Pakistan is ranked 55th out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The country was ranked 94th out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.504, placing it in 145th place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.373. Pakistan’s Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.5583, placing it in 133rd place (out of a total of 135 countries). 

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929, the minimum age of marriage is 16 years for females and 18 years for males. The incidence of early marriage has fallen in the last decade. A 2004 United Nations report estimated that 21 percent of girls between 15 to 19 years of age were married, divorced, separated or widowed.[1] The 2007 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 16% of girls between 15 to 19 years of age were married, divorced, separated or widowed. It also found that 13.4 percent of married women aged 20-49 were married by their 15th birthday, a figure that rose to 39.5 percent of women married before they turned 18. Significantly, the DHS indicated a decline in the number of girls married before 18 as well as a rise in the median age at first marriage among younger women, from 18.5 for women aged 40-49 to 20.3 for women aged 25-29.[2]  Although Pakistani law allows all citizens to choose their spouse freely, in practice many women are denied this right. A 2007 Pew survey found that 55 percent of respondents believed that a family should choose a husband for a woman; just six percent believed that a woman should be free to choose her own husband without the input of her family.[3] Marriages are sometimes arranged in order to settle disputes between different clans, particularly in rural areas. A 2004 amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits and punishes this by imprisonment of three to ten years.[4]

Polygamy is legal, but only under strict pre-conditions, such as approval from the first wife, and the practice is generally frowned upon.[5] It is estimated that around 5 per cent of married men are involved in polygamous relationships. Reportedly, men who decide to take more than one wife rarely obtain consent and the required letter of permission from their first wives.[6]

In relation to parental authority, fathers are considered the natural guardian of children, whereas mothers are merely “custodians.” In the event of divorce, Islamic Sharia law grants custody of sons until the age of seven and of daughters until the age of 16 to their mothers. Once children reach these ages, however, custody normally reverts to the father or his family.[7]  Pakistani women have limited rights to divorce under Sharia law, which can only be granted under certain circumstances (e.g. if she has been deserted, if the husband is abusive, or if the marriage was never consummated), or if the wife requests a ‘Khula’ divorce, in which case she forfeits her dowry.[8]  In contrast, Pakistani men can repudiate (i.e. divorce their wives unilaterally) although there is a requirement to go through a three-month arbitration process with the local council.[9] However, many women are unaware of this. Pakistani women have the right to pass citizenship onto their children.[10]

Women have the legal right to acquire land via Islamic and state law. However, their inheritance rights are governed by Islamic Sharia law. Women may inherit from their fathers, mothers, husbands or children, and under certain conditions, from other family members, but their share is generally smaller than to which men are entitled. The social status attached to property and land often makes it difficult for widows and daughters to inherit even their entitled shares, as they may face opposition from the deceased man’s relatives.[11] However, the 2011 Anti-Women Practices Law makes it a punishable offence to deprive women of their inheritance rights[12]. However, it does not appear that this legislation has provided equal inheritance rights for women and girls.

[1] United Nations (2004), p. 260. [2] National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) and Macro International, Inc. (2008), Tables 6.1 and 6.4. [3] Pew Research Center (2007), Question Q.44. [4] Section 310A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, inserted via the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2004 in CEDAW (2005), pp. 23, 119. [5] Muslim Family Law Ordinance of 1961, Section 6 in CEDAW (2005), p. 14. [6] Hyat (2006) [7] CEDAW (2005), pp. 120-121. [8] CEDAW (2011), p.75; CEDAW (2005), pp.119-120 [9] CEDAW (2005), pp.119-120 [10] CEDAW (2011), p.61 [11] Mumtaz and Noshirwani (2006), pp. 4-5, 8-12; ADB (2000), pp. 9-10. [12] National Assembly (2011)

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Rape is now a criminal offence in Pakistan with sentences of 10-25 years imprisonment, although this does not extend to spousal rape.[13]  Prior to the introduction of the Protection of Women Act in 2006, rape was not listed under the penal code, but appeared instead under the Hudood Ordinance (enacted in 1979 to enforce Sharia law) as the crime of zina (extramarital sex), and cases were tried under Sharia rather than criminal law.[14]  This had meant that women who reported that they had been raped could themselves be charged, unless they were able to provide testimony from four adult male witnesses, or the rapist confessed himself to the crime.[15]

