 113 males/100 females
No.4 India 112 males/100 females
No.5 Azerbaijan 111 males/100 females
No.5 Viet Nam 111 males/100 females
No.6 Albania 110 males/ 100 females
No.7 Georgia 108 males/100 females
No.8 South Korea 107 males/100 females
No.8 Tunisia 107 males/ 100 females
No.9 Nigeria 106 males/ 100 female
No.10 Pakistan 105 males/100 females
ii. Failure of the laws
The report stated that with the exception of South Korea, no other country has been able to reverse child sex ratio at birth in favour of the girls despite adoption of a number of laws and schemes. Several laws in China namely the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Regulations on Administration of Technical Services for Family Planning of 2001 and the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China of 2002 prohibit sex identification of the foetus and sex selective abortions. In India, the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) prohibits sex-selection or disclosure of the sex of the foetus “by words, signs or in any other manner” and prohibits sale of “any ultrasound machine or imaging machine or scanner or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus” to persons, laboratories, clinics, etc. not registered under the Act. In 2002, Nepal amended the Country Code (Muluki Ain) to allow abortion on medical grounds but prohibited sex selective abortions. The Population Ordinance (2006) and Prime Minister Decree (2006) of Viet Nam prohibit all practices of antenatal foetal sex diagnosis and sex selection. A number of countries such as Armenia and Azerbaijan have been debating legal measures to ban sex selective abortions.
“These measures of the governments have not been fully successful because of the easy access to ultrasonography and weak law enforcement. In China, ultrasound for pre-natal determination of sex can be done for as low as US$3 while entire ultrasound-plus-abortion package is available for about US$150 in India.” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
iii. Reproductive tourism and celebrities promoting sex selection through new technologies
The report highlighted ‘reproductive tourism’ for the purposes of sex selection through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other new technologies such as Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS), and sperm-sorting as the next challenge to combat female infanticide. In Thailand where sex selection is not illegal, the Chinese, Indians, and the Eastern Europeans account for over 70-80% of the tourists visiting for purpose of reproduction and over 80% of PGD practices are undertaken for the purpose of sex selection and not for any medical purpose.
“Many celebrities from all over the world have been promoting sex selection of the foetuses through these new technologies and it has domino effects in societies having son preference”- further stated Mr Chakma.
iv. Calls for UN action
“The growing surplus of men has dire consequences for the human race, among others, for causing trafficking of girls/women in the areas having shortage of women and trafficked women facing violence and discrimination.”- further stated Mr Chakma.
Lamenting that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) fail to specifically refer to sex selective abortion as one of the harmful practices against women, Asian Centre for Human Rights described female infanticide as the worst form of gender discrimination and urged the UN Human Rights Council to review and discuss the impact of existing strategies and initiatives to address female infanticide and make effective recommendations and programme of actions to eliminate female infanticide and foeticide.
Saturday July 09, 2016
India has company, worst sex ratio is in Liechtenstein
15 lakh foetuses aborted every year worldwide
A study by Asian Centre for Human Rights reveals that female infanticide is a worldwide phenomenon with15 lakh female foetuses being aborted every year
Liechtenstein has the most skewed sex ratio at birth at 126 males for every 100 females; China has 115 males per 100 females; and India 112 males per 100 females
Countries with intense gender discrimination are Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Albania, South Korea, Tunisia, Nigeria and Pakistan
By Aditi Tandon/Tribune News Service
New Delhi: While India and China top the global charts on the most skewed sex ratios at birth, preference for sons is emerging as a worldwide phenomenon with the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein posting the worst performance on the indicator.
A new study on the comparative status of nations on sex ratios at birth shows India has the fourth worst sex ratio in the world, behind only Liechtenstein, China and Armenia. The study by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, an organisation with special consultative status with the UN ECOSOC, analyses the impact of domestic anti-sex-selection laws to conclude that except South Korea, which used these laws to reverse the trend of low sex ratios, no other country achieved success.
The survey, “Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council”, unveiled today urges the UN to recognise skewed sex ratio as a harmful practice in its Sustainable Development Goals adopted for realisation by 2030.
“Female infanticide for son’s preference due to a variety of reasons is a worldwide phenomenon with 15 lakh female foetuses being aborted every year. India ranks fourth when it comes to the most skewed sex ratio,” says the study.
It reviews statistics provided by CIA World Factbook 2016 on child sex ratio at birth and ranks the worst 10 countries in the world on skewed sex ratio at birth. Nigeria and Pakistan have the ninth and 10th positions, respectively, on the table, while India and China share the dubious distinction of sex selection and abortions of female fetuses.
Biologically, normal sex ratio at birth (SRB) varies from 102 to 106 males per 100 females. Liechtenstein has the most skewed sex ratio at birth in the world at 126 males for every 100 females; China has 115 males per 100 females; Armenia 113 males per 100 females and India 112 males per 100 females. Other countries with intense gender discrimination are Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Albania, Georgia, South Korea, Tunisia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
The report says several laws in China namely the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Regulations on Administration of Technical Services for Family Planning of 2001 and the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China of 2002 prohibit sex identification of the fetus but they haven’t helped.
India's dubious distinction in female infanticide
UN Human Rights Council
In a first ever global study on female infanticide by Asian Centre for Human Rights, a Delhi-based NGO dedicated to protection of human rights, it has been revealed that preference of son over daughter is a major reason for female infanticide in many countries around the world. Dowry system in South Asia, which makes daughters an unaffordable economic burden, also contributes to female infanticide.
Titled Female Infanticide Worldwide: The case for action by the UN Human Rights Council, the report makes a continent-wise analysis of infanticide patterns. It sets the tone by stating that 117 million girls demographically go missing due to sex-selective abortions, as claimed by the United Nations Population Fund.
