In a first-of-its-kind household survey of 5,000 women, the Rutgers World Population Foundation has found that more than 77% of marriages were settled under some kind of customary practice such as vanni, swara, sang chatty or watta satta.
The survey was conducted in Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Jacobabad, Kashmore, Jafferabad and Naseerabad. And three-fourths of the women interviewed said they were victims of physical violence.
“On this national women’s day there is a need to address domestic violence against women in Pakistan through robust legislation that ensures protection of the victims,” said Qadeer Baig, the country representative for Pakistan, the Rutgers foundation told The Express Tribune. He added that it was necessary to also prevent institutional violence when these women went to the police, healthcare providers and the lower courts.
The survey said that 66% of the women suffered sexual violence.
The aim was to measure the prevalence of domestic violence through a quantitative approach in a household setting and the perception of men about domestic violence through focus group discussions. Four out of five women reported having experienced some sort of psychological violence at least once, including insulting behaviour or humiliation in front of others.
The survey revealed that 64% of the women who had experienced physical abuse by their husbands suffered injuries, out of which 63% never received treatment.
“Gender role ideology needs to be changed,” said Farzana Bari, who is a women rights activist and gender expert. She feels there is a need to empower women financially, socially and legally in order to overcome domestic violence. But given that the domestic violence bill is still pending in parliament, it is clear that the government only makes claims about empowering women but does nothing practically and legally.
The study also explores the practices of marriage customs, honour killings, child sexual abuse and sex-selective abortion in the selected districts. Thirty-four per cent of women reported honour killing in their families. And 47% of women experienced physical abuse by their husbands during pregnancy. Out of a total of 95% of pregnant women 21% had a history of induced abortion. Among these women, almost 40% have had an abortion because the fetus was female, while 86% of these women confirmed the sex of their fetus before opting for an abortion.
A majority of the male respondents defined manhood in terms of authority, power and honour. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, who is a special assistant to the prime minister, admitted that Pakistani women, regardless of their socio-economic status, were subjected to domestic violence. In this patriarchal society, women consider themselves the weaker sex, whose rights are brazenly violated and their voices are suppressed, she said. The Rutgers survey was carried out with the support of Pakistan Gender-based Violence Reproductive Health Network partner organisations in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2013.