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Who’s speaking for the oppressed?

By: Sehrish Wasif

ISLAMABAD: Most cases of violence against women in Pakistan go unreported. However indicators show that instances of violence against women are on the rise.

According to data collected between January and November, 56 cases of violence were reported in District Headquarter Hospital, 47 in Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) and 26 in Holy Family Hospital.

Activists hold poor implementation of laws meant for the protection of women, feudalism, jirgas and social taboos among causes as a major reason behind the rise of violence against women.

But the 29-year-old Shahida Bibi does not know who to blame for her miserable life. She bears the brunt of the sins of her father who gunned down a man in his village and later, as compensation, married his 14-year-old daughter (Shahida) as swara, a common tribal custom. Now, wherever she goes she is tagged as ‘Swara Shahihda,’ she said.

Beaten at the hands of her in-laws who allegedly instructed her to sleep out in the open during winter and refused to give her the day’s meals, she ran away to live at her parents’ home expecting a better life. But it wasn’t to be. After the death of her parents, her brother as the sole caretaker is poor and unable to bear her expenses so she has had to “work as a domestic worker, but I hardly earn Rs1,500 monthly which is insufficient to buy clothes or even medicines for myself.”

Samar Minaullah, a women rights’ activist, said that there are many women in the country who have become victims of Swara. “These practices are basically sacrifices of women to protect their male family members from the crimes they have committed. Unfortunately in Pakistan, men rarely get punished, which ultimately [results in] increased violence against women,” she said.

Nasreen Azhar, a senior women rights activist said laws are made but never implemented. “Besides this, lawyers, police and judiciary members are unfortunately not briefed about these laws,” she said. However, the real problems are influential individuals behind such crimes where all it takes is money to exchange hands (qisas) for cases to be buried.

Tahira Abdullah, a women and human rights activist, said she is glad “that there is some movement on legislation but until the government bans illegal jirgas and panchayat along with feudal, tribal and pir-murid systems there can be no hope for the elimination of violence [on women].”

Dr Tanveer Malik, a medico-legal officer at Polyclinic Hospital, said every month around 30-50 cases of violence against women are registered at the hospital, where a majority are rape cases.

Women’s Organisation for Rights and Development Executive Director Aqsa Khan said they are organising a week-long campaign on improving the criminal justice system to combat violence against women. “We need a criminal justice system that is supportive of women and girls,” she said.

“The battles that have been fought and won in the courtroom go a long way in showing society’s changing perspectives. Vulnerable people, especially women, always go to court as a last resort due to the difficulties associated with accessing justice. However those who have managed to go through the process and receive favourable outcomes have not only helped themselves but helped set legal and moral precedents for others around the nation,” said human rights advocate Hina Jillani.
Source: The Express Tribune

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