Attacking women in Pakistan

October 31, 2009

Back in the spring, when the Pakistani Taliban still controlled the Swat valley, video footage of a girl being flogged became one of the most powerful images of their rule. The footage, shot on a mobile phone and circulated on YouTube, turned public opinion against the Taliban and helped lay the groundwork for a military offensive there.

In the latest spate of bombings sweeping Pakistan, women have again become targets.  First came the twin suicide bombing on the International Islamic University in Islamabad which included an attack on the women’s canteen.  Then last week, more than 100 people were killed in the car bombing of a bazaar in Peshawar which was frequented largely by women.

“It was the deadliest bombing in Pakistan in two years and its target was clear: not the police, not the security forces, not political leaders, but Peshawar’s women,” wrote Rafia Zakaria in the Daily Times. “The site of the blast, Peshawar’s Meena Bazar, as is well known in the area, is an exclusively women’s shopping area where women and children shop for clothing, household wares and similar goods. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those killed were women and children.”

“While the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have denied involvement in the bombing, investigations, the modus operandi of the attack and most importantly the target of the bombing all point to their culpability. Most significant of these factors is that the attack targeted women. It is after all females who have borne the brunt of the TTP’s onslaught since they began their reign of terror in the northwest of Pakistan. As the Taliban’s war against the Pakistani state has ensued, the marginalisation of women, the destruction of schools constructed for their education and their banishment from public spaces like the Meena Bazar have been a central facet of the Taliban’s campaign of terror and hatred. This latest attack thus fits perfectly into this grimly familiar design. The massive and indiscriminate killing of scores of innocent women and children who had dared to leave the walls of their home inculcates the very fear that the Taliban seek to instil among Pakistani women across the country.”

There are many overlapping reasons for women being killed, of which forcing them to stay at home is only one.  Misogyny, in any culture, has always been the preserve of the weak who cannot show their power in any other way. So what seems to be happening here is actually about power. By attacking women and children, along with the teenage girls in Islamabad University, the militants can prove they will stop at nothing in order to drive fear into the civilian population.

My question is how this should be addressed.

In Afghanistan, the west has begun to “load-shed” the rights of women on the grounds that the environment is already complicated enough.

But what if we turn this around and say that the only way to respond to the current wave of violence sweeping Afghanistan and Pakistan is by looking at the 50 percent of the population who are women?

 Please post whatever links you can, and I’ll collect and make sense of them.

(Photos: funeral of a girl killed in Islamabad; after the bombing in Peshawar)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

You are responsible for the violence against women. You somehow think we can go over to the other side of the world and blow them up and there won’t be serious consequences. You demonstrate a good reason why women should not be involved in public discussions.

Posted by Stan Lippmann | Report as abusive

It is a daunting debate at this time of terror visiting and revisiting our cities, day after day, as to where one should draw the line between fending for oneself and creating a sense of panic while doing so. The debate basically revolves around fear and prudence. For instance, anxiety has gripped the parents of many school-going children today. Authorities in Lahore keep closing down private schools that are not found to be ‘prepared’ enough to face a terrorist attack

Posted by AHR | Report as abusive

You demonstrate a good reason why women should not be involved in public discussions.

– Posted by Stan Lippmann

Internet connections are working in the caves? Beats everything I have seen here on Reuters blog.

Posted by Raj | Report as abusive

stan lipman, your comment makes no sense. ignorant, no, stupid. this is the kind of crap that makes me hate a large portion of humanity. just die please.

Posted by chet | Report as abusive

Pakistani woman are the target because they are smarter and move powerful than the men in Pakistan. This is evident by the writer who blames the reporter for the DEATH of women killed by bombs. More of these hate killings and the world will respond in kind. With military might.

Posted by virginia hull | Report as abusive

I can’t really believe the first comment here is written by a sane person. Best ignored.

Crimes against women, horrendous by themselves, become even more so when they are committed in the name of some distorted religious belief or teaching. What surprises me is that not many of the clergy disown this and decry it as a crime against humanity and their faith. Somehow they seem to be ever willing to denounce whatever they feel is an assault on their beliefs. When crimes are being committed, using faith as a crutch, there is a muted silence, almost a conspiracy. This is true of many faiths and it is common in this region. Economic deprivation may also act as a catalyst, where a woman or girl child is seen as a liability.

Sometimes I feel, as a male, that perhaps I too am guilty of abetting this nonsense by not standing up against it more vehemently.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

They only care if the women have been killed by “westerners” and they can use it for propaganda purposes. Fact is you cant make people that do not value women care about violence against them. And they do not value women, plain and simple.

