Pakistani Minister Killed for Breaking Islamic Dress Code

via published on February 21, 2007

February 20, 2007

Female Pakistani minister shot dead for ‘breaking Islamic dress code’

Zilla Huma Usman was a ally of General Musharraf and promoted rights for women in Pakistan

A provincial Pakistani minister and woman’s activist has been shot dead by an Islamic extremist who believed that she was dressed inappropriately and that women should not be involved in politics.

Zilla Huma Usman, the minister for social welfare in Punjab province and an ally of Pervez Musharraf, was killed as she was about to deliver a speech to dozens of party activists, by a ‘fanatic’, who considered her depraved for not wearing full Islamic dress, officials said.’He killed her because she was not observing the Islamic code of dress.

She was also campaigning for emancipation of women,’ said Nazir Ahmad, a local officer, adding that the suspect was a known extremist with a history of targeting women he considered ‘immoral’.

The attack happened in Gujranwala , 120 miles southeast of Islamabad , where the minister’s office is based. As Ms Usman, 35, stepped out of her car – where she was greeted by her co-workers throwing rose petals – the attacker pulled out a pistol and fired a single shot at close range, hitting her in the head. She was airlifted to hospital in the provincial capital Lahore , but died soon afterwards.

The man – identified as Mohammad Sarwar – was overpowered by the minister’s driver and arrested by police, who claimed that he confessed to the killing. A former student and stonemason in his 40s, Sarwar was previously held in 2002 in connection with the killing of four prostitutes, but was never convicted due to lack of evidence.

‘He is basically a fanatic,’ Basharat said. ‘He is against the involvement of women in politics and government affairs.’ A police statement added: ‘He considers it contrary to the teachings of Allah for a woman to become a minister or a ruler. That’s why he committed this action.’

Ms Usman, a married mother of two sons, joined the pro-Musharraf Pakistan Muslim League after being elected in 2002. A strong supporter of the President’s policy of ‘enlightened moderation’ – designed to tackle extremism – she was appointed to her current post in December last year according to her government biography.

In April 2005, she encouraged the holding of a mini-marathon involving female competitors in Gujranwala – an event which led to riots after police intervened to stop armed Islamic activists from disrupting the race. She also ran a small fashion business from her base in the town.

Shaukat Aziz, the Prime Minister, paid tribute to the minister, describing her as a ‘committed and dedicated politician’. ‘During her short span as minister, she took several steps for the welfare of the people of Punjab ,’ he said. Zobaida Jalal, the federal Minister for Social Welfare, added that Ms Usman’s death was an ‘unbearable loss to the cause of women rights and their empowerment’.

General Musharraf, whose support for the US-led war on terror has caused consternation among Pakistan ‘s hardline elements, has promised to address women’s rights as part of his more moderate agenda. Officials insist that his Government is committed to the matter, citing examples such as the recent introduction of a bill in parliament seeking to end the forced marriage of women and girls and allowing females to inherit property.

Women make up just over 20 per cent of the lower house of parliament, according to the country’s main human rights group, and there are three women ministers in the cabinet of the federal government.

But widespread violence and discrimination against females continues to be a problem in what remains a male-dominated society, particularly in the countryside, where most Pakistanis live.

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