Violence against women

Published: December 1, 2011
The writer is assistant professor of history at Forman Christian College and an editor at Oxford University Press

The writer is assistant professor of history at Forman Christian College and an editor at Oxford University Press

November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, passed almost without a whimper in Pakistan. At a time when we are endlessly discussing the latest political gimmick, the absence of any airtime given to the large-scale lack of such a fundamental right — the protection of women against violence — is simply shameful. How can we discuss issues of national security and development, when we cannot even protect over half of our population?

This day is celebrated on November 25th because on this day, in 1960, three sisters, the Mirabel sisters, were gunned down by unknown assailants in the Dominican Republic due to their opposition to the then Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo. Therefore, to honour these heroic women, the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 designated this day as the day for the elimination of violence against women.

In our own country, there have been numerous Mirabel sisters, who have suffered abuse, victimisation, torture and even death. At the domestic level, abuse of women is rife. Forced marriages are still a form of torture prevalent throughout the country. Women are not considered ‘sound’ enough to make marital decisions for themselves and so a decision is made for them. This practice has been so common among Pakistani migrants to the United Kingdom that a Forced Marriages (Civil Protection) Act was enacted in 2007 by Westminster to give state protection to women who have suffered such abuse. Unfortunately, even though Pakistan is the source of almost all these forced marriages, we still have to enact a law along these lines.

That said, in recent years, Pakistan has made great strides in at least providing legal safeguards to women. The Protection of Women (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act 2006, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2009, and the Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010, have given legal support to prevent and address abuses against women, but these measures only go so far. As seen, the Protection of Women Act was immediately challenged in the Sharia Court and, even with the existence of these acts on the statute book, the real problem of enforcement remains.

Pakistan is a country where the writ of the state is fast shrinking. In such an environment, the protection of women in legal terms is simply not enough — the society needs to change. At the very basic level, women need to be treated equally — the absence of such equality is the root cause of abuse against women. The start of this equality begins at home. Recently, I was taken aback when in a household a teenage boy refused to make tea since it was a ‘girls’ job and had to be done by his sister. Similarly, another teenage boy abused his sister for standing in the doorway and looking out, when he himself had just spent hours playing cricket outside. These incidents were not about old-fashioned, conservative people, but reflected the norms prevalent even in our urban, middle classes. Hitting a woman for not making tea or for looking outside, is not too far off in this scenario.

Let us also not forget that the violence is not only physical and sexual, but also psychological. Verbally berating a woman because she is easier to target, taking away opportunities from her, domesticating her and not considering her opinion — are all ways of psychological torture which inhibit the freedom and development of women and lead to a deeply fractured society.

The United Nations estimates that nearly 70 per cent of women in the world suffer from some form of violence during their lifetime; in Pakistan perhaps the percentage is even higher. The time has come that we, at least, take a stand to stop all kinds of violence against women in our own households. December 10th is International Human Rights Day and most organisations resolve to take some ‘action’ during the 14 days from November 25th to protect women: what ‘action’ will you take?

Published in The Express Tribune, December 2nd, 2011.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Ijaz Khan
    Dec 1, 2011 - 11:21PM

    This write up confirms my impression of this young Pakhtun scholar working at FC College Lahore. A good addition to the few sane voices and balanced minds in this country. I heard his comments at a Seminar earlier this week at FC College. He showed his quality of mind and expression. Excellent young man. keep it up


  • yousaf
    Dec 2, 2011 - 7:51AM

    It has taken several millennia for man to take “Alpha male” position in the family and in society and HE is not going to let-go his hard earned position easily.The woman subjugation phenomena is of universal level with different degrees of exploitations.Women are subdued under a variety of pretexts and deprived of their rights using various excuses.whenever a voice is raised by or for women-rights activists it is immediately silenced or in most cases given just a cold shoulder.Here I would like to refer to a book written by late professor Mazhar-ul-haq of Peshawar university .In his book he after extensive research on the subject had written how women were deprived of their social and economic rights through the institutions of “PARDA and POLYGAMY”,also the name of the book.The anti-woman social values are so strong that all but one publishers dared to print his book and after the book was printed public response was not only very cold but sometimes abusive.So,I can only wish well for women as they yet have to go a long way to achieve what is their due.


  • Red
    Dec 2, 2011 - 9:37AM

    Loved the article. Thank you so much.


  • Azizullah Khan
    Dec 2, 2011 - 10:32AM

    Sir words of appreciation of great scholars like you serves as a great source of courage for young pakhtun activists and writers. Yaqoob Khan Bungash is no doubt a great scholars and a sane voice. I hope he will bring significant change through his [email protected] Khan:


  • rk
    Dec 2, 2011 - 12:33PM

    with Pakistan getting more radicalised, we can expect these issues to become worse.


  • Faiza
    Dec 2, 2011 - 3:12PM

    As far as I have noticed, the male-dominance trend is still a huge problem within Pakistani society living in Pakistan, but in certain Pakistani communities living outside Pakistan, things have become better. Of course, exceptions are there, and I do not say that things are just oh-so-wonderful ‘out there’, but at least the exposure to other societies has brought about more self awareness and things have slightly improved. However, I do not say that it is just Pakistan: it is all over the world, even in the western world and the western households, that women are treated as second rate citizens. There is an alarming number of statistics of homicides, abductions and rapes (in addition to other crimes against women) in the western world as well. It is a global problem, and we as global citizens should be doing our part in improving things rather than waiting for others to take the first step.


  • Jeez
    Dec 2, 2011 - 3:26PM

    Pakistan is far from getting more radicalized…rather women are more empowered now than they ever were before.. but the speed of empowering women is far lower than whats required! Recommend

  • usman
    Dec 2, 2011 - 3:33PM

    over rated issue which has to be more into judiciary rather than in news paper’s effective writing, progression with NGOs help fill up the pages, they are touched but overdoing something loses its effect which has happened to these issues focusing on women rights.


  • jehanzeb siddiq
    Dec 2, 2011 - 7:35PM

    I think the voilence against women should be stopped, because, the woman, is our mother, sister, daughter not a show piece. Being a human, let,s come to take step now to save rights of women.


  • Mirza
    Dec 2, 2011 - 8:17PM

    How can Pakistan solve any problems faced by women, when the whole judiciary is dominated by Islamist men? One can find great women in the govt and politics but they are kept out of the higher judiciary. In Pakistani cabinet there are several women but how many women are in the dozens of SC judges? How can a male dominated judiciary even understand what women go through in Pakistan? It is not that there are no women to be in high judiciary Asma J and Hina are just a couple of examples. Similarly how many women are in high positions in the armed forces? There role is confined to offices, schools, and hospitals. No wonder M. Mai did not get justice from our independent judiciary.


  • fiza ashiq
    Dec 5, 2011 - 11:57AM

    this article is appreciable

    “December 10th is International Human Rights Day”
    Is this is the only day when we have to be worried about woman rights and to fight for them???

    WHY not throughout the life???

    society is moving rapidly,but,woman is still standing on the same place.
    woman is the best creation…
    she is good…. if she is
    woman is bad when she ask for right as


  • namra imad
    Jan 26, 2012 - 5:06PM

    it is men like u who we need for building a new, more gender equitable Pakistani society. hats off to you Mr. Bangash, you are an icon for the coming generation :) thank you for writing up


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