Posted by michelle | Report as abusive

After 8 years of bloody war in Afghanistan/Iraq is the world more safer place?

If you want peace in this region: Tell uncle Sam pack his bags and go home and stay home and use those resources which it will save by NOT being Afghanistan to intercept people that did get into US, are trying again and got the training there, in some cases educated there too.

The reason being these fanatics Al Qaeda wanted a target idealy in Afghanistan and they have got it. So as seen they are pouring in from all over Uzbekstan/Tajikstan even Europe to confront the Uncle sam army. Why NOT get the UN to play more active role get the muslims countries to contribute towards forces that will keep peace and build the country as the Afghans want it NOT waht the West would like to impose.

But then why would uncle Sam want to leave who will keep eye on the Chinese/Iranians n so on.

Till there are CLEAR double standards, unjustice we will have people taking religion n law into their own hands. As a good example so called noble peace winner Obama.

First asking the Israils to STOP the settelments but then must be pressure from the Jew lobby and put in reverse gear. Its like a family lawyer to Zionist regime that have nuclear bombs, But NO eye brows are raised, have commited crime agaisnt humanity and the list goes on so….. All empires rise n fall and personlay the better US stop meddling in others affairs the better for its own sake!!!

Posted by Majid | Report as abusive

Michelle put it well. The ‘load shedding’ in Afghanistan comes because overtaksed Western can’t do the jobs of Afghan men. If the latter don’t care about their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers, then why should the Westerners. NATO and the NGOs will do what they can. But the best thing they can do for women in Afghanistan is to permanently eliminate the Taliban. Unfortunately, cowardice can be infectious and it seems to have spread to Pakistan. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the men of Pakistan will complain about RAQ, Mossad, the CIA, etc. but will scarcely utter a word when their women and children are being slaughtered. The Pakistani way is to negotiate a peace deal with these murderes and then advocate the same solution for Afghanistan.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Societies that liberated women and gave them freedom and independence have become one of the most advanced ones in this world. World wars gave women economic independence which led to their freedom and equality. India is learning that now. For centuries women were denied their chances and kept like cattle. Thanks to progressive policies of the Indian politicians and economic liberalization. Indian women are making an impact and India’s growth and progress has a direct bearing on women’s economic independence and education. Societies which are oppressing women in the name of religion or whatever beliefs are evidences of what would become of them. Women are the root of the human species. They support the whole humanity while not taking much credit. Men are like the branches that spread the leaves out in all directions. Without the root there will be no tree. And if societies poison those roots with prejudice, they will turn into sand blasted deserts. Afghanistan under the Taliban is one example. Once the oil dries up or the demand of oil goes down due to alternate energy, the middle east will become one as well. Injustice to women is the worst karma that humans can pile up. And the world is suffering now because of that karma.

If women are given freedom and independence, most prejudices like casteism, color prejudice etc will disappear on their own. Women value love and compassion more than anything else and this world has survived because of that.

Posted by KP Singh | Report as abusive

Myra: A word or two on Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan from NWFP–also known as Frontier Gandhi–can be mentioned since he worked for women’s rights–getting them out of homes, get education and prescribing non-violence—entirely opposite to what is being done by Taliban and other barbarians. Khan always remained a forgotten man—Mahatma Gandhi eclipsed him in India and Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan.

@They only care if the women have been killed by “westerners” and they can use it for propaganda purposes. Fact is you cant make people that do not value women care about violence against them. And they do not value women, plain and simple.
– Posted by michelle

@One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry that the men of Pakistan will complain about RAQ, Mossad, the CIA, etc. but will scarcely utter a word when their women and children are being slaughtered”

Keith and Michelle: You are right. You will see Pakistanis crying for months on blogs for Kashmiri women who over questioning/rape allegations on Indian soldiers in kashmir. But for Peshawar type attacks where hundred women and children are blown, I have seen some of them still saying some thing like “Agreed Taliban are bad but Taliban cannot kill women and Children”. I do not know why not? Perhaps the logic works like: Talibans are muslims and Islam is peaceful.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

I can see from reading the 2 newest blogs that the topic seems to be honing in on more specific details of the situations in Pakistan. There has been another bomb attack in Rawalpindi, by the Shalimar 4-star hotel. At least 30 are dead.

Will Rehman Malik visit the site and give his usual security lapse speech?

