4 December 2006
In December 2006, following sustained pressure from international women's rights groups (including ActionAid Pakistan), the Pakistani government abolished the highly controversial Hudood Ordinance from domestic law.
The Ordinance made it exceptionally difficult to prove an allegation of rape, as it required four adult male eye witnesses to the act of penetration. Failure to prove rape placed the woman at risk of prosecution for adultery which could lead to imprisonment.
However, whilst this is an important step forward, legal experts in Pakistan warn that enforcement of the reforms will be difficult and their implementation will bring very little relief to the plight of the country’s women. ActionAid Pakistan is working with women’s groups across the country to campaign for stronger enforcement and a change in the situation that currently means nearly 80% of women in Pakistan’s jails are charged under laws that penalise rape victims, rather than protect them.
Women who become pregnant because of rape are automatically guilty and often face death at their own families’ hands for allowing themselves to be dishonoured. ActionAid and women’s rights groups across Pakistan are campaigning for change.
In a safe location in Islamabad, pale and trembling in a black hijab, Lubna collapses and cries uncontrollably as she tells the story of her rape to ActionAid and the UK women's magazine, Grazia. The 21-year-old is supported by her husband Nasir while she explains her horrifying ordeal.
Lubna married for love, but her father disapproved. He did all in his power to split the couple up. When that failed, he asked her to come home alone to discuss the situation. On her arrival at the local station, she was bundled into a car by three armed men, who she says worked for a local landowner. Lubna was terrified, but her nightmare was only just beginning.
Locked in an outbuilding, Lubna alleges that the landowner threw her onto an old bed, bound and gagged her with his own turban, and then raped her three times over the course of four hours. "I can’t believe the things he did to me,” she said. “He took his clothes off. He was angry and shouting. He hit me on my face and my neck and then he started biting my breasts. He had a knife and he was running it up and down my body."
Lubna doesn't believe her father meant for her to be raped, but she feels betrayed by a system that will not support her. When she went to lawyers, they told her the case was not worth pursuing as no witnesses would step forward. But worse was to come. Because Lubna's family promised her in marriage to a three-year-old cousin long before she met her husband, a local court has found her guilty of adultery. She now fears for her life.
Lubna and Nasir cannot stay in any place for long. They flee from one safe house to another. "I don’t know how long I will be allowed to live. My life is finished. I am even afraid to open the door. The phone rings and I jump. We have no protection. The law only helps my rapist. The fight for justice is a long struggle."
Lubna and Nasir wanted ActionAid to tell their story to show the reality of their lives, but to protect their identity we have changed their names. The only way for Lubna to be safe is to go into a refuge and leave Nasir. But she will not abandon him, and he will not abandon her.
photo : ©Warrick Page/ Panos/ ActionAid