Politics or piety : the women of Pakistan.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


My dissertation is on how the combination of religious law and constitutional law in Pakistan affects the daily lives of the women living there. The time frame to be discussed is from Pakistan's inception as a country in 1947 through the most prominent regimes that changed the Constitutional law, i.e. to the mid 1980's. During this epoch, Pakistan adopted Shari'a Law (law based on the Islamic faith) into its constitution. By chronicling the historic development of Pakistan's Constitution, I will show a correspondence between the specific laws and amendments with the attrition of women's rights in Pakistan and the deterioration of the quality of their lives. Although, Shari'a Law is based on the teachings of Islam, I contend these laws run contrary to the traditions and directives of the sacred texts, the Qur'an, Hadith (recorded oral traditions), and Sunnah (habits and practices of the Prophet Muhammad). By tracing specific Shari'a laws back to their roots and investigate the circumstances that impact Pakistani women to ascertain if they indeed burden, restrict, and quite possibly, endanger the lives of Pakistani women, and furthermore, violate the principles taught by the Prophet Muhammad, who exhorted to his followers, "Be kind to your women." The Constitution of Pakistan claims it provides equal rights for its citizens by proclaiming all people are equal (Preamble of the Constitution #8). I argue that the oppression of women in Pakistan can be linked directly to the introduction of Shari'a Law into the Pakistani Constitution and Shari'a Law is being used to justify the poor treatment of women, but it is in fact a distortion of the teachings of Islam. Therefore, women's lack of civil rights in Pakistan is attributable to male chauvinism that is based in culture, rather than religion. What can be done to reconcile the gender discrimination in Shari'a Law with parity for all citizens stated by the Constitution?