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive

I agree with Raj, Chet and Dara. Is Stan Lippmann one of Bin Laden’s aliases? Or perhaps he’s related to Martin Bormann? No, I prefer to think the post is just a sick joke, so I don’t lose what little remains of my faith in humanity…

Posted by Matthew | Report as abusive

General Sir David Richard, Chief of General Staff, UK and General Stanley McChrystal, Commander International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) called on Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani today at General Headquarters Rawalpindi.
The visiting dignitaries remained with him for some time and discussed matters of professional interest. t-press_release&id=974#pr_link974

Posted by Umair | Report as abusive

Majid shows us the root of the problems in Pakistan. Women and children are dying at the hands of Taliban insurgents but he complains about the USA, Jews, Zionists, etc. Everything and everybody else is to blame. Anything to avoid taking responsbility. Is it really any wonder that Pakistan is in the dire straits it is in when the most literate of Pakistanis thinks like this?

I truly feel sorry for the women and children of Pakistan. What have they done to deserve menfolk like this?

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Main target of Taliban is Pakistan Army & Police. Today blast again on Police check post in Lahore Punjab Pakistan.

Posted by Pak Spectator | Report as abusive

For Pakistani women it has always been one step forward and two steps backwards. For every progressive Pakistani who has worked towards the liberation of the Pakistani women this country has produced twice as many hell bent on demolishing their hard earned rights.
If anything Jinnah by setting an example of his own liberal thinking, paid for educating his sister to be a dentist, when few families on the subcontinent were ready for an educated women in the early part of the twentieth century. Now a hundred years later the Taliban are trying to reverse every gain that Pakistani women have made during these last hundred years or so.
If the Taliban suceed, a substantial number of educated Pakistani women will be making the way out of the country. A Taliban success will temporarily set the women’s movement back by a few decades at least.

Much like the Iranian revolution where despite the ruling clergy encroaching on women’s rights initially forced many liberated Iranian women into the arms of the West. Yet today women outnumber men in terms of University education.

Pakistani women prevail eventually no matter what happens.

Posted by abbas | Report as abusive

All you Indians and your Western cronies stop blaming all of Pakistan for women’s problems. Terrorists have no values. They always target soft and the weak. In your dear countries, women’s life is no better. They still live subservient to men. Even in the most advanced USA, women employees do not get paid as much as their man for the same job. Barack Obama clearly mentioned it in his speech a year ago. And India has female infanticide, dowry deaths, rape and all kinds of atrocities against women. Crimes against women are definitely worth condemning. But stop singling out Pakistan or Muslims for it. Islam is a very progressive religion. It protects the dignity and honor of women. If people do not follow its tenets and start abusing them, you cannot blame a religion or a nation for it. Flesh trade and prostitution are crimes against women as well and it goes on in many “friendly” countries that no one mentions about. Let us see if anyone can put an end to all that first. In the US, states like Nevada run prostitution as a legal business. Look at your glass houses first.

Posted by Mohammed Anjum | Report as abusive


I agree with a lot of what you say. However, I don’t think anyone is blaming Islam, in fact most are of the opinion, like you, that those who carry out atrocities on women in the name of religion, are in fact misinterpreting that religion to justify their actions. What is important, however, that we don’t cow down and keep quiet about it but protest vehemently against both, the criminal activity and twisting religious teaching to justify it. More voices need to be raised in anger. Whether it happens in any country or any religion is irrelevant, it is and always will remain a crime against humanity.

Posted by Dara | Report as abusive

Mohammed Anjum,

Don’t make us laugh sir. Suggesting that some inequality for women in the west is somehow on par with the deplorable status of women in Pakistan and quite simply the value (or lack thereof) for women’s lives, is simply laughable.

Our women may suffer from 10% less pay. Or maybe they don’t get all the maternity benefits they want. Yours get killed, raped, and tortured, with little to no justice for their sufferings.

When someone harms a woman in the west, our authorities go out of the way to bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice. In Pakistan, scores of women get killed and the best response your menfolk have is, “The Zionists did it” or “If America left Afghanistan this would not have happened.”

Would that Pakistani men had the action to back up their tough talk. Perhaps the women of your country might have suffered less. Yet even now, you are more interested in protecting your pride than protecting your women. How proud your wives, mothers and daughters must be.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Mohammad Anjum,

Perhaps you can interpret for us how the progressive nature of Islam with regards to women was demonstrated by these supposed Islamist militants with their execution of an attack on a women’s canteen of an Islamic University.

Care to shed some light on that?

Is it progressive that Islamist militants give women preferential treatment on the target list? Perhaps they were trying to liberate women from the burden of an education…by killing them.

Yet, remarkably not once in any of your ramblings have you called these terrorists what they are: anti-Islamic. That you can’t call them that, even when they kill muslim women speaks volumes about you and your character.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Mr. Keith,

Please read my words again. I said, “If people do not follow its tenets and start abusing them, you cannot blame a religion or a nation for it.”

