While the Provincial Commission on the Status of Women is functioning in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh is yet to establish one; the relevant laws, however, have already been passed.
Addressing the responses to gender-based violence (GBV) in four districts of Sindh, the Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) held a discussion on Wednesday, involving civil society members, government representatives, police officials and others to work together to help women respond to violence.
Being qualitative, the research still has a long way to go because it only recorded the responses of the stakeholders in four districts, namely Karachi, Hyderabad, Jamshoro and Matiari.
SPO’s Atif Sandhu said data collection in districts other than Karachi and Hyderabad was not an easy task because no functional departments catered to women’s issues there. The Women Development Department (WDD) and Darul Aman are yet to make their way to Jamshoro and Matiari.
Talking to officials of the functioning departments revealed that many failed to understand the gravity of GBV and often treated it like any other violent behaviour.
The first responders need to know how to handle such cases, and it should be understood that the absence of a female medico-legal officer can add insult to injury.
Moreover, in some instances, police officials are unaware of relevant laws and file FIRs under other clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code instead of pro-women laws.
WDD respondents, however, identified all forms of GBV and also understood the reasons for such occurrences, owing to tribal cultures and deep-rooted patriarchy.
The condition of Darul Aman is not any better either, as compared to shelter homes under Panah and HANDS, but women do feel safe once they reach the institution. However, Darul Aman representatives did not provide standard operating procedures that would have helped improve the centres.
Panah’s Uzma Noorani said that while it was indeed important to know about the whereabouts of women who leave shelter homes, it was not an easy task because many women tended to cut off all ties with the institution.
Other attendees said that such programmes should be held in places where women have no access to resources, because in cities many have a fair idea about response services.
Aurat Foundation’s Mahnaz Rahman urged that instead of government institutions competing against NGOs or vice versa, they should all work together or else the achievements hitherto made would be futile.
MPA Heer Soho felt that the establishment of three bodies – the Social Welfare Department, the WDD and the Human Rights Department (HRD) – had caused confusion for those who wanted to report cases. “These departments keep referring cases among themselves, which in turn creates hurdles for those who actually want to help the victims.”
She added that while government officials tried to make a difference as individuals, the departments mostly comprising men did not always cooperate with their respective heads.
In response, Chief Minister’s Social Welfare Adviser Shamim Mumtaz said the men working in her department were quite helpful and she had no complaints whatsoever.
Meanwhile, she did not only blame mobile phones for women taking refuge at Darul Aman, but said such institutions should not have been set up at all.
She felt that women fell prey to schemes and stepped out of their houses because of “false promises over the phone”. “Women should be sent home instead of Darul Aman, where their dignity is upheld.”
Detailing the work done in the past nine months, she said the feeding budget for Darul Aman was increased from Rs200,000 to Rs1.7 million. She lamented that the courts needed to expedite the judicial process for women who sought refuge at Darul Aman because those who were sent there on court orders could not go anywhere else without the court’s say-so.
“Many women want to go back home, but they can’t because instead of getting done with such cases in 90 days, the courts extend them up to three years.” Criticising the police, she said it was disappointing that she was unable to file an FIR on behalf of a victim because the SSP refused to do so without an application and proof. She also lashed out at NGOs for not doing their jobs, which should have been done by the government in the first place.
However, Naheed Begum, chairperson of Sindh Assembly’s Standing Committee on Women Development, said there was still a need for shelter homes because women braved violence on a daily basis.
She also pointed out discrepancies in budgeting, saying that Rs202 million were allocated for schemes, of which Rs43 million were released, yet there was no record for the expenditure.
She reiterated that the system could not function if all bodies were not on the same page, because if a harassment case was lodged against a health director, the case could not proceed if the health committee did not present the required reports.
Representing the HRD, Tanveer Ahmed Qureshi said it was high time that all the departments devised victim-centric policies. “It is also important to notice that men make laws concerning women, which itself is problematic because men can’t put themselves in the same position as women.”