Although the National Assembly passed a bill criminalizing domestic violence in August 2009, it lapsed without passing the Senate.[16]  The bill has since been reintroduced as a private member’s bill by a woman MP.[17] While the Penal Code has a few provisions covering specific crimes against women such as acid burning[18], it remains the case that there is no specific law covering all forms of gender-related violence. A clear gap exists between legislative measures and enforcement mechanisms. Women have the legal right to press charges against their abusers, but rarely report incidents for fear that their accusations will be distorted to place the blame back on them.[19]  In 2006, the Gender Crime Cell was established within the National Police Bureau to gather, collate and analyse data on gender-based violence.[20]  The government also runs emergency shelters across the country,[21] but these are not able to meet demand, and are apparently often poorly run.[22]

Two laws addressing sexual harassment were introduced in 2010, with punishments of up to three years imprisonment or a fine of 500,000 rupees ($5880).[23]  It is thought to be a widespread problem, particularly affecting domestic servants.[24] In 2011, the government passed an amendment to the Criminal Law to specifically punish “hurt caused by a corrosive substance”. The law aims to address the problem of acid attacks.

Under-reporting and inconsistent data collection makes it difficult to ascertain the number of rapes each year.[25]  The 2011 report to the CEDAW committee notes that the separation of rape from the crime of zina (which is still illegal) has led to an increase in reports of rape.[26]  However, the US Department of State human rights report states that local NGOs have reported that it is still very difficult for women to bring rape cases, as to do so requires applying directly to the court, which is beyond the financial means of many women.[27]  The report also notes cases where police have abused or threatened rape victims, and demanded bribes before agreeing to register a case, or where cases were dropped under pressure or after receipt of a bribe from the perpetrator.[28]  There are also reported cases where police officers have themselves been accused of raping women in their custody.[29]

Domestic violence is also under reported.  The 2011 CEDAW report quotes figures from the Ministry of Women Development Crisis Centres that there were 2195 cases of domestic violence between 2005 and 2008,[30] but this is likely to be an underestimate.  The US Department of State notes that police were often reluctant to being involved in domestic violence cases, often returning the woman to her abusive family members and encouraging them to reconcile.[31] 

‘Honour killings’ are specifically criminalised in Pakistani law, with punishments of 10-14 years in prison, and the CEDAW 2011 report notes that there have been some convictions under the law.[32]  However, the US Department of State reports that each year, hundreds of women, girls and men are killed in the name of restoring the family’s ‘honour’, but that few cases are ever reported or investigated.[33]  In some cases, killings follow rulings made by a tribal court or jirga that adultery or some other ‘crime of honour’ has occurred.[34]

There is no evidence to suggest that female genital mutilation is practised in Pakistan

Abortion is permitted in cases where the woman’s mental or physical health is in danger.[35]

Women in Pakistan have the right to use contraception and to access information about family planning, although in practice, pressure from husbands and in-laws and restrictions on freedom of movement can make it very difficult for younger women in particular to access reproductive health services.[36]  Contraceptive knowledge rates, at over 95 percent for modern methods, are very high for currently married women.[37] Nevertheless, usage rates are low; only 21.7 percent of currently married women were using a modern method of contraception at the time of the 2007 DHS.[38] Among women without children, over 99 percent were not using any form of contraception.[39] About half of the women not currently using planned to use contraception in the future. However, more than half of those who had no intention to use in the future cited a religious or familial reason, such as leaving the number of children that they bore ‘up to God.’[40]