Countries with the most skewed sex ratio at birth Source: CIA World Factbook 2016 Prevailing laws
Apart from the Law of the Peoples Republic of China on Maternal and Infant Health Care of 1994, Beijing also has a Population and Family Planning Law of the Peoples Republic of China of 2002 that prohibits sex identification of foetus and sex-selective abortions.
In India, the Pre-conception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 (amended in 2003) prohibits sex-selection or disclosure of the sex of the foetus. It also prohibits sale of any ultrasound machine or any other equipment capable of detecting sex of foetus to persons, laboratories and clinics not registered under the Act.
Nepal, in 2002, amended the Country Code, Muluki Ain, to allow abortion on medical grounds and prohibit sex-selective abortions. Similarly, the Population Ordinance (2006) and Prime Minister Decree (2006) of Vietnam prohibit all practices of antenatal foetal sex diagnosis and sex selection.
Challenges still remain
However, weak law enforcement and easy access to ultra-sonography fail to curb this practice. According to the ACHR report, ultrasound for pre-natal determination of sex can be done for as low as US$ 2.6 in China. In India, ultrasound and abortion can be done for about $150 in India.
Moreover, sex selection through In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other technologies such as Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening (PGS) and sperm-sorting has emerged as the next challenge towards curbing female infanticide.
Unfavourable sex ratio, according to the report, is a result of sex-selective abortion, childhood neglect of girls and infanticide. However, it emphasizes that only sex-selective abortion can affect the sex ratio at birth. As compared to Child Sex Ratio, the Sex Ratio at Birth is a more robust indicator of the extent to which sex-selective abortion is happening. The average SRB for the entire world is 101 males per 100 females. However, the ratio looks highly distorted in some countries, especially in India (110) and Liechtenstein (126).
China's preference for boys
Firstly, SRB in China is heavily skewed in favour of boy because the preference for son is deeply rooted in Confucian values. Secondly, when the one-child policy was introduced in 1980 to arrest population explosion, it ended up creating huge gender imbalance as the policy encouraged the expectant parents to do ultrasounds and undertake sex-selective abortions to ensure only boys were born. The SRB, which increased in China in the late 1980s, reached 117 in 2011.
South Korea: a success story
According to the ACHR report, South Korea is one of the very few nations where the imbalanced sex ratio has been reversed. While the introduction of ultrasound technology in the 80s saw a sharp rise in SRB from 109 in 1985 to 115 in 1994, the country introduced several measures that helped reverse the tide. By 2013, the SRB came down to 105.3.
Nepalese women under pressure to bear a son
According to a survey by a Nepal-based NGO, Center for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities, 81 percent women, whose first child was a daughter, prefer son. Some women also reported to have faced pressure to bear a son. Pressure, which is in the form of psychological abuse, mainly comes from husbands (42 percent) and mothers-in- law (41 per cent). The study found out that unsafe abortions are also carried out clandestinely.
Curious case of Liechtenstein
The data on Liechtenstein, taken from the CIA World Factbook 2015, puts the SRB at 126, which is by far the highest rate of sex imbalance in the world. This small European nation is faring worse than China (117.8), Azerbaijan (115.6) and India (110.5).
While the SRB in most African countries remained static at 103 or less in 2014, Nigeria and Tunisia have experienced a rapid increase in its SRB. From 103 boys per 100 girls in 1996-2008, Nigeria witnessed a rise to 106 boys per 100 girls in 2009-2014. Moreover, about 7,60,000 abortions occur annually in Nigeria despite restrictive abortion law. Tunisia, with 107 boy births to 100 girls, has the highest sex ratio at birth among all of the countries in Africa.
How is India trying to tackle female infanticide?
India has one of the highest female foeticide incidents in the world. Declining number of female child population in the age group of 0-6 years from 78.83 million in 2001 to 75.84 million in 2011. During the period 1991-2011, the child sex ratio (0-6 years) declined from 945 to 914.
Apart from Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994 (PNDT Act) to address the issue of sex-selective abortion, India also enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971 to regulate access to safe abortions. The MTP Act of 1971, amended in 2002, allows abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy in cases where the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has acknowledged that illegal abortions still outnumber legal abortions and thousands of women die every year due to complications resulting from unsafe abortions. According to the Population Research Institute, at least 12,771,043 sex-selective abortions had taken place in India between 2000 and 2014. It takes the daily average of sex-selective abortion to 2,332.
The under-reporting under the MTP Act has also been a problem. In a bid to encourage families to have girl children, prevent female foeticide and educate the girl child, the government launched Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao campaign in January 2015. It also launched several conditional cash transfer schemes such as Balika Samriddhi Yojana and Dhanalakshmi Scheme.
In nations where gender selection is banned, people travel to Thailand, the US, Mexico and other nations where its legal to undergo PGD/ PGS. In Thailand, for example, the Chinese, the East Europeans and Indians form the majority of people (70-80 percent) preferring PGD. According to the Asian Law Institute, over 80 percent of PGD practices were undertaken for the purpose of sex selection.
Apart from Thailand, the US has also become the hub for such reproductive tourism. According to the report, hundreds of Australians started flocking to fertility clinics in the US when sex selection was banned. Singaporeans have also been going overseas, especially the US and Thailand, to choose their babies. (Courtesy: Down To Earth)
Pakistan ~ Sunday June 26, 2016 Ramzan 20, 1437 A.H
How to stop this corrosive violence
By Yasir Habib Khan
Easy availability of dangerous acids must be controlled to stop incidents of acid crimes mostly against women
Acid: Cheaper than water.
