On February 3rd, Pakistani courts shocked the world when former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were sentenced to an additional 7 years in prison after the judge declared their nikkah ‘anti-Islamic’ and against the Sharia. The judgement arrives after Bushra Bibi’s ex husband Khawar Maneka accused the couple for allegedly having an affair behind his back. During an interview with Shahzeb Khanzada, he said Bushra had gotten married during her iddat period, which was against Islamic values.
The verdict was met with outrage, as feminist scholars and activists declared this an immense attack on the state of women’s rights in Pakistan. Women’s Action Forum declared it an assault over “women’s autonomy on their bodies, dignity and privacy”, and was setting a dangerous precedent over how much the state could invade over the private lives of civilians.
WAF Lahore is dismayed at the verdict of Bushra Bibi #Iddat case. This verdict is an assault on women’s autonomy over their bodies, dignity & privacy, setting dangerous precedent for state’s intrusion into the private lives of citizens. pic.twitter.com/kYIMfj8BW9
— Women’s Action Forum – Lahore (@WAFLahore) February 3, 2024
What’s more damning in witnessing this disgusting verdict that gleefully indulged in the character assassination of a nearly 50 year old woman who married according to her choice, but it arrived at the same time when a man was publicly accused of torturing and abusing his wife. Ashfaque Satti was accused by his wife Nomaika of domestic abuse, and who published pictures of her injuries on her Twitter account. But rather than a swift jail term sentencing, Satti was granted bail and then sent television personality Rabia Anum a defamation lawsuit, proving that Pakistani women remain scapegoats for abusive men.
Yes it’s absolutely true that Imran Khan’s hands aren’t clean either, as this is a tale as old as time that Pakistani political strategies often involve tactics to humiliate the women of their opponent’s families as a way to score game. Maryam Nawaz was targeted during Khan’s political rallies where he was recorded saying “Maryam took my name repeatedly so passionately that she should be careful… it might annoy her husband.” The late politician Benazir Bhutto wasn’t spared either, when PML-N spread vulgar, fake pictures of her when she was running against them. Fatima Jinnah was declared a traitor by the Pakistan army to oust her from the elections. Time and time again, Pakistani women are punchbags for men to settle their scores with each other.
While the political circus keeps churning out the same clowns who fight over petty issues, it is ordinary women who are the ones this verdict will have the most impact on. Already, gaining the right to divorce on their nikkahnama clause is incredibly hard for women coming from conservative families, which deprives them of the ability to seek shelter or financial security for themselves and their children if they are suffering in abusive marriages. But with this verdict, women who wish to divorce, or the ones who are divorced and want to move on, are the real victims in this cesspool of score settling and teenage drama. While people like Zahir Jaffar, Feroze Khan and Satti continue to live normal lives even after a mountain pile of accusation proves them to be abusers.
While we are pleased that Bilawal Bhutto and Maryam Nawaz both expressed their disbelief with the verdict, specifying how it will do less to punish Imran and more damage to the already dilapidated state of women’s rights in Pakistan, but we need our politicians to do more. We need them to step up and prove that they care about the women of Pakistan, and to do all they can in reversing the verdict. No woman will be able to sleep peacefully in a country after this verdict because this proves none of us are safe, until the state learns not to target women as punchbags by snatching away the already limited rights they have.
Right now more than ever, we all need to protest to remind the state that ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ is not just a slogan, but a harsh outcry against Pakistani politicians who are obsessed with controlling every aspect of a woman’s life. It is not the government’s right to declare a marriage to be null over a baseless notion, and to believe the accusations of the ex-husband that are backed with no proof or evidence.