[13] US Department of State (2011) [14] Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006 in CEDAW (2011), p.25; US Department of State (2011); Freedom House (2010) [15] CEDAW (2005), p.117 [16] Ebrahim (2010a); CEDAW (2011), p.56 [17] The Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Bill 2009 in CEDAW (2011), p.24 [18] Ebrahim (2010b)  [19] CEDAW 2005, pp. 87, 122-125; US Department of State (2010) [20] CEDAW (2011), p.8 [21] CEDAW (2011), p.28 [22] US Department of State (2011) [23] Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2010 and the Protection against Harassment at the Workplace Act of 2010 in US Department of State (2011) and CEDAW (2011), p.43 [24] US Department of State (2011) [25] US Department of State (2011) [26] CEDAW (2011), p.25 [27] US Department of State (2011) [28] US Department of State (2011) [29] US Department of State (2011) [30] CEDAW (2011), p.82 [31] US Department of State (2011) [32] The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2004 in CEDAW (2011), pp.23-24 [33] US Department of State (2011) [34] US Department of State (2011) [35] UN (2011) [36] US Department of State (2011) [37] NIPS and Macro International (2008), Table 5.1. [38] NIPS and Macro International (2008),  Table 5.5. [39] NIPS and Macro International (2008),  Table 5.6. [40] NIPS and Macro International (2008),  Tables 5.12 and 5.13.

Son Bias: 

Data from the 2006-2007 DHS indicates that 49.8% of boys and 44.3% of girls under two had received all their vaccinations.[41]  Rates of under-five mortality were equal for boys and girls.[42]  Overall, this could indicate some preference towards boys in early childhood care, given that in most contexts, under-five mortality rates are higher for boys than for girls.  Gender-disaggregated data regarding childhood malnutrition was not available. 

According to UNICEF, primary and secondary school enrolment and attendance rates are higher for boys than for girls in Pakistan, by around 9%.[43]  This would indicate some preference towards sons in regard to access to education.

Evidence suggests that Pakistan is a country of concern in relation to missing women. Hudson and others used census data to show that close to six million Pakistani women were missing in 1998.[44]  The current male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.06.[45] Analysis of sex ratios across age groups indicates that there is substantial evidence of missing women in Pakistan. 

[41] NIPS and Macro International (2008),  Table 10.3 [42] NIPS and Macro International (2008),  Table 8.4 [43] UNICEF (n.d.) [44] Hudson and Den Boer (2005), p. 22. [45] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Although there are no legal restrictions to women’s ownership rights in Pakistan, discriminatory practices and norms prevail. Women have access to land and other forms of property, but data suggest that the share of female land ownership is very low.[46] A household survey, published in 2005 profiled by the International Center for Research on Women found that women owned less than 3 percent of the land – even though people in 67 per cent of sampled villages agreed that women had a right to inherit land.[47] Further, in cases where women do own land, they may not have actual control over it.[48] Increasingly, rural women are forming co-operatives, often with the assistance of micro-credit lending institutions. However, recent studies have raised concerns that micro-credit programs are not always targeted to the needs of rural women and tend to steer women towards traditional activities rather than promoting their technological and entrepreneurial capacities.[49] The law grants Pakistani women access to property other than land on the same grounds as men. In reality, many women allow their husbands to manage such property on their behalf.[50]

Pakistani women are entitled to obtain bank loans and other forms of credit, and a number of credit institutions now target women. However, their access is limited by their inability to provide the required collateral. Women with low literacy or limited mobility are further disadvantaged by their inability to obtain the National Identity Card needed to secure a loan.[51] 

[46] USAID (2011) [47] Mason and Carlsson (2004) [48] Mumtaz & Noshirwani (2006), pp. 8-12; ADB (2000), pp. 9-10; ADB (2008), p. 25; Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), p. 120. [49] CEDAW (2005), p. 104, 110; ADB (2008), pp. 26-27. [50] Mumtaz and Noshirwani (2006), pp. 8-12. [51] ADB (2000), pp. 9-10; ADB (2008), pp. 25-26; Mumtaz and Noshirwani (2006), p. 12.