And you ask, “Perhaps you can interpret for us how the progressive nature of Islam with regards to women was demonstrated by these supposed Islamist militants with their execution of an attack on a women’s canteen of an Islamic University”

This like accusing all of Christianity for the actions of the KKK or Nazis. Terrorists and militants do not represent Islam. They distort everything to suit their needs and attack whoever they think are weak.

Other than that, injustice to women has been done across the globe in all societies. Women are still used as property in many places. All this injustice will need to be highlighted by organizations like the UN and something needs to be done. India is famous for human trafficking for flesh trade. Why attack militants selectively when there is no awareness about what people are doing in their own countries? I am not supporting the actions of the militants. We all know what criminal do. But criminals are everywhere in various forms.

Posted by Mohammad Anjum | Report as abusive

@ Crimes against women are definitely worth condemning. But stop singling out Pakistan or Muslims for it. Islam is a very progressive religion. It protects the dignity and honor of women.”
-Mohammed Anjum

—Can you elaborate more than saying “Islam is a very progressive religion” A woman in Pakistan who fails to prove rape is often prosecuted for zina. The requirement of proof for rape has made absolutely impossible to prove it. Rape confirmed by medical examination is not a rape if four victims are unavailable. But this is taken as woman’s confession for Zina. Laws are anti-women so what progress are you talking here. And guess what these are under more relaxed laws since 2006 not under Zia time. In India, the law does not discriminate this and the problems are at the level of exercising the laws if a rape goes unpunished.

If you are talking about the progress in science in Muslim countries, that is also not the case. -content-library/dawn/the-newspaper/colu mnists/irfan-husain-survival-of-the-fitt est

Quote“Our excuse for our backwardness in the sciences is the poverty that is endemic in so many Muslim countries. But this is not true for several oil-rich states. The reality is that there is not a single world-class research institution in any Islamic country. Instead of squabbling over the fine points of dogma, if we could devote some of our energy to acquiring knowledge, we would all be far better off today.”
Athar Osama in
Quote“Scientific and technological research and innovation is not among the qualities that one may attribute to the countries in the Muslim World. Having missed the dawn of scientific age due to reasons beyond the scope of this article, the 50-odd countries of the Islamic world cut a sorry figure when stacked against the modern and advanced countries of the West or even, for that matter, the states of the former Soviet Union and the under-developed India or China.”Unquote

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

Mr. Anjum,

Sir, you’ve made a habit in these blogs, thread after thread of stopping short of condemning the insurgents without condition. It’s always the fault of someone else: the West, or the Indians or (what always makes the rest of us laugh) Mossad and the Jews. And if they run off to kill Indians or westerners, than it’s entirely justified…Of course, western intervention in your country, that follows is not justified. (I am starting to wonder what kind of logic they teach in the Pakistani schools.)

Even now, you don’t seem to condemn the insurgents for attacking innocent women. Instead you rush to defend Islam or to ramble on how bad the situation is for women in India (which is still far better than what’s in Pakistan, there’s UN stats to back that up). How is any of that relevant? Sure prostitution is legal in Nevada. And you and I both know that prostitutes are an easy find in any major Pakistani city as well (even if it’s illegal). How are comparisons like this going to save your women? Are you suggesting that it’s tolerable for women to get blown up in Pakistan because prostitution is legal in Nevada or because there’s some human trafficking in India?

Do you not have the moral fortitude, sir, to state clearly that all terrorism is wrong and that all those who kill are against Islam, regardless of who the victim is? You cannot, yet, bring yourself to condemn those who kill, without reservation or condition? Even now when the women of Pakistan are dying, you can’t say that much? wow.

Stop labelling them as criminals. Call them what they are: terrorists. Condemn violence against civilians everywhere, not just in Pakistan. A woman in the Taj Hotel in Mumbai is worth just as much as a female secretary working in the World Trade Centre in New York and a mother buying groceries in a market in Peshawar. Can you, for once, condemn all those who kill women, anywhere and everywhere as terrorists? Not just some common criminals, on par with pick-pockets?

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

Mohammad Anjum,

As always, all you have to offer is, distorted facts, ridiculous analogies & a juvenile penchant to point fingers at others instead of accepting the defects of your own society. Comparing the plight of women in Pakistan to the problems they face in the west or even in India is quite laughable but even if one were to buy your own distorted version of ‘facts’, how does that help making the lives of Pakistani women any better? It’s exactly due to such lack of introspection & bigotry, that your country is sinking deeper in the abyss.

