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Disquieting face of violence against women

IN an interesting contrast last week, whilst campaigners in Islamabad were taking up the cudgels to stop violence against women, an all-girl Saudi rock band called The Accolade was making a statement by going on song in the conservative kingdom of all places.

November 25 is marked as the International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women. Oxfam and UNIFEM joined cause, in separate seminars held in the federal capital, to highlight the need to stop violence against women – even if took a whopping five-million global signature campaign with attractive UNIFEM Goodwill ambassador Nicole Kidman at the head to make a stellar statement.

The Oxfam initiative entitled ‘We Can’ will attempt to hold a thousand events across six South Asian countries from the said day this year to March 31, 2009. The campaign will include seminars, rallies, fun fairs, interactive dialogues and theatrical performances at the district level where incidence of gender-based violence is high.

According to an Asian Development Bank report, a staggering 85 per cent of women in Pakistan have experienced some form of violence at some point in their lives.

The interesting part of the campaign is that the torch will be carried by “change makers”, each of whom will pledge to refrain from violence in his or her life and will also convert ten people to the same cause.

According to Oxfam, currently, there are nearly 150,000 volunteers engaged at the council and tehsil levels and the collage of events is expected to touch half a million people directly or indirectly. The target is to reach some 700,000 ‘change makers’ by the year 2011.

A speaker at the campaign launch observed that it was the government’s responsibility to create an effective support mechanism for victims of violence and that the civil society could only create awareness and at best, lend a hand to a few victims.Programme Manager Dr Farhat Sheikh hopes the parliament would approve the domestic violence bill – Prevention of Domestic Violence Act 2008 – which would go a long way in offering some protection to potential victims.

But any suggestions and calls for effective legislation and implementation of already existing laws have gone unheeded for donkeys years.

To begin with, Maleeha Zia, a legal expert at the Aurat Foundation, had a valid point in saying even definitions pertaining to violence are amiss. She underlined the need to understand that domestic violence had different dimensions as removed from the known crimes and thus require separate definitions.

For instance, generally a lot of the violence is perceived as physical but one that is social and economic can be even more debilitating in the long run.

Violence against women is perpetrated when legislation, law enforcement and judicial systems condone or do not recognize domestic violence as a crime.

Women, who attempt to report abuse encounter serious obstacles. Police tend to respond to such reports by trying to reconcile the concerned parties rather than filing charges and arresting the perpetrators.

Only yesterday, the Islamabad High Court put the SHO of the Shalimar police station and the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences on notice for failing to conduct the medical examination of a raped girl.

But while the fight was on to stop violence against women, the federal capital was reverberating with a stunning act of regression exhibited right in the centre of parliamentary business.

Offered by the government to appoint a chairperson for the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Women’s Affairs, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, made a mockery of the initiative with his chauvinistic response.

Nisar’s attempt to foist Hanif Abbasi – a male member of parliament, who conveniently switched sides from Jamaate Islami to Pakistan Muslim League-N when the former pulled out of last February’s general elections – as the chairperson after his first choice, an embarrassed Usman Ibrahim (another male MNA), turned down the offer, was churlish to say the least.

When the attempt to nominate a male as the head of women’s affairs committee led to a furore within his party, Nisar simply returned the offer in complete disregard of women parliamentarians from his party – an arrogant “my-way-or-the-highway” position.

Not to be outdone, PML-N women MPs, led by Begum Ishrat Ashraf, put their foot down and warned their leader in NA that they would never accept Abbasi as the chairperson of the women affairs committee.

For those of us who were shocked and awed by misogynists like Israrullah Zehri and Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, who have been incredibly rewarded with ministries by the sitting government, the latest episode appears to be a part of a disquieting trend. Astonishingly still, human rights activists, particularly those sworn to women’s rights, appear to have either missed or overlooked the latest slight by a male lawmaker to belittle women since no-one even staged a protest. Or is it that people have lost all hope?
Source: Dawn
Date:11/29/2008

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