Pakistani Women Work for Peace Amid Violence

   •    January 15, 2010

This article was originally published by The Boston Globe.

Last month in Lahore, Pakistan, a court ordered the noses and ears of two brothers cut off after they were convicted of doing the same thing to Fazeelat Bibi, a 21 year-old woman who had declined a marriage proposal from one of them. Although few believe that part of the sentence will ever be carried out, it is considered a victory for women’s rights that the case against the brothers was even brought. The men were charged with kidnapping Bibi and trying to slit her throat with a wire for the “dishonor’’ she had brought upon the suitor. Instead, they merely mutilated her and left her for dead.

Every day in Pakistan – and in volatile trouble spots all over the world – women’s lives are routinely endangered, to say nothing of their “rights.’’ Even where such practices are strictly against the law, they are woven into a social system where young girls are bartered away to pay off family debts, brides are killed in suspicious “kitchen fires’’ for having an insufficient dowry, and women marry their rapists because they cannot live with the social stigma of a crime not their own.

Against such a backdrop it is difficult to imagine women in Pakistan even leaving their homes, much less receiving an education and becoming agitators for change. And yet the horrors only animate the courageous women who are fighting for peace and dignity in their war-torn countries. Gathered at Harvard this week for a colloquium sponsored by the Institute for Inclusive Security, many of these women – from Pakistan, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Lebanon – made a strong case for being brought into peace negotiations or other efforts to engage extremists.

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