A continuum of gender-based violence

The societal mindset of Pakistan, represented in its deeply patriarchal society, perpetuates gender-based violence

Mohsin Saleem Ullah December 05, 2022
The writer holds an LLM from UC Berkeley and is a practising lawyer and columnist. He can be reached at mohsin.saleemullah@berkeley.edu or Twitter: @MohsinSaleemu

The societal mindset of Pakistan, represented in its deeply patriarchal society, perpetuates gender-based violence. As a nation yearly scoring amongst the worst societies for women, Pakistan has ranked 164/167 on the Georgetown Institute’s Women, Peace, and Security index. According to a Reuters Foundation Report, Pakistan is the 6th most dangerous country for women overall and the 5th worst in terms of domestic violence practices. Statistics available in domestic surveys are no less abhorrent, suggesting up to 70-90% of married women in Punjab face abuse of one form or another, whether physical, psychological, or economic, from their spouses.

From a legal standpoint, legislators have actively partaken in culminating societal practices of spousal and domestic violence these past years, enacting new statutes and amending previously inadequate ones, to ensure a safer married environment for women. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2020 at the federal level, and similar statutes enacted through the provincial assemblies aim towards curbing societal tolerance of domestic abuse. These laws have been introduced with the objective of establishing an effective system of protection, relief and rehabilitation of women…against domestic violence. While the nation overflows with statutes affording protection to women, there is yet to be the actual implementation of any of these provisions in their true letter and spirit.

The reserved usage of domestic violence laws in Pakistan cannot merely be associated with the incapacity and incompetence of the local law enforcement or the judicial system. As both seem preoccupied with offences of a “more serious” nature, and budgetary limitations often lead to the prioritisation of heinous crimes over domestic abuse matters, till such abuse takes a severe turn. Even with legislative criminalisation of physical, psychological and monetary abuses at home, spousal relations are still widely deemed as domestic matters, best solved within the domestic setting. The notion itself acts as a deterrent for battered and abused women to reach out for help from the police.

At the ground level, women of this country are stuck in a “continuum of violence”, a term depicting a never-ending cycle of abuse, separate from the solitary moment or location in which it occurs. When applied in the context of Pakistan, it elucidates our failure to curb violence against women, as violence is not just limited to actual physical or emotional tortures our women face. Abuse also results from parental, familial and societal reactions, which require women to stay in such violent settings. Gendered hierarchies and patriarchal structures, which have held women back from fighting for their rights, continue to entrap them in vicious cycles of violence they rarely manage to escape from. Most women continue to suffer trauma well after the actual traumatic act, due to a lack of parental support for a divorcee daughter. The notion of ‘live or die but only at the husband’s house’ is so engrained in girls that in many cases they do end up paying with their lives rather than returning to their parents. Financial expenditures on daughters are reserved for their weddings and dowries, rather than their education, which makes them financially dependent on their husbands and incapable of attaining sufficient independence to leave their spousal homes. The fear of their child’s future is so deeply ingrained in abused mothers that they will continue to suffer than allow their child to be judged by societal paradigms. These considerations, along with the fear of hardships as a divorcee, impede women from raising their voices against an abusive husband.

This year, more than 63,367 cases of domestic crimes were reported; those unreported are extensively greater. Till such time as this continuum of violence is not defeated and our society does not side with the abused woman, women of Pakistan will only suffer, no matter what legislative initiatives are taken to safeguard them.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2022.

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