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Social norms that reinforce women’s primary responsibility as a wife and mother are very strong in Pakistan. Her sphere is the household, and her behaviour reflects upon the honour of her whole family. Because of this, women’s access to public space is often circumscribed, particularly in regard to mobility.[52] Although women have the legal right to freedom of movement, widespread discriminatory practices limit their ability to exercise this right, particularly in Taliban-controlled tribal areas.[53] At its most extreme, ‘honour’ killings and the practice of purdah severely circumscribe the civil liberties of women. However, women do have the right to apply for passports on the same grounds as men.[54] 

Rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association are often violated in Pakistan.[55]  There are a large number of active and vocal NGOs working on women’s rights issues; the 2011 CEDAW report notes that ‘women are prominent in the NGO sector, and women head the best known and most effective organizations associated with enabling women to access their rights and entitlements.’[56]  However, Freedom House reports that NGOs women’s education and empowerment, and female NGO staff in general, have faced have faced threats, attacks, and a number of murders at the hands of radical Islamists, particularly in the north of the country.[57]

Although there are no legal restrictions on women’s ability to stand for elected office or otherwise participate in political activity, some reports claim that restrictions on women’s mobility have been used to prevent women from voting or submitting candidatures for election.[58] By law 33 percent of seats in the local elected bodies and 17 percent of seats in the National Assembly, provincial assemblies, and the Senate are reserved for women.[59] As of February 2010 there were 76 women serving in the National Assembly, 60 of whom were appointed through  the national quota and 16 elected freely.[60] For the first time in the nation’s history, the Speaker of the National Assembly is a woman. Additionally, there are five women in the federal cabinet.[61] However, despite the legal quotas that make it easier for women to participate in public life, public opinion lags behind. In a 2007 Pew opinion poll, 54 percent of respondents believed that men make better political leaders than women, while 32 percent answered that men and women were equally capable. Only 8 percent believed women were better.[62]

Pakistan offers women 12 weeks of paid maternity leave at 100 percent of their wages, paid for by their employer.[63] However there is no other protection for expectant mothers written into law, and the current law lacks sufficient enforcement mechanisms. The large number of women employed in the informal sector and in agriculture as unpaid family workers means that they are not covered by maternity laws.[64]

[52] CEDAW (2005), p. 126; ADB (2008), pp. 15-16. [53] ADB (2000), p. 2; CEDAW (2005), p. 46; ADB (2008), pp. 15-16. [54] CEDAW (2005), p. 54. [55] Freedom House (2010) [56] CEDAW (2011), p.60 [57] Freedom House (2010) [58] CEDAW (2005), pp. 35-37, 46. [59] CEDAW (2005), p. 45. [60] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010) [61] US Department of State (2010) [62] Pew (2007), Question Q.44. [63] International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [64] JICA (2008), pp. 68-69.


Pakistan was created in 1947 with the partition of the Indian subcontinent, following the end of British colonial rule.  Pakistan was originally made up of two parts – East and West Pakistan – but East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh in 1971.[65]  Successive military and civilian governments have struggled to bring about political stability.[66]  In addition, Pakistan has struggled to maintain control over tribal regions along the border of Afghanistan, where the Taliban are strong, and there is on-going tension with India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.[67]  In 2010, massive floods in Pakistan brought devastation to villages across the country, affecting as many as 20 million people.[68]  Pakistan is ranked as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank.[69]

The Constitution of Pakistan upholds the principles of equal rights and equal treatment of all persons.[70] Over the last two years, the government has passed legislation to promote gender equality including the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010 and the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, as well as amendments to the Criminal Law to target acid attacks.[71]

In practice, women are subject to systematic discrimination, although the position of women varies considerably among different social and ethnic groups.[72]  Even though a slow closing of the gaps between men and women has been observed, women still have limited access to education, employment and health services. Lack of government resources, high poverty and low levels of literacy all contribute to the fact that very few women are aware of their rights, while also complicating the implementation and enforcement of reforms intended to improve their situation.[73]  According to Oxfam, women experienced particular difficulties accessing assistance after the floods in 2010, due to culturally imposed restrictions on their mobility, and were also at increased vulnerability to gender-based violence.[74] Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1996, but has not yet ratified the Optional Protocol.[75]

[65] BBC (n.d.) [66] BBC (n.d.) [67] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011); Freedom House (2010) [68] Oxfam (2011), p.3 [69] World Bank (n.d.) [70] Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Part II, Chapter 1. [71] [72]  Asian Development Bank (ADB) (2000) [73] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2005), p. 30; Asian Development Bank (ADB) (2008), pp. 15-16. [74] Oxfam (2011), pp.5, 7 [75] UNTC (2011)


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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: