Violence against women is increasingly prevalent in all spheres of society, according to a recently released in-depth report on the subject.
A team of social scientists at the University of Agriculture, Faisalabad (UAF) recently released a study on “Domestic Violence – Rural-Urban Current Age and Age at Marriage Differential Impact on Women’s Physical Health in Punjab.” The team headed by Faculty of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Dean Prof Muhammad Iqbal Zafar, with Prof Ashfaq Ahmad Maan, Fawad Asif and Munir Ahmad observed that violence against women has increased considerably over the past five years.
Generally, victims of domestic violence were found to be young and middle-aged adults. Several studies found an increased likelihood of abuse among women of age groups 15 to 19, 20 to 24, and 25 to 29 years. The report stated that married women in age group of 20 to 24 years are more likely to be abused than women aged 25 to 29 years. Women in age group of 15 to 19 years have an increased likelihood of falling victim to honour killings by blood relatives.
The study also revealed that the likelihood of domestic abuse decreases considerably in women above the age of 50. Those in age group 40 to 44 and 45 to 49 reported fewer instances of spousal abuse. “We also expect an increase in domestic abuse in newly married women between the age group of 20 to 29. Our data indicates that this is exceedingly common in Southern Punjab and several areas of Sindh,” said Zafar.
The researchers stated that a girl’s marriageable age played an important part in the understanding the risk factors that influence domestic abuse.
“The younger the girl is at the time of her marriage the less she knows about her rights. Young girls often consider domestic abuse to be the norm and put up with it for this reason,” Prof Maan said. Evidence from earlier studies concluded that girls who marry early (before the age of 18) are more likely to experience domestic violence.
The study also found that instances of domestic violence were considerably fewer among women who married at a later age. Women who married after the age of 24 were 44 per cent less likely to be abused than women who married under the age of 19.
“This research used a statistically valid random sample of 800 married women to classify the type of violence, frequency of the incident and severity of violence against married women in two district of Punjab,” Zafar said. Out of the 34 district of the Punjab two districts, Faisalabad and Narowal, were randomly selected for analysis. From each selected district two teshsils representing an urban or rural setting were listed and these included Faisalabad city and Samundari from Faisalabad and Narowal city and Shakargarh from Narowal.
Finally using a lottery method, an equal number of married households from each rural and urban area were randomly dawn.
Then numbers for each selected teshil, the total number of urban, rural union councils were calculated on the basis of an urban or rural setting census report.
With regard to the age-at-first marriage, over two thirds of women (68.6 per cent) and less than one per cent of men had their first marriage before reaching the age of 20. The majority of men (44.8 per cent) had their first marriage after celebrating their 25th birthday, compared with only 11.1 per cent of women. The study revealed that “physical violence may cause deep scars on the victims and could permanently damage or impair their mental health”. The respondents were asked about health problems they had suffered due to physical abuse during the last 12 months. Many respondents reported physical violence incidences that resulted in medical conditions such abdominal, thoraces injuries, bruises and welt’s, chronic pain, ocular damages, fibromalgia and fractures.
The study concluded that gender based violence takes many different forms and there may be distinctive patterns or manifestations of gender violence associated with particular cultures, work status, number of spouses and marriages. “However, gender violence is present in all contexts of cultural, socio-economic and political power relations, which reduces women to economic and emotional dependency,” Maan said.
The experts made a number of recommendations to overcome violence against the women and said that marriageable age of young women should not be less then 22 years. “The biggest problem we found was absolute economic dependence on the man. Nearly all the women we interviewed continued to put up with abuse for years simply because they depend on their husbands for financial support and for their children,” said Prof Asif.
The report recommends that public and private institutions establish and implement model protocols for the early identification and referral of abuse victims in health care settings.
“Someone needs to report incidents of abuse to the police and women should not be encouraged to return to abusive husbands simply because of societal pressures,” said Dr Munif Ahmed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2011.