Statistics on violence against women make for a depressing read in Pakistan and this year is no exception. Though a report by the Aurat Foundation states the reported cases of violence against women in 2012 saw a drop of 12 per cent from the previous year, cases of acid attacks saw a whopping increase of 89 per cent in the same period. This is a horrific figure made gloomier by the realisation that this all happened despite the passing in 2011 of two laws deemed pro-women: The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill and The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill. Laws are supposed to act as deterrents to crime and while one cannot expect them to immediately arrest heinous acts overnight, a spike of 89 per cent in a year is rather extraordinary. Perhaps, it explains why a group of nine MPAs from the ruling coalition presented a bill last month calling for the death penalty for those found guilty of carrying out acid attacks. They also asked that investigation of an acid attack be completed within a fortnight of a case being filed and a trial be conducted in a week, adding that if the investigating officer is found negligent, he be fined or punished for two years. That lawmakers would consider something as drastic as capital punishment, perhaps, indicates their level of frustration at being unable to find a way to tackle this crime that has placed Pakistan as one of the nations with the highest incidents of acid attacks in the world — with an Oscar for a documentary on the subject to prove it.
Perhaps where the frustration lies is in societal attitudes, nay obsession, towards honour. An acid attack on a woman is most often linked to her honour, or lack thereof, and almost always destroys her life. Those who work in rehabilitating the lives of survivors truly deserve accolades. However, laws alone cannot bring about change. Gender equality must be inculcated from an early age and tolerance for all views trumpeted, for that can serve as a powerful deterrent.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2013.