PAKISTAN: Guns Aimed Increasingly at Women

Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Guns available in new abundance in the troubled north of Pakistan are increasingly being used on women in ‘honour' killings and domestic disputes, according to local reports. "About 65 percent of the women killed fall prey to gunfire in honour-related cases and issues relating to domestic violence," local security analyst Brigadier (retired) Muhammad Saad told IPS. Citing a study by the local Awaz Foundation, he said the problem has been caused by easy availability of small arms. Male members of families too often just pick up guns up over petty issues against women, and kill them, he said. This is a problem across Pakistan but women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north are particularly vulnerable due to the proliferation of arms manufactured locally in Darra Adamkhel, he said. "Most of the arms used against women are locally manufactured and illegal." According to Shabina Ayaz from the Aurat Foundation, figures reported in media show that 719 women were killed in 2010, including 381 in Punjab, 161 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and 160 in Sindh. But in FATA the majority of cases are not reported in the press or by police, or by hospitals. Cases of ‘honour' killing are seldom reported. Those involved in the killing of women in such cases usually get away with the crimes.

"We have been campaigning aggressively to frame strict laws to stop proliferation of arms and save women," Ayaz told IPS. The elimination of illegal small arms holds the key to ending armed violence against women, she said. A report from the Foundation last year, ‘Situation of Violence Against Women in Pakistan' underlined the threat to women from these arms. The group has been campaigning for the rights of women in Pakistan since 1986. Murtaza Khan from the group Action Against Small Arms told IPS that the Taliban insurgency in FATA and the north had put the lives of women on razor's edge. "Cheap availability of small arms has led to excessive usage and multiplied the problems of women who are already marginalised in the male- dominated tribal society," Khan said. There have been cases where women were killed over petty matters like serving a meal late, or getting late ironing the men's clothes, Khan said. The proliferation of arms is spreading, and the use of these weapons with that, Khan said. "Children as young as10 years old are trained to operate AK-47 rifles in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In some areas, the exhibition of arms is regarded as a status symbol." "It is a big problem," acknowledges police officer Kareem Khan in Peshawar. In one recent case, he said, a man killed his wife because she failed to polish his shoes on time. "The inexpensiveness of arms has enabled even poor people to keep them," he told IPS.

Three decades of intense warfare have left the region awash with anything from compact, James Bond- style pen pistols to Kalashnikovs and anti-aircraft guns. Brig Saad told IPS that such large quantities of small arms floating around directly influence internal security and hinder development. "We need to disarm society and to make it more secure." Calls for disarming the civilian population were heard after hundreds of people were killed in ethnic warfare that raged between trigger-happy Pashtuns and equally well-armed Urdu-speaking Mohajirs (settlers from India) in the southern port city of Karachi in July and August. "The Pashtuns' traditional fascination for guns has been fed by the Mujahideen war that ended the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan in 1988, the bloody civil war that saw the rise of the Taliban, followed by the United States-led invasion of the country in 2001," said Saad. Pashtuns comprise roughly 17 percent of Pakistan's 175 million population, and are the largest single ethnic group after the Punjabis. In Afghanistan, they form 42 percent of the 29 million people. Where the Pashtuns once depended on a local gun-making industry that goes back to the 18th century, the advent of sophisticated weapons can be traced to the United States arming Mujahideen fighters with small arms, rocket launchers and the shoulder-fired, heat-seeking ‘stinger' missiles that picked Soviet aircraft out of the skies.