There are a variety of contexts in which the empowerment of women in Pakistan can be considered, but none is more critical than law: How women’s legal rights are framed is fundamental to considering how best to advance women’s empowerment. After situating women’s legal rights in Pakistan, this Special Report reviews key features of recent legislation affecting women’s rights, explores the controversies surrounding this legislation, and elaborates on ongoing challenges to develop further legislation, particularly in light of opposition from Islamist groups.

305

Summary

  • The history of laws affecting women’s rights and empowerment in Pakistan involves a com­plex pattern of advances and setbacks, with the state’s efforts to articulate a definition of women’s rights complicated by the need to balance divergent views on the place of women in Pakistani society.
  • After General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 coup, a number of factors, including international perceptions of Pakistan, brought women’s rights, greatly curtailed by General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization project, to the fore. Most critical among the changes to women’s rights dur­ing this period was the 2006 revision to the Hudood Laws, resulting in the Protection of Women Act.
  • The incumbent Pakistan People’s Party government has passed several important pieces of legislation continuing the progress for women’s empowerment made under Musharraf. These new laws focus on sexual harassment at the workplace, antiwomen practices, and acid throwing. Additionally, the National Commission on the Status of Women has recently achieved elevated status.
  • Despite these advancements, new legislation is needed to address ongoing challenges such as women’s ability to control inherited land and human trafficking. If the Pakistani state is to make lasting improvements on these and other challenges facing the legal status of Pakistani women, it must find solutions that will not only benefit women in the country but create consensus among Pakistanis on the best and most achievable way to prioritize global rights for women while adhering to Islamic precepts.

About the Report

There are a variety of contexts in which the empowerment of women in Pakistan can be considered, but none is more critical than law: How women’s legal rights are framed is fundamental to considering how best to advance women’s empowerment. After situating women’s legal rights in Pakistan, this Special Report reviews key features of recent legislation affecting women’s rights, explores the controversies surrounding this legislation, and elaborates on ongoing challenges to develop further legislation, particularly in light of opposition from Islamist groups. While the legal empowerment of women in Pakistan has seen progress, far more must be done to enable the laws passed to be implemented, bring Pakistan into conformity with the goals and ideals of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and secure an environment where women in Pakistan have viable choices in their own lives.

About the Author

Dr. Anita M. Weiss is head of the Department of International Studies at the University of Oregon and is vice president of the American Institute of Pakistan Studies. Her research focuses on culture and development in Pakistan and social change and political transformations in Pakistan. Dr. Weiss is currently working on a forthcoming book Interpreting Islam, Modernity, and Women’s Rights in Pakistan and is co-editor (with S. Khattak) of Development Challenges Confronting Pakistan. She holds a BA from Rutgers University and an MA and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley.

Related Publications

Pakistan’s New Government Struggles to Consolidate Control

Pakistan’s New Government Struggles to Consolidate Control

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

By: Cyril Almeida;  Colin Cookman;  Adnan Rafiq;  Tamanna Salikuddin;  Jumaina Siddiqui

Pakistan’s current government, an unwieldy multi-party coalition led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) party, faced a new setback in July after losses in mid-month special elections for 20 constituencies in the country’s heartland province of Punjab. Although the PML-N coalition attempted to retain control of the provincial government through manuevers in the provincial assembly, a Supreme Court ruling on July 26 overturned earlier precedent and ordered the election of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, an ally of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, to the position of chief minister.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & GovernanceEconomics

Pakistan’s Climate Challenges Pose a National Security Emergency

Pakistan’s Climate Challenges Pose a National Security Emergency

Thursday, July 7, 2022

By: Jumaina Siddiqui

Pakistan is in the midst of a terrible heatwave, with the temperatures in parts of the country exceeding 120 F. April was the hottest month in the past 61 years, until May came along and saw warmer temperatures. At least 65 people have reportedly died due to the heatwave, but the actual numbers are certainly higher, and it’s caused massive flooding and infrastructure damage in Gilgit-Baltistan, water shortages in Karachi and broader Sindh province, and placed greater demands on the country’s weak electrical grid. Despite monsoon rains beginning in late June — causing at least 77 deaths — many parts of the country still swelter. Pakistan should treat these climate disasters as a full-fledged national security emergency before they stoke conflict that adds further stress amid the country’s other numerous challenges.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Environment

Five Things to Watch in the Islamabad-Pakistani Taliban Talks

Five Things to Watch in the Islamabad-Pakistani Taliban Talks

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

By: Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.

After several months of intense fighting, the Pakistani government and the anti-Pakistan insurgent group the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are talking once again. In early June, the TTP, also known as the Pakistani Taliban, announced a cessation of hostilities with Pakistan for three months. This cease-fire resulted from weeks of secret talks in Kabul between the TTP and Pakistani military officials, followed by a more public meeting between the TTP and Pakistani tribal leaders — both mediated by the Afghan Taliban. For the first time, the Afghan Taliban also confirmed the talks and their role as mediators between Pakistan and the TTP.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The Latest on Strategic Stability in Southern Asia: 4 Things You Need to Know

The Latest on Strategic Stability in Southern Asia: 4 Things You Need to Know

Friday, June 10, 2022

By: Tamanna Salikuddin;  Vikram J. Singh

While the world focuses on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there's another hotspot — China, India and Pakistan — where three nuclear-armed states share contested borders. In this video, USIP’s Tamanna Salikuddin and Vikram J. Singh discuss how to enhance stability in the region, the Biden administration's Indo-Pacific strategy, the prospects of nuclear talks in Southern Asia, and the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war.

Type: Blog

Global Policy

View All Publications