Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is a universal phenomenon that affects all societies one way or the other. Almost every woman faces discrimination or fear because of her gender. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that at least one in every five of the world’s females has been physically or sexually abused. GBV affects both physical and emotional health of women and has far-reaching effects on the society as a whole.
Before discussing gender-based violence in Pakistan, it is pertinent to understand as to what violence and gender-based violence actually are. Gelles and Straus define violence as â€œan act carried out with the intention or perceived intention of physically hurting another person.â€ Exerting power in order to impose one’s will on another person is also violence. When this violence falls within the ambit of gender relations, it affects all aspects of a woman’s life. When violence is directed against women, simply because they are weak and dependent, it is called gender-based violence. As women are generally victimized because of their gender, the term gender-based violence is, therefore, used to describe violence against women.
Due to many forms and manifestations of GBV, a woman continues to face it, one way or the other, throughout her life. Heise, Pittenguay and Germain delineate different types of violence a woman faces throughput her life which are as under:
Pre-birth: It includes sex-selective abortion. Battering during pregnancy and coerced pregnancy are the forms of pre-birth gender-based violence.
Infancy: It includes female infanticide as well as physical and emotional abuse and differential access to food and medical care.
Girlhood: Child marriage is its worst form. At this stage, sexual and physical abuse of girls by family members and strangers are common occurrence. Differential access to food, medical care and education continues at this stage.
Adolescence: At this stage, the most common forms are violence during courtship, sexual abuse at the workplace, rape, sexual harassment, marriage without consent and trafficking.
Reproductive Age: The most common form of violence at this stage is physical, psychological and sexual abuse by the intimate male partner and relatives, forced pregnancies, sexual abuse at workplace, sexual harassment, rape and abuse of widows.
Senility: At this stage, abuse of widows including property-grabbing, physical and psychological violence by younger family members and differential access to food and medical care are the most common forms.
There are different levels wherein women experience violence. These are as under:
Violence within home
Violence within community
Violence perpetrated by the state
Following are the causes of GBV:
Belief in inherent superiority of males
Values that give men proprietary rights over women and girls
Notion of the family as private sphere and under male control
Customs of marriage
Acceptability of violence as a means to resolve conflict
Women’s economic dependence on men
Discriminatory laws regarding inheritance, property rights, etc.
Limited access to employment in formal and informal sectors
Limited access to education and training for women
Lesser legal status of women either by law or by practice
Lower level of legal literacy among women
Under-representation of women in power, politics, media, legal and medical professions.
Domestic violence not taken seriously
Limited organization of women as political force
Limited participation of women in organized political system
Effects of Gender-based Violence
Sexual and reproductive health problems
Rejection, ostracism and social stigma at community level
Reduced ability to participate in social and economic activities
Acute fear of future violence which extends beyond the individual survivors to other members in community
Damage to women’s confidence resulting in fear of venturing into public spaces. This often curtails women’s education which, in turn, can limit their income-generating opportunities
Job loss due to absenteeism as result of violence
Divorce or broken families
Jeopardized family’s economic and emotional development
Babies born with health disorders as a result of violence experienced by mother during pregnancy
Increased likelihood of effects on children who witness violence at home resulting in emotional and behavioural disturbances
Burden on health infrastructure and judicial system
Gender-based Violence in Pakistan
GBV is a very serious problem in Pakistan. Gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan ranked 141 out of 182 on gender-related Development Index. Discrimination and violence are more societal problems than legal. Society breeds discrimination which often finds its manifestation in GBV. Legal framework is not supportive to women thereby aggravating the situation by leaving no breathing space to women who at times find it difficult to come out of the vicious trap of violence.
According to Aurat Foundation’s Annual Report 2013, total number of reported cases of violence against women from the four provinces, FATA and Islamabad stood at 7516. From these cases nearly 63 per cent were reported only from Punjab followed by Sindh with 1628 cases. 674 cases were reported in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and FATA. Islamabad was noted for 281 cases which is very high number considering that the region is much smaller compared to other regions. Balochistan has a total of 167 reported cases.
In Pakistan, the underlying causes of violence are due to deep-rooted social and cultural values. Sadly, women facing discrimination and violence cannot get support from society and even the government. The government should formulate gender-sensitive policies in collaboration with the civil society so that the crimes against women can be minimized. Such policies will also help in changing the attitude of the people in the long run.
and Nazia Abdul Ghaffar is a lecturer in
Gender Studies at the University of the Punjab)