Pakistan plans to establish more than 1,000 courts tasked with addressing violence against women, the country’s top judge says.
Asif Saeed Khosa said in a nationally televised address on June 19 that the special courts will give victims an opportunity to speak out without fear of retaliation in the conservative Muslim country.
"We are going to have 1,016 gender-based violence courts across Pakistan, at least one such court apiece in every district," Khosa said in an address to fellow judges.
"The atmosphere of these courts will be different from other courts so that complainants can speak their heart without any fear," he added.
Although hearings will be held in existing courthouses, domestic violence hearings will be conducted separately from other cases to allow victims the confidence to testify.
Fauzia Viqar, a women's rights campaigner who previously advised government officials, said studies have shown that the performance of such dedicated courts was "many times better than other courts."
A report by Human Rights Watch in November 2018 detailed what it called high rates of violence against women that includes, rape, "honor" killings, acid attacks, forced marriage, and child marriage.
Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission reported that there were at least 845 incidents of sexual violence against women in 2018.
But the commission has said that violence against women goes largely unreported, particularly in rural areas, where a stigma against such issues often prevents victims from speaking up.
A Thomson Reuters Foundation survey of global experts last year ranked Pakistan as the sixth most dangerous country for women, ahead of just India, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia.
Women's rights groups in the country have become more active in recent years.
In March, on International Women’s Day, thousands of activists participated in Women’s Marches in several cities, although many organizers reported a backlash from conservative politicians and religious groups, including threats of rape.
With reporting by Thomson Reuters and The Guardian