It was easy for Ahsan bin Rashid to buy sulphuric acid from a chemical market near Lohari Gate, Lahore, for as cheap as Rs15 per kg. No questions were asked about the buyer’s identity or the acid’s usability.
Rashid got the acid for his small retail shop in Mughalpura. “We sell acid to people but never ask customers who they are or what they want it for,” he says.
These acids are so strong that they cause body tissues to melt, often damaging bones, sometimes even dissolving them. Victims of sulphuric acid attacks seldom survive. Hydrochloric acid is used in cases of suicide. Yet, buying and selling dangerous acids is easy business. Other than sulphuric acid, corrosive substances like nitric acid and hydrochloric acid are marketed at cheap rates in small shops located in different parts of Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar and Karachi.
Last week, acid crime attracted every one’s attention when a woman Shamim Bibi, a mother of four, doused her lover, Sadaqat, with acid after he refused to marry her in Multan. On June 21, the victim succumbed to 50 per cent burn injuries at Nishtar Hospital Burn Unit.
In another incident, some unidentified people stormed into the house of Amina Bibi, 22, in Salamat Colony, Harbanspura, and threw acid on her. In yet another incident, a mother, Tayyaba, 35, of Garaywala in Multan, after a clash with her husband, forced her two daughters Manahil, 2, and Hijab, 8, to drink acid before consuming some herself. Ruqayya Bibi and her daughter from Taranda Basharat village, Uch Sharif, were asleep when Shafiq threw acid on them. Both were hospitalised at the Bahawal Victoria Hospital in Bahawalpur.
As per data provided by the Acid Survivor Foundation (ASF) Pakistan, a non-profit organisation working since 2006 to eradicate acid violence from Pakistan, between 2007 and 2015, there have been 512 victims of acid crime in South Punjab, 168 in Central Punjab, 20 in Sindh, 10 in Balochistan, 18 in KP and three in AJK.
The rate to acid crimes is the highest in South Punjab, where acid is widely used to cleanse seeds and in other procedures involved in cotton production.
“Its easy availability has made acid a poor man’s weapon which he uses to settle scores in a barbaric manner,” claims an ASF Pakistan official.
Dr Hamid Ansari, a senior faculty member of the Burn Unit and Plastic Surgery Department in Mayo Hospital, Lahore, confirms, “sulphuric acid is the most common cause of serious burns”.
Under the Poison Act (XII) of 1919, government issues licences for possession and sale of poisonous substances including acids but only for commercial purposes with conditionality. Its sale is limited to only industries relating to textile, tanneries, marble cleansing, iron-polishing, pesticides, pharmacy, batteries and others. There is strict ban on their sale without license.
But who cares?
In the wake of fragile enforcement and inspection system, people with criminal intent buy these acids without any fear.
“For the law to be foolproof, it needs immediate amendment,” says Nasir Khan, a legal expert on licensing. “There was a court ruling that pragmatic amendments to the law for regulating acid business may be enacted to prevent the rising incidence of acid attacks against women in the country. It snubbed the federal government for keeping the gaps in law unplugged.”
The surge in demand for UPS and lead batteries has increased the easy availability of acids in markets. In order to manufacture batteries, small places in residential areas have been converted into small factories where sulphuric acid is normally stocked. “There are hundreds of such units in streets in the length and breadth of Pakistan, where acid is stored in drums,” says Abid Ali, Programme Officer, Aurat Foundation, a non-government organisation working for women empowerment.
Acid-throwing was not considered a crime till six years back. “Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Act 2011 recognised acid and burn violence as a crime against the state for the first time, with a fine of Rs1 million and life-time imprisonment,” says Zainab Qaisrani, Project Coordinator, ASF Pakistan.
According to her, the next target was to get the Acid and Burn Crime Bill 2012 approved that comprehensively deals with the regulation of sale and purchase of acids in the market. The bill is still pending.
The recently passed Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 is a glimmer of hope for women facing all forms of domestic violence but does nothing to check the sale and purchase of acid in open market.
The Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) that aims to review the Punjab laws, rules and regulations affecting the status and rights of women, has not compiled reports and data on acid sale and purchase, legal and illegal.
Sonia Qadir, legal advisor PCSW, says commission does not have the mandate to draw out modalities and various TORs for acid business. However, under the first ever helpline and complaint mechanism, they have received 34,814 inquiries, “out of them, 26 are about acid burns.”
PCSW Punjab Gender Parity Report 2016 claims 6,505 cases of violence against women were reported with only 1 per cent conviction rate in 2015. Among them, 22 incidents of acid throwing were reported in Punjab.
It’s obvious that this nation needs political will to check this crime.
Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.
What needs to change
Making an attempt to see what needs to be changed for women (Graphic by Naseem ur Rehman)
This is not a token Special Report routinely done around women's day. Sitting in today's Pakistan, you cannot imagine anything else more important and worthy of discussion. The events of the last month or two have raised some serious questions about the status of women. The most pertinent ones that come to mind are: what is it that needs to change the mindsets and how will that come about.
The incidents are bizarre to say the least. The photograph of 16 year old Ambreen's charred body in a burnt van in Doongagali was followed by two more incidents of burning of young women in the name of honour. Alongside came the instances of two parliamentarians who insulted their women addressees in a manner that left one bewildered if this was better or worse than being burnt alive. In between came the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) with its own "light beating" solutions for wives and other similar nonsense.
That's how botched up our attitudes are towards women, where harassment and violence feed into each other. For each progressive and women-friendly law that is passed, there is the CII issuing most retrogressive directives to the parliament. Somehow, the discussion is centred more on the CII's controversial statements that are understood to have religious sanction, putting the state and the governments on the defensive.
