Females forgotten in war-torn land
Ida Lichter; 4/11/09
Now that the Taliban and their allies are being cornered in the tribal areas, the toxic fallout is terrorising a populace fed up with suicide bombings and the burning of schools. Among the international community, there is concern about Pakistan’s double-dealing with Islamist paramilitaries and the threat of extremists operating from within. And while the focus remains on military operations in the battle zone, the plight of ordinary Pakistani women is easily overlooked. Curtailing of women’s rights through strict sharia law became evident during the two-year jihad in the Swat region of the North West Frontier Province. A smuggled mobile phone video of punishment by lashing showed a woman being whipped while surrounding onlookers applauded. Islamists also proclaimed that female education was contrary to Islamic teachings and promoted indecency. But these hardships must be seen in perspective. Prior to the current threats of Taliban oppression, women in Pakistan faced life-long cultural and legislated discrimination. Considered a saleable commodity valued far less than males, they have been bartered for land and animals. The infant mortality rate is higher for females than males, and women’s life expectancy is lower than men’s, the result of less nourishment, healthcare and education, according to a UN study. In some rural areas female literacy rates are as low as 2 per cent, because parents see no financial benefits in educating girls.