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2009 – the year of battered women?

There was hope that the new government of Peoples Party which had been led by a visionary and powerful woman for two decades would be able to implement laws to safeguard the rights of women of Pakistan. But not only has this government been unable to do so, it has also not been able to visibly decrease violence against women in the country. In fact, during the last few months of the last year, several cases emerged in which girls as young as four were being married off to appease their fathers’ wishes. Most hoped that this government with all its slogans of democracy etc would be able to crack down on these people and bring an obvious change at the grass root mainly because it claims to be the government of the people. But it was a huge disappointment that nothing was done. The rate of crime against women remained as it was and the perpetrators got away without any fear of legal action. With the New Year, it is hoped that the government will actually do something to bring a change in the lives of women by not just paying lip service but supporting words with action.

It may be a difficult task, but that is what the majority expects from a government which claims to be theirs. But before expecting the government to perform miracles, the government and the related ministry must tackle the main problem in Pakistan when it comes to crimes against women. A majority of crimes against women go undetected and unreported. Women and the society in general, seem to accept such crimes with just a mere feeling of sorrow towards those who have suffered.

The problem with our women is that they are weak and scared and the abused woman does not approach anyone for help, especially those with authority. The police is also useless for such women, because more times than not the victim is further victimized and considered “forward” for having the “guts” to approach the police to report a crime against the lord of the manor, her husband. And, in many cases, instead of getting help from the police, these women are considered “easy” and harassed by the “law enforcers”. Most times the police refuse to register a case against the husband because for them a husband who beats his wife is not a criminal and is not abusing anyone’s rights. In fact, he is only being the head of the house/family and using his rights to put his house in order. The woman is told to go home and try not to irk her husband as he has to hit her to put her in line.

This callous, barbaric attitude is generally accepted in a society which claims to be civilized and Islamic. If this were so, do we have any stories of the Holy Prophet (SAW) or his caliphs or anyone known to be beating their women up which could set precedent for men today? On the contrary, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) was kind towards his only daughter Fatima and to all his wives, and he was the reason why the Arab world stopped burying their daughters at birth. Take the example of one woman, H – mother of three children, who is constantly beaten up by her husband. She has asked him to divorce her but he has refused to do so, and for some reasons she is not getting a separation. Her fourteen year daughter is also terrified by her mother’s constant beatings at the hands of her father. The young son, now 12, prefers to remain out of the house because he cannot bear to helplessly watch his mother being beaten to a pulp. The people in the building the woman lives in know of this regular beating but refuse to interfere on the pretext that this is between the husband and wife, and no one has a right to interfere. While the women of the building justify her beatings by saying that she is not a “good” woman and her husband has to keep her in line somehow. But how does beating a human being, even if they are not “good”, justify this unforgivable action?

The sad thing is that this civilized society just watches on without even trying to save her. Anyone who interferes will face consequences. If a male interferes, the woman will immediately be linked to him, and if another woman interferes, she will be doing so at her own peril. Recently H approached me and asked me to help her. I was completely shaken by her plight. The fact that she had approached me, a complete stranger, speaks volume of her miserable circumstances. The poor woman had had enough and was desperate.

I tried to find out what could be done, but a senior told me— to my surprise–that I should not try to fight her case for her until she takes the initiative herself, because she could back off later. I was surprised to hear her say this, since she is a big champion of human rights, but I realized she was speaking from experience. And that is exactly what happened. I had gathered information and numbers to help her, but I have not heard from her. She has returned to her nightmare after making a half hearted attempt to seek help. It is heart wrenching to think that a woman lives in our midst who wants help, but due to social restraints she is unable to get help, and apparently wants someone to intervene on her behalf in such a way that her husband doesn’t know she had anything to do with it. It is pathetic that the poor woman can’t get legal help, she can’t get the police to intervene and she can’t get the society to intervene…..H is not the only woman who is suffering silently at the hands of her husband. There are many women in our country belonging to every class who suffer a similar fate silently.

The government should take the initiative. It can set a precedent by sending help to the harassed women by sending help to them. Teams of women health workers working under the local government or town government should be sent around to every house twice a month. The team would list the number of women and issue a registration card —collaborating the information with NADRA— keeping a copy for themselves. The government must make it mandatory for the women to be checked physically and psychologically so that the team can evaluate them. These health workers should have the backing of the local authority. Anyone who refuses to allow these health workers to check them regularly must be reported and the males of that family should be made to pay a heavy fine.

This method may be a little over the top, but in a society where regular brutal beatings of another human being is accepted, there is need to take extraordinary steps to ensure that more and more women live a safer life. This will also ensure that men will think twice before hurting the women, for fear of public exposure. If the husband or father has been using his position as head of family to use the whip on his family, it is time that society is forced to change its attitude and made to realize that beating a human being is neither right nor should it be acceptable under any circumstances. Until extraordinary steps are taken, men will continue to believe it is their birth right to beat up the women of their families. The government and society should use this new year to bring a new change in society and improve the plight of the masses – maybe the year 2009 can be dedicated to fighting against the plight of the harassed women, and prove that it is truly a party with a vision and a desire to change the lives of the people of Pakistan.
Source: The News
Date:1/6/2009

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