Clearly, something must change, in the attitudes, in mindsets, that is. The laws are there but nobody seems to care. Do we need to change something in the law to address this impunity for killing in the name of honour? Will that law still be bypassed or misused, and the perpetrator let free by entering into a compromise?
One particular institution that we have focused on is that of political parties. Ironical as it may seem, considering the level of insults hurled by the parliamentarians themselves (at least one of whom belongs to a party that is presumably going to be headed by a woman) we still think the change has to come at the level of political parties.
We have also tried to look at the contribution of women rights movement in the country and what more could it do. This movement was spearheaded by women who raised their voice against victimisation, discrimination and violence when the odds weren't in their favour. They effected laws, they raised voices against discriminatory laws, they tried to change attitudes and yet these seem like two steps back.
Something needs to change. This Special Report is an attempt to just bring the people to realise this.
"The religious character of the constitution will have to give way to secular inclusivity of rights, equality, and equity," concurs Rehmat adding, "An aggressive affirmative action streak in favour of women should underline all laws and curriculum, government policies and legal languages of the constitution and laws be "purged of the image of subservience between genders".
Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.
What needs to change
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
"With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology are rigged against the emancipation of women," analysts share their views
Why do Pakistani men hate their female counterparts so much? They hate them at home, in the market place, on TV and even in the air conditioned sanctum of the parliament? "And they hate them with an intensity that borders on the passionate," says media and political analyst, Adnan Rehmat.
They dole out the most horrendous and barbaric punishment anyone can imagine from acid attacks to forcing them to marry, to handing them over as retribution in the form of vani and swara. They may be stoned or flogged; even raped and gang-raped and if that is not enough then murdered but before that burnt alive.
Side-by-side these "real" world crimes committed against the women is the technology related violence meted out on them which is not on the radar. They are stalked, bullied and blackmailed.
Add to that the daily fare of a volley of verbal sexist abuse thrown at them by husbands, brothers, fathers and now even political leaders, that too, in full public view.
"The spate of violence both physical and verbal against women in Pakistan reported over the last few weeks is bad even by Pakistani standards," says Rehmat, pointing to the recent "burning" of women for wanting to marry of free will; "misogyny in statements" by members of the cabinet; "catcalling" fellow women legislators and use of "uncouth language by a religious party senator" as well as attempted physical assault on a woman panelist on a talk show.
Why did young Zeenat Rafiq of Lahore have to fall in love and elope to get married to a person her family did not approve of? She had to be made an example by being burnt alive; a week before 19-year old Maria Sadaqat, was murdered in Murree by a group of men for refusing to marry the son of the owner of a school where she taught.
Then Khawaja Asif, the Defence Minister of Pakistan who is also the minister of water and power, put his mask down when he ridiculed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader, Dr Shireen Mazari, for her appearance and voice in front of the parliament.
The heat had not even settled on Asif‘s unwarranted ranting when Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam's (Fazl) senator, Hafiz Hamdullah, attacked rights activist Marvi Sirmed in a talk show in what nuclear physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy termed a language "laced with sexual filth".
"When even parliamentarians can do this publicly, it underscores the decreased dignity accorded to women in today's hyper-religious environment," says Hoodbhoy, a public intellectual.
To classical dancer, Sheema Kirmani, one way to end violence against women is to make Pakistan a secular society. "Remove religion from public life and the state and make religion a private matter," she says emphatically.
But many say violence against women in Pakistan is nothing new. Between 2014 and 2015, nearly 933 people, mostly women, were killed for honour in the country, according to official figures provided by the Ministry of Human Rights in 2015. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) reported 1,096 cases of honour killing during the same period.
There is a growing display of "callous disregard for the rights of women and downright maleficent behaviour by senior representatives of government and parliament," says Rehmat.
"Despite gallant movements by women to resist this tide of misogyny, the country's overtly patriarchal character is being reinforced by indirect support from the government's indifference to suffering of women," he says.
"With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women," he explains.
"It is difficult to end this violence as it suits men and women will continue to suffer," laments Dr Shershah Syed, renowned obstetrician and gynecologist.
"Religious leaders believe that women are there to serve and please men and no other role is acceptable," says Syed, who often treats young girls brought to him with severe injuries to their genitalia and pregnant women beaten up blue and black.
"And it's in keeping with Council of Islamic Ideology and other Islamist thought that women cannot have a role in public sphere. They must be wives only and that too obedient to men else they'll be beaten," says Afiya Zia, a feminist researcher-scholar.
"Little wonder then that the average person believes that giving equal rights to women will overturn the status quo and to counter this they resort to their comfort-zone influence over women's futures and fates as arbiters instead of facilitators," says Rehmat.
But associate professor, Kausar S. Khan, who heads the Division of Behavioural and Social Sciences at Karachi's Aga Khan University, finds hope in the ongoing protests by the civil society.
Protests there may be, but where are the Pakistani men? asks Zia. "Why don't masses of men come out saying they condemn the idea of beating wives or boycott the channel on which women are abused," she says, referring to the recent Marvi Sirmed vs Hamdullah altercation.
Zia also has problem with armchair protestors who "only tweet or issue statements" from the safety of their living rooms.
"Where is their presence and why aren't they challenging these criminals?" she asks, adding, "Simply venting on social media is beyond ineffective it's self indulgent." She mourns that Pakistani women have "very few defenders".
"We must not allow ourselves to be dragged into the quagmire of despair and lament," says Khan. She believes there is a need to assess the psyche of the perpetrators to understand them before violence can be stopped.
"Those who abuse, kill and maim women have a peculiar psychology that needs to be fathomed in order to curtail it."
