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Pakistan's CEDAW Session: A Step Further in the Integrated Human Rights Approach for Women

14 February 2013

In Pakistan, the 12th of February is the national women’s day, which happened just at the right time, since here in Geneva it was also the day of Pakistan’s review for the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In the course of this interactive dialogue, the CEDAW experts raised many questions for the Pakistani delegation and pointed out multiple problems facing women of Pakistan.

Ending violence against women

Following up on a survey performed in Pakistan by IANSA Women and on our oral statement delivered at the review, an expert of the Committee, Patricia Schulz, called the delegation out on the issue of small arms’ sale and trade, which underlies domestic gun violence against women. She wondered whether the State party had a plan to strictly regulate the sale and trade of small arms. WILPF regrets that Pakistan’s delegation solely claimed that arms have been flowing from Afghanistan where they were first used during wars, and thus the introduction of arms in Pakistan would be difficult to hold back. We need to remind the government of Pakistan that it is their obligation under due diligence to ensure that arms flow do not contribute to increase violence against women.

Photo of the 54th CEDAW SessionHowever, the fact that the issue of small arms was taken up by the CEDAW Committee in this context is an important further step in the human rights integrated approach that WILPF is supporting. The involvement of small arms discussions within the CEDAW Committee session shows recognition of the fact that women’s rights cannot be discussed in a vacuum, separate from all peace and security issues. We therefore salute Patricia Schulz’s intervention and encourage the Committee to continue in this line of an integrated approach to human rights.

The appalling issue of honour killings also featured prominently in the discussion. The Committee expressed its concerns regarding the fact that national laws do not hold perpetrators accountable of such crimes and even encourage honour killings. Qisas and Diyat provisions allow for a compromise or pardoning of the killer by the heirs of the deceased, this has been widely used for cases of honour killings, specially as very often perpetrator and victim belong to the same family.

Another concerning violation of women’s human rights in Pakistan is the use of acid to burn women as a way of punishment. The new bill on acid control and regulation declares acid throwing as illegal and deals with punishment of the perpetrators, but does not contain any particular provisions on reparation of victims. Furthermore, it is also only applicable in Islamabad, which is not even the largest city in Pakistan!

Women’s trafficking was also an issue of great concern for the Committee, since Pakistan has no comprehensive legislation dealing with all forms of trafficking, while it is both a transit and destination country for such trafficking. The committee denounced the failure of the Pakistani government to tackle the roots of trafficking, as well as the lack of compensation for and rehabilitation and protection of victims. The delegation replied that the new law on trafficking was still being blocked by the Parliament, in particular by the right wing. The negotiations with the government are still in progress.

Political and legislative issues

The members of the Committee then asked about the lack of implementation of the CEDAW Convention through national laws. Part of the legislation on women’s rights is not in line with the Convention, but the delegation of Pakistan replied that most of these discriminatory laws that are not in conformity with Pakistan’s international obligations have been adopted and implemented by the former regime and not in the frame of a democratic process. Cancelling such legislation would now require political consensus, which is, according to the delegation, quite difficult to achieve in this country. It is however Pakistan’s obligation to conform its domestic legislation with its international obligations including CEDAW, regardless of its political context as the Committee pointed out.

The serious lack of political empowerment of Pakistani women was also a concern. There are currently only 60 seats reserved for women in the national assembly, which is less than 18% of total seats and they still remain understaffed at the local level. Indeed, the separation of powers in Pakistan gives little power to local governments, and as a consequence, little space for women at this level. Yet, the delegation asserted that though the number of women implicated in the political life is constantly increasing, some quotas are still unfilled because there are unfortunately few female candidates willing to apply.

Right to education

The members of the CEDAW often made references to Malala, and for good reason: girls’ access to education remains particularly difficult, especially in some remote rural areas of Pakistan. Girls are still suffering from discrimination in education, as many families with limited resources still prefer to send boys to school rather than girls. Moreover, religious arguments continue to be invoked to oppose to girls’ education, even if the Koran promotes the right to education for everyone without any gender distinction.

Photo of the 54th CEDAW SessionHowever, the delegation asserted that there has been a change of mentality in recent years and that many families now have the desire to educate their daughters. Yet, security in girls’ schools remains a great concern: many of these schools are bombed by terrorist and extremist groups, in particular in some areas. The CEDAW committee denounced the strong cultural factors and traditional stereotypes still blocking girls from education in Pakistan today, regardless of whether this supposedly only happens at a local level.

Women’s health

Pakistan’s laws ban abortion for non-medical reasons and thus many Pakistani women undergo illegal abortions. The CEDAW Committee expressed its concern regarding the high maternal mortality, which could be explained, according to the State party, by the long distance from rural villages to care centres and by the lack of information provided to pregnant women.

These challenges that most rural women have to face are a threat to their right to health and to life. The Committee called for a higher budget allocated to health care and for more education and information on contraceptives and pregnancy.

Women in family law

Finally, it was discussed how extremely difficult it is for a Pakistani woman to leave her spouse: indeed, whereas men can easily ask for a divorce, women do not enjoy such an option. If they want to obtain a divorce, the procedure is incredibly intricate and challenging and often even impossible.

The CEDAW also mentioned other issues such as the legal age of 16 for marriage for girls, the non-recognition of marital rape as a crime and the property of women in case of separation.

What to do now?

The process of human rights review does not end at the review itself, it is a continuous process that civil society needs to be involved in to ensure the supervision of the implementation of observations from the Committee.

The concluding observations of the Committee, which are a great tool for advocacy, will soon be available on the CEDAW 54th Session page. It is the obligation of the Member state to widely share the content of these concluding observations in the local languages, and the civil society should also contribute to the public awareness of the results using adapted resources that speak to everyday life situations.

Civil society should also monitor the implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations and be involved in the implementation assessments and bring up the observations in many different fora, either international or national.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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