Final Report : Women Aid Trust
By Sana Masood

December 18, 2008

What makes me write this article is the experience and knowledge I gained from interning at an NGO, Women Aid Trust, which works exclusively for women, playing an important role in safeguarding their rights and working on their empowerment. Being a true feminist at heart, I volunteered eyes closed, because I felt a lot is being said about women and their rights in our country, but in comparison less is being done. Therefore, an internship at this organization gave me a perfect opportunity to contribute towards uplifting the status of women, even if this contribution was for a short period of time.


INTRODUCTION

Women Aid Trust (WAT) was established as an independent, non-profit and non-government organisation in 1994. Its goal is to contribute to the alleviation of the sufferings of women in Pakistan by providing legal aid to women in distress, providing rehabilitation services to women and juveniles in prison, undertaking research and advocacy for improvements in the legal and judicial system to restore and safeguard women’s rights, and offering a range of direct community welfare, educational, health and emergency relief services.

WAT is registered under the Trust Act 1882 and governed by a Board of Trustees. It maintains a head office in Islamabad and branch offices in Peshawar, Lahore, Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta and Multan. WAT team includes voluntary office bearers, employed staff and a multi sectored pool of dedicated and highly active volunteers. All of its projects are supported and funded by the community in Pakistan through donations in cash & kind.


REHABILITATION OF WOMEN AND JUVENILE PRISONERS

WAT is actively working in various jails to improve the living conditions of women and juvenile prisoners. It offers rehabilitation opportunities to help them overcome the trauma of imprisonment and make them respectable members of the society after their release.

Each rehabilitation project has the following components:

• Professional psychological counseling and support for the inmates.
• Awareness about their legal rights and rights as women.
• Character building through religious support and other gatherings.
• Provision of skill development.
• Education and literacy opportunities for income generation.
• Provision of basic hygiene and other jail facilities to improve their living conditions.


INTERNSHIP & VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES

WAT provides internship opportunities for the college and university students of Rawalpindi and Islamabad all around the year.

Even though this internship program will largely benefit Law graduates and potential Law students, other students can also apply to gain an insight of how this organization helps women in seeking justice by provision of legal aid and how it, in general, elevates the status of women in our society. This program also teaches the students the basic legal procedures which are to be complied with in order to pursue one’s claim and gives a very general idea of the legal processes in Pakistan.

Under this program we are given an elaborate schedule on the orientation day which sets out the list of activities to be performed everyday for a period of approximately two and a half weeks. Along with these activities we are to essentially visit four important places relevant to this internship program; District Court, High Court, Supreme Court and the Adiala Jail.


JAIL VISIT

By virtue of this program, we got a chance to visit the Adiala jail, to observe the conditions of that jail, and to analyse what kind of activity takes place inside and for what purposes.

Our main focus, however, was to carry out a detailed survey about the circumstances and consequences of the crimes committed by the prisoners, the kind of background they belonged to and the reasons why they committed these crimes.

As we will see in the data compiled ahead , a large number of crimes are related to narcotics/drugs which many prisoners expressly admit are committed out of either poverty, necessity or in a few cases, duress. The extent to which that is true is questionable. Therefore whatever analysis we provide is largely our value judgment based on the facial expressions, body language, tone and the stories told by these prisoners. Not to forget what their fellow prisoners had to say about them.


SURVEY ANALYSIS


1. Gender

Male – 21%
Female – 79%

Please note that these figures do not represent the total prisoners in the Adiala jail and is only limited to the people we questioned for the purposes of filling up the survey forms. The pie chart above clearly illustrates that more women were questioned as compared to the men or juveniles due to limited access and time. Therefore whatever proceeds after this section is largely based on crimes committed by women present in Ward no. 2 of the Adiala Jail.


2. Age Group

10 to 20 years – 29%
21 to 30 years – 7%
31 and above years – 64%

We questioned women who mostly fell in the third category. These women were married and had families to support due to which they had committed the crimes. Few of us were fortunate enough to question juveniles, who had committed crimes either out of some sort of external pressure, poverty or mere ignorance.