The Pakistani law may allow a woman to marry of her choice, Islam may give the woman a right to choose her spouse, but cultural norms and traditions do not. So, while the world may be in the 21st century, in the mind of Pakistani men, women must continue to lead the life as in the 18th century.
"People are confused that, on the one hand, there is progressive legislation and, on the other, such horrific brutality," says Zia, but adds that it is not a contradiction, it's complimentary.
"Women break boundaries now more working, more marrying of their own will, more vocal in the parliament and defying male rules and codes in homes and communities. And the state is legally bound to protect them. So the only way men can deal with controlling women like in the past or regaining control is by punishing defiant women themselves," she explains, citing American author and journalist Susan Faludis' warning of a "backlash" (incidentally also the title of one of her books).
"This violence is to send the message that women who don't fall into line will be punished by men as representatives of God even if the state won't take action," says Zia.
Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the HRCP agrees with Zia. "I believe patriarchy is feeling threatened by the progress (even if slow) that women are making and the courage they are showing in asserting some rights (such as the right to choose a marriage partner)."
But what Yusuf finds beyond shocking is mothers' involvement in killing of daughters.
To add insult to injury, Pakistan government's official religious council the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) that enjoys financial favour with the government which allocates a whopping Rs100 million annually has fanned violence perpetrated against women by coming up with misogynistic recommendations on the role of women in society.
The latest suggestion being that it is alright for husbands to "lightly" beat their wives if they turn down sex. They even want the minimum age of marriage to be lowered to as young as nine if a girls shows "visible" signs of puberty.
Zia finds such pronouncements "extremely dangerous" because they "offer moral impunity". "Those who say these statements are innocuous or redundant or are in denial," she warns.
Hoodbhoy, on the other hand, has observed that while Pakistan's English-speaking elite may have responded with "righteous indignation" to the bill sanctioning the "light" beating of "wayward" wives, with the focus of its ire as CII's chairman, Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, they have "studiously stayed clear of interpreting those verses of the Quran that apparently justify such punishment".
Further, he observes, that CII's proclamations have not evinced a particular negative reaction from either Urdu newspapers or ordinary people. "This suggests that Sherani's views are scarcely different from those commonly accepted," he says and concludes, "Clearly, the premises behind today's patriarchal society are not under significant challenge."
To classical dancer, Sheema Kirmani, whose theatre and dance company promotes the plight of women and suppressed minorities, one way to end violence against women is to make Pakistan a secular society. "Remove religion from public life and the state and make religion a private matter," she says emphatically.
"The religious character of the constitution will have to give way to secular inclusivity of rights, equality, and equity," concurs Rehmat adding, "An aggressive affirmative action streak in favour of women should underline all laws and curriculum, government policies and legal languages of the constitution and laws be "purged of the image of subservience between genders".
Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.
Chronicle of a movement
By Enum Naseer
While legislation in favour of women is the result of continuous hard work of women's rights organisations, a lot remains to be done
Protesting for a just cause.
In just a matter of days, in addition to a display of misogynistic attitudes both in the parliament and on national television, there have been incidents of horrific violence against women in Murree, Lahore, and Kasur. Completely out of touch with the changing environment the dynamics of urbanisation and globalisation that have increased women's mobility and participation in the public sphere are the conservative rightwing.
"When it comes to violence against women, the state has had a history of being complicit. Why have we gotten to this point? It is because the state has provided men impunity and all of a sudden, that is being challenged," says Nabiha Meher Shaikh, a member of Women's Action Forum.
"Having said that, it would be unrealistic to expect NGOs to do all the work," she adds.
"I think Shirkat Gah has been the most successful. They have been around for so long and they were probably the first proper ‘feminist' organisation and a sort of mother organisation. Women's Action Forum was born later and was very successful too in Sindh and Hyderabad," she points out.
"At the moment, the organisation is still actively engaged in bringing about change. Then there is Aurat Foundation which is now more or less engaging the media through numbers and statistics (this leaves a lot more to be desired). Simorgh, [another women's rights NGO] has been working on textbooks and education and gender sensitivity," she adds.
"It is only in the past 10 years or so that the focus has been on changing mindsets which is a great change in itself. The impact of this has been quite massive," she says.
"It was during the PML-N's government in the 1990s when a huge number of honour killings took place and it is during the same party's tenure that we are now condemning honour killings after Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy's documentary film. I think the movement has been very successful in changing people's minds and motivating women to stand up for themselves even in the face of violence," she comments.
Sonia Qadir, Legal Advisor for Punjab Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), agrees that there has been a change in society's mindset. "We are definitely seeing change in attitudes, in the echelons of government, amongst civil society organisations and activists as well as ordinary women," she says.
Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, former chairperson of the National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW), adds that the changing attitudes are also the result of international pressures.
"After being awarded the GSP Plus status, for instance, Pakistan has to comply with 27 international conventions and among them, 2 deal with human rights ensuring women's rights are protected is important, for many reasons," she says.
But, according to her, that is just one aspect of the situation.
"The results you see today in the form of Criminal Amendment Act of 2006, legislation against acid-throwing, Hindu Marriage Bill, and even the fact that cases related to hudood (despite the myth that these laws could not be touched) are almost disappearing is the result of the hard work of MPAs, women's rights activists and women's rights organisations," she argues.
"While things did slow down after the Hudood laws were implemented, women have, by and large, been alert about protecting their rights," she believes.
Qadir seconds the notion that women are increasingly showing "a willingness to come forward and speak up, and be informed about remedies available to women." In fact, she says, "it is not just women who reach out to the commission often it is male relatives, and sometimes neighbours or other acquaintances, who do so when they see violence against women."
