Domestic violence against Women in Pakistan

There’s too much of it

Despite strict laws and social awareness, domestic violence is prevalent in Pakistan at an alarming rate. Almost one in three Pakistani women report facing domestic physical violence by partners, in-laws, and in some circumstances by their brothers and parents. The informal estimates are much higher. Such violence, when widespread in society, is also normalized. According to a study conducted by the Bureau of Statistics, more than half of the women respondents in one province believe that it is acceptable for a husband to beat his wife under certain circumstances; and such sentiments also prevail in the rest of the country. According to media reports, more than 51,241 cases of violence against women’ were reported between January 2018 and October 2020.

According to a survey conducted on 23 September 2018, by Thomson Reuter Corporation, Pakistan was ranked as the sixth most dangerous nation on the planet for women. The predominant power structure in Pakistan is patriarchy, in which the male figure is in control of all affairs, public and private, thus assuming a dominant position. Women have been excluding from settling on choices and are considered socially and financially dependent on men. Women have to face discrimination and violence daily due to the cultural and religious norms that Pakistani society embraces.

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About 70 to 90 percent of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence. Domestic violence perpetrated upon a spouse can precede the mistreatment of children; this can, in turn, leave a long-term emotional and psychological impact such as behavioral disturbances, with the child replicating the abuse. Women who have experienced domestic violence or abuse are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing a range of mental health conditions including, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide. Domestic violence and oppression of women, especially at home, is unacceptable, and needs to be treated as such.

Recently, a heart-wrenching video of a rebellious young man beating his mother went viral. Similarly, painful videos of women’s abuse have also surfaced in recent times. A recent case was of Sadaf Zahra, a married woman whose body founded hanging from the ceiling fan by a bedsheet tied around her neck and a ladder lying close by. The deceased’s friend has held her friend’s husband responsible for her death. Similarly, hundreds of thousands of women across the country face the same plight but have not been able to lift their voices.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, Pakistan witnessed regression of women’s rights laws, which have been amending to reflect this discrimination. In the last 10 to 15 years, there has been some success in passing policies to prevent practices such as early-age marriages, honour killings, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and rape. Pressure needs to be maintained upon the central and provincial governments to tackle domestic violence and treat it as a priority; this is a problem that impacts society as a whole. As part of a dialogue recently organized by the KP office of UN Women and the KP’s EVAW Alliance, the scholars have signed a declaration condemning gender-based violence and vowing to spread awareness in their relevant communities to put an end to the practice. The increased focus of religious sermons on ending violence against women can make a notable difference over time.

The time is right to act on this issue in Pakistan. Society, too, needs to step up for its women. Regardless of the introduction of pro-women laws that criminalize domestic abuse, the barriers to ensuring justice to the victims are too many. Merely introducing laws that lack proper implementation and establishing helplines do not mean that the state has fulfilled its responsibilities regarding women’s protection. The law also needs further improvements and clarity in its language. It is the responsibility of the state to give protection to its citizens in public and private spaces. There is no way the state could allow its citizens to be subjected to abuse just because it takes place in a personal setting. If we do not address violence against women and girls, sustainable growth will remain elusive.

Successive governments have also taken steps to put a stop to the exuberant women abuse. The Constitution of Pakistan ensures women’s security against any form of violence in its Articles 3 and 11. Besides, the National Commission on the Status of Women Bill 2012, the National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women (NPDEW) 2002, and the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act (PPWVA) 2016 are among the measures adopted to protect women from domestic violence in the last decade. PPP Senator Sherry Rehman tabled the Domestic violence Bill on the floor of the Senate for debate, in July 2020. Under the bill, offenders were to be punished by domestic violence which was criminalized. In recent times Shireen Mazari, the Human Rights Minister in the PTI government, started a helpline to enable women and children to report instances of domestic violence.

The time is right to act on this issue in Pakistan. Society, too, needs to step up for its women. Regardless of the introduction of pro-women laws that criminalize domestic abuse, the barriers to ensuring justice to the victims are too many. Merely introducing laws that lack proper implementation and establishing helplines do not mean that the state has fulfilled its responsibilities regarding women’s protection. The law also needs further improvements and clarity in its language. It is the responsibility of the state to give protection to its citizens in public and private spaces. There is no way the state could allow its citizens to be subjected to abuse just because it takes place in a personal setting. If we do not address violence against women and girls, sustainable growth will remain elusive.

Sarah Khan
Sarah Khan holds a Bachelors degree in business administration from NUST Business School. She writes about things that interest and inspire her.

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