Posted by Mortal | Report as abusive


Terrorists do not discriminate. They target everyone when they blow themselves up. I am not their representative. So expecting me to apologize for them is ridiculous. That is like expecting you to apologize for killing innocent civilians by your drones. As an individual I feel sorry for everyone who is a victim, including women and children. We do not know what the plans of the terrorist elements are. Tomorrow they might attack a bunch of hospitals. Then I wonder how that will be extrapolated. May be someone will blame Muslims again.

Pakistan has been turned into a war zone by your countries. And unfortunately civilians are dying in the bargain. Your countries do all atrocities against humanity and preach to others about human rights. I don’t have to justify anything to any one of you.

Posted by Mohammad Anjum | Report as abusive

Mohammad Anjum wrote:

Terrorists do not discriminate. They target everyone when they blow themselves up.
-Just like the Pakistani LeT terrorists caused a massacre in Mumbai went around killing all those who were non-Muslim.

I am not their representative. So expecting me to apologize for them is ridiculous.
-As an Indian I would expect an apology from Pakistan for all the years of terrorism it sponsored against India. However, looking at Pakistan today, I have a revived belief in karma.

Pakistan has been turned into a war zone by your countries. And unfortunately civilians are dying in the bargain. Your countries do all atrocities against humanity and preach to others about human rights. I don’t have to justify anything to any one of you.
-Pakistan created and nurtured these terroists via its Zia ul-Haq blessed Madrassa system of schools. It used the Taliban to stategically control Afghanistan under a barbaric regime.

-Just like most of Pakistanis on blogs you fail to come clean about your past failing and blame everything squarely on others. The last Soviet tanks left Afghanistan in 1989. If you think the fighters of that time are the same ones as the Taliban then you are mistaken. Taliban came into being in the mid-1990s with all the blessing of N. Sharif.

A question for you:
If these holy warriors were so courageous and victorious in bring down the so-called mighty Soviet Empire. Then why could they no get tother with the same zeal to ask for help in rebuilding Afghanistan?

Posted by bulletfish | Report as abusive


You were not asked to apologise for the actions of the terrorists. Nor were you accused of being their representative.

You were asked to condemn their actions. And to admit that the forces of militant islam are a scourge on innocent people and Pakistan. And you didn’t. Rather, you were offended that you were asked to do so.

But even now, you blame other nations. Is it Americans who are blowing themselves up in Pakistan? Indians? Or Israelis?

No. It isn’t. It is Pakistani militants, of the Pakistani religion, blowing up Pakistani streets and killing Pakistani people. Pakistan allowed these groups to grow. Now Pakistan is at war with those groups.

It is a sign of the duality of Pakistan. Even as their own faith and own militants kill them, they still blame America and the West for it all.

Perhaps they are simply in denial. Or perhaps this anti-west view is simply a sign that many people in Pakistan agree with the very mindset that seeks to kill women and children.

Posted by Joeyjoe | Report as abusive

Anjum won’t condemn the terrorists because in the back of his mind he can’t condemn a terrorist who could be used elsewhere. What he really means to say when he obfuscates and feigns offence is that he wishes the victims were not Pakistani. In his mind it was not what they did that was wrong, it was who they did it to.

He’s okay with everybody else dying. But if it’s a Pakistani Sunni Muslim (other religious minorities don’t count) then he becomes deeply flustered and can’t explain or condemn terrorism. But, of course, if this was a market in Mumbai or a building in New York or a subway in London, he’d tell us it was justified because of Kashmir or the Indian/Western treatment of Muslims, blah, blah, blah, whatever else he can think of to justify the killing of innocents.

He doesn’t seem to understand that men who kill so easily rarely discriminate. And eventually when they tire of killing infidels, they’ll on their own. That’s what’s happening now. This strategy of cherry picking which groups Pakistan fights won’t work either. These men change their colours like Chameleons. One day they are fighting NATO in Afghanistan, the next they are fighting the Pakistan Army in Waziristan. As long as the Pakistanis cherry-pick they won’t win. That’s why the Americans don’t discriminate. For them Baitullah Mehsud was just as much of a threat as any Afghan insurgent leader. Till the Pakistanis understand this concept, they are doomed to suffer.

My heart goes out to the innocents of Pakistan. They are doomed to suffer for the failings of men like Mr. Anjum who can’t see past his moral equivocation even when the most vulnerable of his country are dying.

Posted by Keith | Report as abusive

[…] that schools for women are being destroyed, women are indiscriminately attacked. Reuters in October posted a semi-blog article discussing women in Pakistan. They’re trying to instill fear in women. Bhutto showed no fear, […]

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