Fauzia Viqar, chairperson of PCSW, recalls that compared to when the commission started its helpline, the number of calls today has shot up considerably. "It all depends on the capacity of the organisation and word-of-mouth referrals that give people confidence. It seems like a no-brainer but in experience you feel that dedicated institutions and dedicated positions do have a huge role in women's empowerment agenda in the government and in the society at large," she says.
Whenever there are institutions for redressal both men and women end up using them. By virtue of our mandate, this is what we are supposed to do for the commission, for instance, it's not just policy and legislative review but also about changing perceptions," asserts Viqar.
Commenting on the violent backlash that victims face after they seek help, Qadir says, "Fear of backlash (especially harassment from perpetrators and their families) is substantial, and for this there are few remedies in our legal system. If women take a case to court, they have to be able to afford the fee, face mobility issues, social stigma, and harassment from police and lawyers, besides harassment from the accused." She understands that "hesitance to report is not only a factor of traditional values, but a practical observation of the hurdles women face."
She underlines the importance of having "government infrastructure, and civil society organisations, available for the protection of women. Because women often do not have other kinds of support networks readily available".
Differences in mindsets and leanings can even be seen from the disparity between provinces as they legislate on women's rights. In provinces like Sindh, that has seen the most progressive reforms on women's rights, "there is a strong, progressive and secular element" according to Justice Rizvi as opposed to provinces like Punjab and KP. Change is imminent, she believes, but it will take time and a combined effort.
Pakistan ~ June 19, 2016 Ramzan 13, 1437 A.H.
Misunderstanding women, deliberately
By Adnan Rehmat
For no good reason, the events of the past few months suggest a wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate
Women generally have it bad in Pakistan but there is a growing display of callous disregard for the rights of women and downright maleficent behaviour by senior representatives of government and parliament that can only result in – indeed is resulting in – wider acceptability of women as legitimate objects to disregard, disrepute and denigrate. Almost as if women were offenders rather than victims.
And, yet, according to the government's own figures, three out of four girls don't get schooling beyond primary level. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has for several years now been reporting hundreds of women killed every year in the name of honour. Men's honour of course, never women's.
And the news in Pakistan these past few months have been especially bleak. Several instances of girls burnt alive by their families for marrying for love and awarded as compensation by communities for sins of their male family members. A noted rights activist, a woman, shockingly browbeaten and cussed at on television by a male senator belonging to a religious party allied with the government. Two male ministers of the federal government unabashedly caricaturising – in the National Assembly and at a press conference later – an opposition parliamentarian, also a woman. Several religious parties successfully obstructing a law passed by Punjab Assembly from being activated to shield women against violence at home. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government seeking the help of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) for advice on a similar law and being advised to tone it down and accepting it. The CII proclaiming that beating up wives is kosher, that scientific method of using DNA to determine culpability of rapists is haram and that legislating against child marriages is a conspiracy against Islam because girls as young as nine are eligible for matrimony.
It is shocking how much Pakistani men in particular and the patriarchal society, the urban macho legislatures and the virtually gender-blind policymaking echelons of the governments and state in general hate women. Perhaps nothing shocks more than what has been happening in the country's bicameral national parliament, which is perhaps the best barometer of what the country and its representatives think and prioritise.
In many ways, the performance of parliament, supposedly the check on a wayward government, has been found wanting when it comes to defending, strengthening and enforcing the rights of women. Worse, the parliament is guilty of being dismissive of the role that women in the House have played in furthering the agenda of human rights in the country. It is the same house where ministers deride women with almost gleeful abandon – Sheikh Rashid commenting on Benazir Bhutto, Khawaja Asif on Shireen Mazari and Mahnaz Rafi, Talal Chaudhry on Shireen Mazari, Abid Sher and Shaikh Aftab on Shazia Marri, and so on.
Currently there are 70 women MNAs making up for 20 per cent of the total representation in the House of 342. In the Upper House there are 19 women senators making up for 18 per cent of the total representation in the House of 104. Overall, 89 women make up for 18 per cent of the total membership in bicameral parliament. According to data from Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen), in the last completed parliamentary year for National Assembly (June 2015 to February 2016) and Senate (March 2015 to March 2016), women legislators constituting 18 per cent of the combined members of both houses accounted for 44 per cent of the agenda of both houses a whopping three times the proportion of their representation.
With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women.
Considered in the context of how the social, political and economic systems are inherently rigged against emancipation of women in Pakistan, this performance in the parliament by them more than negates any assertions of pretentions by the state and its polity at who delivers more when opportunities present themselves men or women.
The stated agendas of development and progress outlined in the manifestos of political parties ring hollow when measured up to translated gains. The yawning gap between promise (at the elections) and performance (three years in power for PML-N and JUI in Centre, PML-N in Punjab and Balochistan, PPP in Sindh and PTI and JI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) is precisely because emancipation and empowerment of women have never been part of policymaking and governance.
Among many reasons for this is perhaps the fact that women do not constitute even five per cent of the memberships of the central executive committees of these political parties, or even three per cent of the memberships of the federal and provincial cabinets. Or the fact that, in general, the leadership of the political parties feel they are not obliged to attend parliament their day job!
According to Pakistan Institute for Legislative Development and Training (Pildat), in the last completed calendar year (2015), the PM attended only 20 per cent of the National Assembly sittings and Imran Khan only two per cent. With their leaders not even showing up for work, what would you expect from their male colleagues, in general?
In the provincial assemblies, shockingly Punjab CM attended only two sittings (less than 1 per cent), KP CM only 34 per cent while Balochistan CM Dr Malik faring only somewhat better at 63 per cent and Sindh CM at 71 per cent. In short, almost no one is interested in making women part of the development policies either as practitioners or beneficiaries.
