THERE are times when true stories and research come together to graphically illustrate grim reality. On Friday, a two-day seminar concluded after discussing the findings of a new study on the perils of being female. Entitled Intimate Partner Violence and Men in South Asia: From Research to Action, the study finds that while laws do exist that refer specifically to violence against women and domestic abuse, the policies in Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh (the focus of the study) are fragmented and poorly implemented. Resultantly, this is an endemic problem, fed in great measure by patriarchy and male notions of masculinity, honour and control. On the very day the discussion at the seminar was reported in the press, another news item bore witness to just such a tragedy: a woman in North Karachi had been strangled to death; the police quoted her husband as having confessed to flying into a fit of rage over her inability to serve breakfast on time. The autopsy found that the woman had regularly been beaten. And the circumstances of the couple’s marriage provide insight into yet another dimension in which women’s rights are routinely violated: the wife had been 18 years of age, the husband 47, and the union had been arranged according to her father’s preferences.
The ugly truth is that Pakistan has, on a policy level, failed to address the issue of violence against women, particularly domestic violence (which is perpetrated outside of the spousal unions too, such as by fathers, brothers and brothers-in-law). Such violence occurs in the shadows and is considered a family’s private matter. Legislation has been enacted, but only in Punjab have we seen any real effort deployed towards effective implementation, such as the setting up of helplines and shelters. While the other provinces need to follow suit, an additional fact deserves reiteration: what also and crucially needs to be addressed is patriarchy, and notions of men’s ‘ownership’ of women. For Pakistani women’s suffering to be alleviated, social attitudes need to change.