Gender-based Violence in Balochistan
Studies by the government of Pakistan and donor agencies estimate poverty incidence in Pakistan using survey data. Over the past decade, these studies consistently show Balochistan as the poorest province, with its poor accounting for 10-11% of the country’s total poor population. Unfortunately, Balochistan is experiencing a challenge with gender-based violence and poverty. Here is information about the correlation between poverty and gender-based violence in Balochistan.

Harmful Customary Practices

Balochistan is full of harmful customs that adversely affect women and violate their rights. These include killings for honor, forced marriages, exchange marriages (where women are traded between tribes to settle disputes) and depriving girls of education. Poverty makes these abuses more likely to happen because it gives women less power and fewer choices.

According to police reports, in February 2022, over two days, three women and two men died in the name of ‘honor’ in the Jaffarabad, Mastung and Hub districts of Balochistan. In Jaffarabad, a man shot his wife and nephew dead. Meanwhile, in Mastung, unknown persons brutally slaughtered a married couple. In Hub, the second husband allegedly murdered his wife, Mah Jan. These honor killings show how common these kinds of crimes are in Balochistan. These unjustified killings are due to poverty, the lack of legal protections for women and traditional harmful beliefs that allow gender-based violence against women in Balochistan. The cases in February 2022 have brought calls for reform and justice to stop such tragic loss in the name of family honor.

Crisis of Missing Persons

The issue of missing persons in Balochistan also disproportionately affects women. Thousands of Baloch men have gone missing, allegedly abducted by security forces. Their grieving wives and mothers have been left in limbo, not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive. These women, considered ‘half widows,’ face social stigma, economic deprivation, legal problems and severe psychological trauma. The unsolved missing person crisis further terrorizes and disempowers the province’s women. 

Sammi Deen Baloch has been protesting for 13 years since her father disappeared in Balochistan, one of more than 5,000 reported missing persons in the province. After the abduction of Dr. Deen Mohammed Baloch in 2009, 15-year-old Sammi began raising awareness about these enforced disappearances by Pakistan’s security forces. Despite abusive crackdowns on protests, Sammi continues to demand answers and justice for families like hers suffering from indefinite loss. Her brave activism symbolizes the plight of Balochistan’s ‘half widows’ and mothers whose loved ones have vanished, as well as the importance of accountability for the decades-old human rights crisis that has left thousands missing amid the region’s separatist conflict.

The Vital Work of the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons

Organizations like the Voice for Baloch Missing Persons provide affected families with legal aid, counseling and advocacy support. However, endemic poverty makes it difficult for women to pursue justice and healing. Economic dependence and lack of opportunity trap them in anguish and uncertainty.

Affected families formed The Voice for Baloch Missing Persons (VBMP) in 2009 to pursue justice for Balochistan’s disappearance. Headquartered in Quetta, VBMP provides free legal assistance to help families file petitions and cases seeking information on missing loved ones. It also offers counseling and mental health support to traumatized families, particularly women and children. VBMP organizes protests, sit-ins and campaigns to highlight enforced disappearances and pressurize authorities. It has district committees across Balochistan to document cases and mobilize families. 

VBMP publishes reports to increase awareness of the crisis locally and internationally. It also assists impoverished families with resources for legal procedures and accessing VBMP hubs. Operating on donations and aid funding, the organization employs legal advocacy, activism, counseling and reporting to support families of the missing in Balochistan in their struggle for truth and justice.

Recommendations for Empowerment

Increasing economic empowerment among women is crucial. Income generation through vocational training, microfinance schemes, handicrafts cooperatives and cash-for-work programs can provide women with financial security. These enable women to avoid forced marriages, escape abuse and sustain themselves while searching for missing family members.

Communities and justice systems should engage to stop seeing women’s rights abuses as acceptable. Protecting women from harm, ensuring their safety through shelters and prosecuting abusers will create an environment where women can exercise their rights and seek justice.

Tackling endemic poverty and socioeconomic empowerment of women has to accompany legal-social reform to alleviate gender-based violence in Balochistan in all its forms. Holistic efforts addressing economic and cultural factors are needed to promote women’s rights, safety and development in Balochistan. 

– Asia Jamil
Photo: Flickr