Media – while not part of the government – is also part of the problem. This is the chicken and egg situation. Which came first – negative portrayal of women by media or negative treatment of women by society? Theoretically media is the guardian of public interest and is supposed to serve as the voice of the voiceless and supposed to bring to account government policies and state priorities to ensure the marginalised communities and underdogs have protections against discrimination.
Women are not a minority and yet they are marginalised wantonly and widely.
It is hard to discern any exceptional efforts made by media in Pakistan to promote women's rights as priorities to focus on even though the media never shies away from reporting the subjugation and strident discrimination against women and sensationalising the discourse around it. If the media cannot aggressively champion the cause of women, it is failing in its primary duty. It does not help that less than 750 of the 18,000 journalists in Pakistan are women, according to Freedom Network, Pakistan. This is too insignificant a ratio to address gender bias in news and opinion perspectives since male journalists, in general, are simply not interested in championing women's interests.
As for why Pakistani men hate women with an intensity that seem to border on the passionate? With religion as their worldview and feudalism and patriarchy as their systems of delivery, Pakistan's politics and sociology in their current forms are rigged against the emancipation of women. With both state religion and cultural sociology regarding women on the basis of their biological functions rather than their sociological rights, both the legal framework and its attendant implementation mechanisms make sure women remain second-class citizens at best.
Little wonder then that men believe that effectively giving equal rights to women will overturn the status quo to their peril and to counter this they resort to their comfort-zone influence over women's futures and fates as arbiters instead of facilitators.
Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A22
A Major Victory for Abortion RightsBy THE EDITORIAL BOARD
In the most significant victory in a generation for a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, the Supreme Court on Monday struck down Texas’s harsh and dishonest anti-abortion law by a vote of 5 to 3.
The justices’ reasoning in overturning the law applies to hundreds of other attempts in recent years by Republican lawmakers around the country to restrict or destroy constitutionally protected reproductive rights.
While the decision was unquestionably correct, the vote should have been unanimous. The 2013 Texas law which forced abortion clinics and their doctors to meet absurd, pointlessly strict medical standards was the textbook definition of what the court had prohibited in a major 1992 ruling on abortion: “unnecessary health regulations that have the purpose or effect of presenting a substantial obstacle to a woman seeking an abortion.”
In an opinion by Justice Stephen Breyer, the court relied on that earlier decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, to invalidate the requirement that abortion clinics meet the strict equipment and staffing standards of ambulatory surgical centers, and that doctors working at those clinics have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Because “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes,” Justice Breyer wrote, both violate the Constitution by placing “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion.”
The admitting-privileges requirement has no bearing on the level of care that a woman receives, and Texas could not provide any evidence that it does. Likewise, the strict surgical standards are unrelated to the actual risk of complications stemming from a legal abortion, which is among the safest medical procedures. Texas does not, for instance, impose such standards on many riskier procedures, including colonoscopies, tonsillectomies and liposuction.
If there were any lingering doubt that the point of Texas’ law was to make safe and legal abortions nearly impossible to obtain, it was dispelled by the declarations of top state officials. The former governor Rick Perry, in pushing for the law, said it was one step toward an “ideal world” where there was no abortion. Immediately after the State Senate passed its version of the law, known as SB5, David Dewhurst, the lieutenant governor at the time, posted a map on Twitter showing the expected closure of most abortion clinics across the state. “We fought to pass SB5 through the Senate last night, and this is why!” he wrote.
Both men knew what they were talking about: More than half of the state’s roughly 40 abortion clinics, unable to meet the admitting-privileges requirement, closed 11 on the day the law was enacted. Had the justices upheld the entire law, as few as seven clinics would have remained, all in major metropolitan areas. Hundreds of thousands of women living in the vast rural stretches of Texas have already been forced to travel great distances to exercise their constitutional right. This actually increased the health risks of abortion, since women in this position are more likely to choose illegal and unsafe methods to end their pregnancies.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in a concurring opinion, “it is beyond rational belief” that the law “could genuinely protect the health of women.” Beyond rational belief, perhaps but not beyond the polemics of Justice Samuel Alito Jr. In a lengthy dissent, Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Clarence Thomas, offered unconvincing explanations for clinic closures. Perhaps, he postulated, older doctors in those clinics had decided to retire on the very same day.
For years, the court has looked the other way as lawmakers around the country have grown increasingly bold in their efforts to weaken or obliterate a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Versions of the Texas law are on the books in 23 other states, and other laws have tried to block abortion rights even more directly for instance, by banning all abortions six weeks after conception, when many women don’t even know they are pregnant.
Monday’s ruling should spell the end for many if not most of these regressive, unconstitutional laws.
Tuesday JUNE 28 2016 , page A23
The Facts Win Out on AbortionBy Linda Greenhouse
Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Monday. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times)
SOMEONE landing from Mars on Monday and coming upon Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s majority Supreme Court opinion in the Texas abortion case would have had no hint of the decades-long battle over women’s right to abortion and the dogged efforts by states to put obstacles in their way.
There is no poetry in the 40-page opinion, which strikes down a Texas law that would have closed most abortion clinics in the state in the name of protecting women’s health. The dry, almost clinical tone could scarcely be more different from the meditative mood the Supreme Court struck the last time it stood up for abortion rights, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 24 years ago this week. “Liberty finds no refuge in a jurisprudence of doubt” was Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s mysterious opening line in that opinion.
