Why the murder of a Pakstani minster is bad for women everywhere

January 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

Salman Taseer

Today Pakistan is on high alert. The murder of liberal politician Salman Taseer yesterday has shocked the world – shot by one of this own bodyguards for being against the country’s blasphemy laws. Terrifyingly, 500 scholars later praised the killer and told their followers not to grieve or they would suffer the same fate. They warned that there “should be no expression of grief or sympathy for ….those who support blasphemy”.

The liberal elite in the country is small and the radical mullahs draw a large support base – not least based on fear and intimidation, using violence as a tool to silence equal values. Taseer argued that Islam did not attack minority groups, but protected human rights. Interpreting Muslim values can be a risky thing to do in a country where conservative religious values hold heavy sway. The thousands who gathered to mourn him at his funeral today have made a bold, brave stand for justice at the risk of their own lives.

His death is bad news for liberalism in Pakistan – and it is very, very bad news for women. Religious extremism and the annihilation of women’s right go hand in hand.

 Taseer had championed the cause of Asia Biba, the Christian woman sentenced to death and visited her in prison with his own wife and daughter to show support. He had made a stand over improving the status of women in Pakistan, where there is much work to be done. He had argued for allowing them equal status in a country where many still consider rape to be a woman’s fault.  The Women’s Protection Bill of 2006, for example, was undermined by fierce criticism for offering women the tiniest amount of protection against rape and forced marriage. The law was brought in originally to try and amend the Hudood Ordinances laws, which meant among other measures that a woman who had been raped was liable to prosecution for adultery if she could not produce four male witnesses to the assault. That gives some idea of the uphill struggle facing liberals in Pakistan.

Tributes from some Pakistani women were made today as they feared his death would equal steps backwards for women’s empowerment. Shehla Akram, president of Punjab’s Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “He was one of the most progressive leaders of Pakistan and one who was wholly committed to improving conditions for women in the country.”

 Today we mourn the death of Salman Taseer as a tragic loss in the fight to promote equality and fair treatment for women worldwide.

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