According to official data total 2,1837 cases of gender based violence (GBV) were reported in the years 2015 and 2016 only in Karachi which has an estimated population of over 20 million. Although scattered data for the rest of areas in Sindh is available, reporting of the gender based violence is often not so-common in rural areas. The official Women Protection Cell in Hyderabad recorded a total of 204 cases of GBV from three districts Hyderabad, Jamshoro and Matiari in 2016. This indicates prevalence of such cases in rural society of Sindh.
Moreover, a recent report released by the Sindh government’s Women Development Department indicated that a total of 1,643 cases of violence against women from honour killing to domestic violence were registered in the province between July 2017 and April 2018.
The gender based violence is more common in the Pakistani society especially in the low income sections of society due to financial frustration, lack of economic opportunities, lack of education, inadequate knowledge about rights and a patriarchal mindset. In Sindh a large majority of men treat their women as their personal commodity, not human beings, thus they resort to violence as their right.
The situation in upper-middle class is not different, whereas in high income strata or feudal families men makes all the decisions related to women and family and they seldom take advice from the female stocks. In rural areas, where feudal culture dominates, men use women for settling their land related disputes just like commodities. They sometimes use excuses of extreme kind of violence, ie killing under the garb of Karo Kari or honor killing by labelling adultery on an enemy persons with a family woman and then claim compensation or kill both to settle the score.
Upper Sindh or the northern districts have the most prevalence of honour killings; Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Ghotki and Naushero Feroze are the districts where violent crimes against women are frequent. Only killings are reported due to the severity of offence and other types of violent cases are not even recognized as an offence against women. People hold traditions, culture, customs and public perceptions responsible for under reporting of the cases particularly in northern parts of the province.
A report on State of Gender Based Violence Response Services – Sindh conducted by a local non-governmental organisation, Strengthening Participatory Organisation (SPO) indicates lack of government interventions to protect women from the social violence.
Although Sindh Assembly has passed a number of women-specific laws in recent years, the implementation and institutional making is lacking. Moreover, awareness about these laws do not exist in both urban and rural areas of the province, despite the fact some NGOs and human rights organisations have been organising events on raising awareness. Even, in many cases, the law providers are not aware of the existence of such laws. During the survey for this report, some respondents say that police do not use the relevant laws in case of violence against women. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013, Sindh Child Marriage Restraints Act of 2013 are some pieces of legislations, Sindh Assembly has passed, but they are not being used. Institutions to implement and monitor still non-existent in the province.
Under the laws, the provincial government has to provide protection services to the victim women in case of emergency, but such services are inadequate and insufficient in Sindh.
Currently there are only 8 shelter homes in Sindh being run by the provincial government’s Social Welfare Department and some NGOs. Out of total 8 shelter homes 5 are located only in Karachi. Sukkur has only one Darul Aman, Hyderabad has one Darul Aman and one privately run ABAD Shelter Home. Following five shelter homes are available in Karachi: PANAH Shelter Home (being run in a public-private partnership arrangement), HANDS Shelter Home, Ghaus-e-Afiat (being run by Jamat-e-Islami), Edhi Foundation Shelter Home and Bint-e-Fatima Old-age Women’s Shelter Home.
Shelter homes are supposed to provide protection, security and rehabilitation services to the affected women. These shelter homes have limited capacity and are not in the position to accommodate all the survivors and provide them with quality services. According to the study the government run shelter homes have accommodation capacity of only 200 women, where as an equal capacity is available in privately run shelter homes, thus all can accommodate only 400 women at one time.
Besides these shelter homes, there are four Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Women Crisis Centres (SBBWC) across Sindh, which were initially established by the federal government but later handed over to the provincial governments after the 18th Amendment in the Constitution. The main objective of such crisis centres was to provide relief to needy women in the form of legal, medical and counselling support. These centres were envisioned to provide shelter to women for a brief period of 24 to 72 hours. If required, then the affected women may be referred to shelter homes. In Sindh these SBBWC centres have been established in Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah and Jacobabad. Interestingly, due to lack of building, funds and staff, these centres are practically non-functional at present.
According to the SPO study, these shelter homes and crisis centres have insufficient facilities, thus they are unable to provide sufficient facilities to the women victims. Admission in the government-run shelter homes is mostly through court orders and women in distress cannot enter into these official shelter homes on their own.
Similarly, the study has also mentioned that most of the survivors have to approach the Health and Police Departments by themselves with the help of their family members to seek legal and medical aid. In some cases NGOs have provided support. The Health and Police departments have to develop such mechanisms that assist survivors to approach the departments through multiple ways such as telephone helplines, websites or any other method that is customized for the people of Sindh.
There are some media reports stating the establishment of a women run Helpline established in Rescue 15 office Hyderabad. This ABAD Madadgar Helpline was established and inaugurated in August 2016, but the police department official did not mention anything about this service during the survey. In some cases, civil society and the media also help GBV survivors but the majority of the survivors have to report an incident in person. The Health Department requires a “police letter” for undertaking medico-legal” examinations as according to them this is a fundamental requirement.
With the new government in place after the general elections on 25th July, it is hoped the provincial government of Sindh will tackle the gender based violence very seriously and set up institutions and monitoring mechanism to provide support to women victims.