3. Nature of the crime

Drugs – 71%
Murder – 21%
Theft – 8%

Most of the women we questioned had committed crimes related to Drugs/Narcotics because of extreme poverty. So much so, that one case involved a woman who accepted to trade drugs for Rs. 500 only. This shows the extent of poverty in our country which has forced people to commit crimes for the sake of their families and children. Theft again, had been committed out of extreme need for money. Cases on Murder, on the other hand, mostly involved family disputes.


1. Religion

Islam – 86%
Christianity – 14%

Most of the prisoners were Muslims. However, there were some Christians too from different countries such as Nigeria, Philippines, Canada, Russia etc. All of these foreigners were involved in cases related to Narcotics/Drugs.


2. Province/Area

N.W.F.P – 43%
Punjab – 36%
Abroad – 21%

Not surprisingly, most of the prisoners belonged to the province N.W.F.P where trading of drugs is not a peculiar business. Almost every poor or illiterate person is involved in it and the one who gets caught is a victim of tough circumstances and luck as many manage to escape or bribe the police men on duty to check. Likewise, many cases do not get registered after stage one thanks to our corrupt system where money talks and contacts rule.
Other Prisoners belonged to Punjab, mostly Lahore and Rawalpindi.
Foreigners, on the other hand, belonged to different countries, some of which are
mentioned above.


3. Education

Illiterate – 57%
Primary – 36%
SSC – 7%

Most of the prisoners in the Adiala Jail, as per pie chart above, are uneducated, and thus, unaware of the consequences of committing high rated crimes such as trade of drugs. These people are neither aware of the law nor the punishment. All they know is that the crime they are committing might be wrong but because they are so poor that they cannot even afford one meal a day, they have no choice but to commit the crime, which according to them is easy cash in hand. Even the educated prisoners, who might have some idea about the law related to drugs or its punishment, choose to commit these crimes as they are a victim of unfortunate circumstances such as unemployment.


4. Number of prisoners who have finished the Holy Quran at least once.

Completed – 25%
Left in the middle – 75%

Sadly, not only a large number of these prisoners are uneducated but they also lack religious education which is why they have immediately taken refuge into committing crimes rather than doing something productive. An easy solution to the problem of unemployment is working in the homes of Upper Middle Class or the Elite provided they are honest, hard working and determined. These qualities are what we all lack as a nation, so why to blame the poor?


5. Prisoners were asked whether they need religious/spiritual education inside the jail premises and the results are represented in the chart below.

Yes – 69%
No – 31%

This shows that even though these prisoners are in a jail yet they realize the importance of religious and spiritual education and are willing to learn, change and adapt to the new circumstances. Many would predict these prisoners to be in deep depression, which a few were, but largely they were in high spirits and had strong faith in God as far as their release from the prison was concerned. Most of them had admitted to the fact that they were not so fortunate with acquiring religious education before coming to jail but nevertheless have now changed or are willing to change for good. And the first step for them obviously is attending all the religion-oriented classes inside the jail which is very impressive indeed.


6. Next they were asked if they said their prayers and their response is illustrated in the pie chart below.

Yes – 93%
No – 7%

The response to this question again is commendable. We were actually surprised to find out that most of the prisoners prayed five times a day. They are obviously distressed about being in jail but have not lost hope and have turned to Allah for help. Even if one argues that they are provided with a number of facilities or a friendly atmosphere, at the end of the day, they are in a jail and being in a jail is not easy. However, the strength shown by them is actually a lesson for us that, everyone makes mistakes, but the best amongst us is the one who learns from those mistakes and makes a positive effort to improve oneself.


7. Under Trial or Convicts?

Under Trial Prisoners – 57%
Convicts – 43%

This is not a representation of the entire jail but of only the people who were questioned. However there is one important point to be mentioned here. Almost all the Juveniles in the Juvenile Ward are under trial prisoners. Very few Juveniles get convicted each year. Women convicts, on the other hand were quite a handful, which means Law and Punishment is equal for all regardless of gender or race.
Foreigners over there, however, were mostly under trial prisoners but were all kept in one ward, that is, ward number 2, for convicts, so that they feel comfortable around each other. They were also allowed to keep maids from the ordinary ‘C’ class (upon payment of salary to these maids), to facilitate them with washing their clothes, changing bed sheets etc.


