Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa detailed plans for special courts in every district in Pakistan to deal specifically with cases of violence against women in the country. The judge said that these new courts would have a “different atmosphere” where victims could speak out “without fear,” news agency Reuters reported.
“1,016 courts for gender-based violence shall be established across Pakistan. Each district shall have one special court,” Asif Saeed Khosa said in a televised statement Wednesday.
A number of high-profile cases in recent years have drawn attention to violence against women and girls in the South Asian nation, prompting activists and politicians to mount a push to tackle the issue.
Human Rights Watch found in its 2019 World Report that “violence against women and girls – including rape, so-called honor killings, acid attacks, domestic violence, and forced marriage – remains a serious problem” in Pakistan.
Independent human rights organization The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported at least 845 incidents of sexual violence against women in 2018, though monitoring groups warned that many cases went unreported.
And in May, HRW issued a warning over the role of police in sexual violence cases, with officers both committing offenses themselves and harassing and intimidating those who made allegations.
Gender inequality permeated not only Pakistani society but the police and judiciary, HRW said, and was a major factor in the reluctance of many victims to come forward.
In a 2018 report by the World Economic Forum, Pakistan ranked 148 out of 149 countries on gender disparity.
The new courts will operate in existing courthouses, but domestic violence cases will be heard separately so that victims can testify in confidence, Reuters reported.
“At the moment, it is very strenuous for women to access justice because we don’t have an appropriate judiciary system for them,” Shaista Bukhari, executive director of Pakistan’s Women’s Rights Association told CNN by email.
“It would be exceptional if we initiate 1,000 courts to address and handle the affairs specifically related to violence on women. By doing so, women will get the confidence and strength to speak up against exploitation and they will also be able to stand against it,” she added.
In 2016, a law was passed to ensure that perpetrators of so-called “honor killings” would no longer walk free in Pakistan if pardoned by the victim’s family – just months after social media star and “modern day feminist” Qandeel Baloch was killed by her brother for “dishonoring” the family.