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The hurtful reality

The hurtful reality

In our part of the world a majority of the incidents of violence against women go unreported. You! takes a look…

Across the globe, violence against women is widespread, yet still a hidden problem. Freedom from the threat of harassment, battering, and sexual assault is a concept that most people have a hard time imagining because violence is such a deep part of different cultures and daily lives. The said phenomenon is woven into the fabric of society to such an extent that many women who are victimised feel that they are at fault. Many of those who perpetrate violence feel justified by strong societal messages that say rape, battering, sexual harassment, child abuse, and other forms of violence are acceptable. Every day, images of male Violence Against Women (VAW) are seen in the news, on TV shows, in the movies, in advertisements, and in homes and workplaces. It is a fact of life for women of all ages, races, and classes.

In the broadest sense, violence against women is any violation of a woman’s personhood, mental or physical integrity, or freedom of movement through individual acts and societal oppression. It includes all the ways our society objectifies and oppresses women. Violence against women ranges from domestic violence, honour killings, sexual harassment, stalking, battering, and rape. It includes the sexual and physical abuse of young girls, too.

Like all conservative societies of the world, gender discrimination has become a defining feature of Pakistan too. Every year, incidents of violence against women take place in both the rural as well as the urban areas of the country.

Although the Pakistani media, with the help of different non-governmental organisations (NGOs), continually raise their voices against the atrocities committed against women, majority of the incidents of violence against women go unreported. According to a report by Madadgaar National Helpline, during the first four months of 2013 only, 444 women became victims of violence. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of updated statistics on reported incidents of domestic violence. The preceding year, a qualitative review of VAW statistics by the Aurat Foundation (AF) reveals that in the first six months of 2012, a total of 4,585 such cases were reported in the media across Pakistan.

Women who are victimised either do not have the capacity to seek justice, or choose not to due to social pressures. Factors like social constraints, misuse of religion, poverty, illiteracy and social exclusion hinder women from seeking help. In general, women think that only the concerned people will fight for women’s rights so they adopt a laid-back attitude and resort to silence.

“The polarisation that only feminists have a duty to raise their voices against domestic violence actually discourages other women from protesting against such atrocities. I think that all women should know their rights and should be able to fight for them whenever needed,” says Tamseela Amjad, a project manager at Euronet Pakistan.

Moreover, the increase in violence, in general, has also been correlated with the increase in violence against women. Women seem to be punching bags for those who have been deprived, harassed, and frustrated by the violent activities.

Domestic violence
Domestic violence is a common practice in Pakistan. Earlier, it was thought that domestic violence was only inflicted on women living in the rural or low income urban areas of the country, but incidents of violence that made headlines throughout the year have proven that domestic violence is not specific to socio-economic or geographical factors. Rather, the practice is rampant throughout the society. As per a report by the AF, there were a total of 346 cases of honour killing and another 289 cases of domestic violence reported in the last six months of 2012.

Domestic violence -also called intimate partner abuse, intimate partner violence, and domestic abuse – can take various forms. For instance, maltreatment that takes place in the context of any romantic relationship is abuse as described by the above specific terms.

“My husband lost his job three months ago. Since that day, he sits at home sulking over small issues and when I go home, tired of the day’s tasks, he picks fights with me for no reason and beats me up. This has become a routine for him to vent his frustrations,” laments Sakina, a-32-year-old maidservant from Orangi Town, Karachi.

Intimate partner violence may consist of one or more forms, including emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, or economic abuse and is defined as one person in an intimate relationship using any means to control the other. Types of domestic abuse include physical, verbal (also called emotional, mental, or psychological abuse), and sexual, economic/financial, and spiritual abuse. Stalking and cyber-stalking are also forms of intimate partner abuse.

“I am a working woman and my husband has a very good job, too. We don’t have any such problems in our relationship, but whenever my husband is angry over something, I always have to endure his foul language and even beatings. I cannot share my feelings with anyone because we come from an educated, well-reputed family, and being vocal about this problem will bring a bad name to my family,” shares Rehana*, a teacher by profession.

Sexual abuse
In Pakistan, issues related to sexuality are considered taboo so people prefer to brush all such matters under the carpet. As a result, majority of the cases of sexual assault go unreported. This, in turn, makes the perpetrators more powerful and fearless, because they know that they will not be punished despite their actions. Consequently, rape cases continue to rise in Pakistan with every passing year. According to AF, in 2012, a total of 435 rape and gang rape cases were reported in the first six months of 2012.

This year, a five-year-old girl was brutally raped in Lahore and was found dumped outside Ganga Ram Hospital. The very next day a 12-year-old girl in Faisalabad and another first year student in Toba Tek Singh were gang raped. This was followed by another gang rape of a 15-year-old girl in Tharparkar. In most cases of sexual abuse, the perpetrators belong to the family of the victim. Usually, young girls are victimised because they become an easy prey.

Marital rape
Marital rape is almost an unknown phenomenon in a traditional society like Pakistan. Once married, a woman is considered to be the property of her husband and the society often uses religion to condone marital rape. In a typically patriarchal society, if a woman is not ready to or is not comfortable to engage in sexual activity with her husband, often the husband resorts to the use of force. Since the couple is married, no law could term it rape. Most women do not share such incidents with anyone for the fear of being stigmatised as ‘disobedient’. The problem, however, is grave since research has shown that women who experience physical and sexual violence by their husbands are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or even killed. There are thousands of women who have to undergo this humiliating experience. The sad part is that such women are unable to raise their voice against this atrocity, mainly because there are no laws that could curb such crimes.

Domestic violence by in-laws
Domestic violence by in-laws is also a common phenomenon in Pakistan. Every year, thousands of girls are beaten up, emotionally abused, or even tortured to death by their in-laws. Dowry deaths, burning the victim alive, threatening the victim of divorce are quite common in Pakistan.

Asma*, a 22-year-old housewife grieves, “I belong to a middle class family and my parents could not arrange for an expensive dowry at the time of my wedding. For this reason, my in-laws, though fairly educated, keep taunting me day and night for not being able to supply the family with the required dowry. They never beat me, but the continuous snide remarks are killing me from inside.”

Summing up, violence against women in Pakistan is closely linked to the rigid norms that define what it is to be a man. There is a dominant model of manhood; men are taught to aspire to and judge themselves based on this ideal. Men are expected to be financially independent, become husbands and fathers, be the primary income earners for the family, be achievers in the eyes of peers, and be in control and exert authority. These salient norms of manhood are perpetuated by societies, communities, peers, families and women themselves – and take on more extreme forms in some cultures.

But for most men, particularly poor men, there is a huge gap between these expectations and what they can achieve. In the face of chronic poverty, inequality, exclusion, jobless economies, many men feel they don’t measure up. How then, do these men prove themselves as men? All too often it is through the use of force and violence – and female partners are easy targets. Such behaviour is often the only way for many men to wield power in societies where they are made to feel powerless and useless. This is the hard reality that remains unacknowledged or misunderstood in much of the discussion on gender violence today.

Though different women’s groups and NGOs continue to fight against violence against women in Pakistan, a lot of awareness is needed and a lot more has to be done on individual level to eradicate this inhumane practice from the society. In the meanwhile, one can only hope that in the coming years, more people will speak up against the brutalities committed against women but will the society be able to come out of this complicated mesh of irrational norms, only time will tell.

*Names of the victims have been changed to retain privacy.

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