8. Marital Status

Single – 21%
Married - 44%
Divorced – 14%
Widow – 21%

A large number of married women committed crimes for the sake of their children. A typical story told by most of the women was that they could not see their children hungry for over three days and thus were forced to take a wrong step. Most women also expressed their bitterness over the status of their husbands who were either involved in taking drugs or other women, making them the sole breadwinner of the family.
The section representing widowed women was quite interesting as these women had murdered their husbands themselves over various domestic issues but were still hopeful to get out of the prison some day. The important question which crosses one’s mind over here is_ could these women be victims of domestic violence? Have they killed their husbands after years of abuse, pain and suffering caused by their respective husbands? More essentially, can they take up the defense of ‘Battered Women Syndrome’, as seen in the case R v Ahluwalia (1992) shown digitally in the movie ‘Provoked’? It could always be a possibility!


9. Employed before coming to jail?

Yes – 54%
No – 31%
Other – 15%

Majority of the Prisoners were employed before coming to jail. However, whether their salary was enough to meet the ends shall be answered by the next question we asked them.
Category number three, ‘Other’, means that some of the prisoners were either self-employed or had their own small business (before coming to jail), such as buying bangles from the market and selling them in streets.


10. Approximate Income

Less than Rs 4000 – 75%
More than Rs. 4000 – 25%

As we can see, a high percentage of prisoners worked for less than Rs. 4000 which is hardly sufficient these days. With such a high rate of inflation in the country and increasing prices, the poor are certainly getting poorer causing a high crime rate. Can the government solve this problem today for a better tomorrow?


11. Do you think, you are guilty?

Yes – 62%
No – 38%

It is true that these prisoners have committed a crime but accepting the fact that they are guilty is a conscious effort on their part to face the reality, as telling the truth is not always as convenient as telling a lie and could lead to adverse consequences, which, in my opinion, they are already facing. Whether it was right or wrong, or whether their act could be justified is a different argument altogether. The very first step of self-realization and guilt has upgraded them from what they were before (which was being oblivious to the sentiments of the society and thus committing a crime) and hence, should be appreciated.


12. Did someone force you to commit the crime?

Yes – 30%
No – 70%

In continuation of what is mentioned above, most prisoners admitted that they had committed the crime and that no one had forced them to do so.
Those who said yes to this question were, in most cases, either trying to shift the blame to some third (self-created) party or totally denied having committed the crime altogether. However, there were some prisoners, especially juveniles, who were genuinely forced into committing heinous crimes.


13. The reaction of their families.

Distressed – 54%
Antagonistic – 23%
No reaction – 8%
Don’t know – 15%

The most common and obvious reactions of their families are being distressed, sad, worried or disturbed. In the second category, most families who are angry hardly or never visit the prisoners inside the jail, and have unfortunately abandoned them. The last two categories represent those prisoners whose families do not even know that they are in jail. This is mostly in the case of foreigners who had come to Pakistan for either employment/job opportunities or like in one case for the purposes of higher studies, and got involved in drug trafficking.


14. Do you have a lawyer?

Yes – 31%
No – 69%

Lack of availability of funds, poverty, unawareness are just a few factors why these prisoners do not have a lawyer, which is why various NGOs, especially, Women Aid Trust, has stepped in to fill the vacuum and functions to provide Legal Aid to women who cannot afford a lawyer or who do not have any sort of access to justice.
However, there are other prisoners who have lawyers appointed by the State to facilitate them with the legal process, but are either not aware of this, or are not satisfied with their performance, as seen below.


15. Are you satisfied with his performance?

Yes – 0%
No – 100%

The logic behind the answers to this question is very simple. All these prisoners are in the jail at the moment. As long as they stay there they will not be satisfied by their lawyer’s performance because he/she is not acting quick enough to get them out of the jail. The minute they are out of the jail, they will express their satisfaction over their lawyer’s performance! In short, it is all a matter of what psychological state of mind one is in and in what circumstances, to make a decision or express a point of view.


16. Do you think the court will do justice to you?

Yes – 69%
No – 23%
Don’t know – 8%

Ironically, the convicts had higher hopes about their release as compared to the under trial prisoners. Nevertheless, the overwhelming response to this question exhibits the strength of these prisoners of the Adiala jail and gives an important message to all of us that one should never lose hope…even in the toughest of circumstances.


