AS violence against women in Pakistan continues to grow, every new incident is eerily reminiscent of an earlier event that was equally if not more shocking. Two reports from Punjab on Monday are a blot on society’s collective conscience. One pertained to the public humiliation of three women in Phoolnagar village by a mob that held them guilty of prostitution.
The other detailed the horrendous case in Zafarkay where a young girl’s nose and ears were chopped off because she had turned down an offer of marriage. What is most appalling is that such incidents take place with unfailing regularity, notwithstanding the laws upholding women’s rights and attempts by advocacy groups to raise the status of women. Statistics from one human rights organisation show that violence against women has registered an increase of 237 per cent over the period 2000—08, with 8,445 cases being reported in 2008. These figures are undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg. Murder, rape, torture and kidnapping top the list of crimes.
With the media in Pakistan enjoying an unprecedented degree of freedom and with communication facilitated by modern technology such as the Internet and text-messaging such gender crimes should no longer be brushed under the carpet. But the pertinent question is: even if they are not, then what? If misogynists are in a position to inflict their perversity on women, without the state doing anything about it because it lacks the will to act or provide protection to its female citizens, criminals will remain safe in the knowledge that they will not be punished. Under such circumstances, there will be no let-up in violence against women.
There is a need for a two-pronged strategy. First, it is important that pressure must be brought to bear on the law-enforcement agencies to improve their performance and not allow the victimisation of women. Existing laws, even those that are not women-specific, should be stringent enough for the state to prosecute those who have committed an act of violence, irrespective of the victim’s gender.
What is even more important is the political will to enforce such laws. Secondly, there is an urgent need for efforts to change centuries-old perceptions. It is disturbing that one man should be able to incite a mob of 200 to publicly degrade women in a despicable way. It is time the media and civil society put in serious efforts to educate people about their individual responsibility to enforce human rights and stand up for the victims.