ISLAMABAD: In Pakistan, victims of gender-based violence (GBV) are overwhelmingly women; they are shown no mercy, not even when pregnant. Findings of a study shared at a seminar on Friday here found economic and financial pressures as factors triggering domestic disputes, which escalated into violence.
Since the inception of the country, successive governments, both military and democratic have made tall claims regarding women empowerment, but the issue of maternal health and GBV continues to get ignored.
A qualitative research study titled “Maternal health and domestic violence: Impact of personal and social factors”, paints a gloomy picture of the situation of domestic violence in the country, which is recognised yet gets suppressed due to lack of awareness of women rights among the perpetrators and as well as the victims.
The seminar was held at the National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW)’s office in collaboration with Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
The study was conducted by the Research and Development Solutions and Rutgers-World Population Foundation (WPF), Pakistan aimed at exploring patterns of GBV in Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Kashmore, Jacobabad, Jaffarabad and Naseerabad districts.
A total of 48 focus group discussions and 120 interviews were conducted during the study.
No evidence was found during the survey that pregnancy altered the incidence or patterns of violence against women.
The study said that a woman had to suffer both frequent physical violence and abuse when her family finds out through ultrasound examination that the fetus was female.
The research said that that happened especially if there were already many girls and no boy in the family.
The study found that such violence on a pregnant woman and fetus resulted in stillbirths, prematurity, growth retardation after birth and lifelong mental and physical weakness of babies born under such violent conditions.
“There is a need to create awareness among public, especially among men about care that a woman needs during nine months of pregnancy,” said Executive Director (ED) Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Abid Suleri.
Talking to The Express Tribune, he said that an expecting mother not only needed supplements or medicines but also required equal dose of love, care and peace.
“There is no need of funds or a political commitment to create such environment, all it requires is social and change in behaviour,” Suleri said.
“Currently there is no national data available in the country, which could give a clear picture of how many women in Pakistan fall victim of various forms of violence everyday and which violence is most common and needed to be addressed first,” said National Commission on the Status of Women (NSCW) Chairperson Khawar Mumtaz.
Talking to The Express Tribune after the seminar, she said that one of the major reasons why the issue was still unaddressed was the unavailability of data. “It is not easy to formulate a policy or legislate without having a baseline on the subject,” said Mumtaz.
She further said that the lack of implementation of existing pro-women laws also played a major role in creating hurdles in the way of women empowerment.
NCSW is planning to carry out a nationwide survey on violence against women, for which it is trying to get financial support from donor agencies, Mumtaz said. She said, “It is a fact that many international, national and local NGOs are working for this cause but they are restricted to few areas.”
Rutgers WPF, Pakistan Manager Programmes Aftab Awan said that the study revealed violence during pregnancy did not decrease. “All forms of violence against women need to be criminalised and should be made a community issue,” he suggested.
The research recommends uplifting economic status of women, making primary and secondary education a priority, communication between husband and wife regarding reproductive health and other matters related to pregnancies.
For mass social change the study recommends economic rehabilitation of abused women. To protect women from domestic violence, existing laws need to be effectively implemented and GBV needs to be a punishable crime at the federal level. Recommendations included banning traditional practices promoting domestic violence such as early and forced marriages.
Human Rights and Gender of the European Union Delegation to Pakistan Development Advisor Zoe Leffler suggested running an awareness campaign in the county backed by the government to make people think and talk about the issues being faced by pregnant women.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 30th, 2014.