17. Where will you go after your release?

Home – 68%
Relatives – 8%
NGO – 8%
Leave the country – 8%
Other – 8%

This question perhaps received the most touching response. All the people in the jail desperately want to get out of there. A high percentage of people want to go back home or to their relatives. A few are so agitated and disturbed about being in jail that they simply want to leave the country and never come back. A few homeless want to either go to protection homes or an NGO which could help them look for their families or children. Even though, many admit and realize that what they did was wrong, and even agree with the court’s decision on sending them to prison, they now think that they should be released after such an elaborate imprisonment. Whether their punishment is well-justified or whether they should now be released is largely up to the courts’ discretion. However, what we, as citizens of this country, want is that the system should be transparent and fair as far as possible.



From our trip to the Adiala Jail and the survey above, what I analysed is that surprisingly a lot is being done to facilitate the prisoners, in terms of utilizing their time, energy and skills, and even to some extent, provision of entertainment, in the form of television, DVD and a children’s library which is commendable. Unfortunately, matters relating to personal hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation still require the utmost attention of the authorities.

Different NGOs, especially the Women Aid Trust, are trying their best to achieve two important goals; Financial Assistance and Rehabilitation. However, what is urgently required is creating awareness about the importance of hygiene and strict monitoring that it is being maintained at all times. This will not only prevent diseases at large but in fact improve the individuality of each prisoner. As a healthy body and environment triggers a healthy mind and a healthy mind will think improvement and progress rather than self-destruction and crime.

Secondly, after talking to the psychologist dealing with these women prisoners, we found out that life in prison makes these women more aggressive, desperate and violent. This was not said in a specific context but was described as a general pattern of behaviour of majority of the women in jail_ especially those who are vulnerable and naïve. What is needed inside the jail is a way of restoring the innocence, the simplicity which these women had before entering the jail.

I believe that even though work is being done but the process is slow not because the prisoners are not willing to cooperate but because of the non availability of a sufficient number of psychologists and psychiatrists. In this materialistic world today, people are only willing to work for a handsome amount of money_ Social work is more of a social joke. There are people working, true, but the number is less! And is decreasing day by day as domestic priorities take precedence over public ones.

However, the point is, we need educated and determined individuals here, in the jail, to guide the unfortunate and less aware, talk to them and bring out the best in them. In other words, we want professionals to focus on the ‘character building’ of these prisoners and to make them realize that they could be better human beings_ because at the end of the day the punishment is not against the person_ it is against the crime.

And over here, I am not talking about bringing about a change in a specific group of people or a certain class_ this message serves to address all_ which precisely means bringing about a social change for the larger benefit of our society in the long run.

Another important aspect…
By the end of the internship program, I realized that even though men play a large role in gender discrimination, a lot of women, in fact majority, are their own enemies. First, because they are not aware of their rights, second, they do not know their rights in terms of men. And third and most importantly they will condemn other women who are aware of their rights and psychologically turn everyone against them, for a greater social acceptance (especially) amongst men, which is indeed extremely disappointing.

Therefore it is then I decided that today if we call our country a ‘male dominated society’ it is not because men are cruel creatures, who would want the demise of female species, but because we, women, have given up our rights ourselves, we have objected ourselves in all the wrong ways, and we have allowed ourselves to be criticized and pitied.
Why should we gain sympathy and present ourselves as helpless, when we have so many ways of exhibiting our stronger side, our qualities and abilities. If we cannot learn to stand up for ourselves, encourage ourselves and protect ourselves, then we should not expect such efforts from anyone else_ especially men _ who have already taken a huge advantage of this deplorable situation.

Source: Women Aid Trust
Written and compiled by: Sana Masood
The Institute Of Legal Studies (TILS).

Survey Forms filled up by: 1. Sarah Masood
Headstart School.

2. Shahraiz Malik
Beaconhouse School.

3. Shayan Azmat
Headstart School.

4. Awais Khan
Headstart School.

5. Ehsan Ejaz
Headstart School.

6. Taimoor Alam
Headstart School.

7. Sana Masood
TILS

Special Thanks to our supervisors Mrs. Suriyya Mariam and Mrs. Asifa who guided us throughout at the Adiala Jail and patiently answered all our questions and queries.

Special Thanks to Women Aid Trust for organizing this trip to the Adiala Jail.

Special Thanks to the Adiala Jail authorities for allowing us to visit the jail and guiding us inside the jail premises.



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