There was no mystery in what the five justices in the majority, crucially including Justice Kennedy, accomplished this time, nor in the decision’s impact. By holding the state’s asserted rationale for its clinic-decimating regulations up to the light and finding it specious and counterproductive, the court has shut down one of abortion opponents’ main recent strategies: enacting “targeted regulation of abortion providers” laws that impose on doctors who perform abortions special restrictions not placed on doctors who do procedures of equal or greater risk.
“Specious” is my word, not the court’s. Justice Breyer was careful not to call out the Texas Legislature for placing a health-related veneer on laws whose true intent is to make access to abortion more difficult. Judges are extremely reluctant to accuse legislatures of acting in bad faith, and Justice Breyer didn’t have to do that. He simply had to show, carefully and methodically, the “virtual absence of any health benefit” from requiring doctors who provide abortions to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals or requiring abortion clinics to retrofit themselves as mini-hospitals at huge cost.
Why does the absence of a health benefit matter? Because, as suggested in Casey and made explicit here, a court confronting a state-devised obstacle to abortion has to balance the burden the law imposes against the benefit it provides. Not the benefit the state claims for it we’re only trying to protect women’s health, the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, and attorney general, Ken Paxton, avowed lamely on Monday but the benefit the law actually conveys. In the decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, evidence-based medicine meets evidence-based law.
The logic of the opinion is so clear as to seem self-evident; indeed, two of the three dissenters, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., didn’t even try to confront it, arguing instead and at length that the clinics’ appeal was flawed for procedural reasons. The Casey decision established the “undue burden” standard for judging abortion laws, and the word “undue” itself implies a comparison: undue as compared to what? The answer: An undue burden is one that outweighs a benefit.
But the almost laughably conservative United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit didn’t understand it that way in the decision that the Supreme Court overturned Monday. That court rebuked the district court judge, Lee Yeakel of Austin, Tex., an appointee of President George W. Bush, for having the nerve to insist on evidence for the state’s health-related claims. “In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes,” Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod wrote for the court. In an earlier phase of the case, another Fifth Circuit judge, Edith Jones, declared that the court would defer to the Legislature even if the law was based on “rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”
Those days are now over. The provisions of the Texas law, Justice Breyer concluded, “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health capable of withstanding any meaningful scrutiny.”
Although nearly one- third of American women will have an abortion in their lifetime, a goal of abortion opponents has been to carve out abortion practice from ordinary health care, to ghettoize and delegitimize it. Those days are now over, too. Singling out abortion for regulation that can’t be justified on medical grounds is unacceptable, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized in a concurring opinion.
When I first read Justice Breyer’s opinion, my sense of relief struggled against a feeling that something nonetheless was missing: not necessarily the aspirational rhetoric of the Casey decision but some explicit acknowledgment of what it means to women’s equality and dignity not to be trapped in an unwanted pregnancy.
Then I realized that while the court in Casey called upon “the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution,” it didn’t really work out. Maybe, after all, this is not a moment for poetry, but for facts. There’s not much in Justice Breyer’s opinion that’s quotable. But there’s not much that’s debatable either, and that’s what matters.
Monday JUNE 27, 2016
Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion RestrictionsBy ADAM LIPTAK
On Monday, the Supreme Court struck down parts of a restrictive Texas law that would have severely limited abortion access in the state. Activists outside the Supreme Court reacted to the news.
WASHINGTON The Supreme Court on Monday reaffirmed and strengthened constitutional protections for abortion rights, striking down parts of a restrictive Texas law that could have drastically reduced the number of abortion clinics in the state, leaving them only in the largest metropolitan areas.
The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade. It found that Texas’ restrictions requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers violated Casey’s prohibition on placing an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.
If Casey limited the right established in Roe, allowing states to regulate abortion in ways Roe had barred, Monday’s decision effectively expanded that right. It means that similar requirements in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion. It is also sure to energize anti-abortion forces and make abortion a central issue in the presidential campaign.
The decision concerned two parts of a law that imposed strict requirements on abortion providers in Texas signed into law in July 2013 by Rick Perry, the governor at the time.
One required all clinics in the state to meet the standards for ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
“We conclude,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, “that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution.”
Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.
In the Casey decision, he joined Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and David H. Souter in a joint opinion that reaffirmed the core of Roe v. Wade. But Justice Kennedy’s reputation as an abortion rights champion had otherwise been undeserved, said David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University, as Casey was the only case in which he had found an abortion restriction unconstitutional in his 28 years on the Supreme Court.
Professor Cohen said Justice Kennedy’s vote in Monday’s case was a puzzle. He may have been swayed by the burdens placed on women having to drive hundreds of miles to obtain abortions, Professor Cohen said, or by the lack of medical evidence justifying the restrictions or both.
Many states have enacted restrictions in recent years that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion, and the ruling in the new case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, No. 15-274, enunciated principles that will apply to all of the ones said to be justified by a concern for women’s health.
In a message posted on Twitter, President Obama said he was “pleased to see the Supreme Court reaffirm” that “every woman has a constitutional right to make her own reproductive choices.”
Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, said, “The court is becoming a default medical board for the nation, with no deference being given to state law.”
The Texas law was passed in 2013 by the Republican-dominated Texas Legislature and turned a Democratic state senator, Wendy Davis, who conducted an 11-hour filibuster against the law, into a national political star.
Last June, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, largely upheld the contested provisions of the Texas law, saying it had to accept lawmakers’ assertions about the health benefits of abortion restrictions. The appeals court ruled that the law, with minor exceptions, did not place an undue burden on the right to abortion.
Justice Breyer said the appeals court’s approach was at odds with the proper application of the undue-burden standard. The Casey decision, he said, “requires that courts consider the burdens a law imposes on abortion access together with the benefits those laws confer.”
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