Violence against women is, in fact, a delineation of the flawed thinking that is not willing to grant women and girls their due rights. People with this mindset treat women only as an object of sexual satisfaction, sumptuousness and unconditional slavery and loyalty. Those infested with this thinking, owing to their ego and false beliefs, think that degrading women is their right and for this purpose, they use violence as a tool. However, this unfounded thought is not limited to only a particular society or a civilization rather it’s a universal phenomenon as its manifestations are found all over the world. Be it the developed countries or the developing ones, none is immune to the occurrence of this shameful act.
As per the findings of the United Nations, wife-beating is rampant in 85 out of 90 countries in the world while almost 70 percent women have to go through this painful experience at least once in their life. With a purpose to raise public awareness on the problem of violence against women, the United Nations observes 25th of November every year as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. The event also marks the beginning of the “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” campaign that continues till 10th December — the International Day for the Human Rights. The symbolic link between both these international days emphasizes that these barbaric acts amount to the worst form of human rights abuses.
Violence against women has many forms and manifestations; it may be physical, sexual, psychological or economic. However, all these forms adversely impact the life of a woman, from cradle to grave. The principal looming threat that the women face today is violence, especially its sexual form. According to UNFPA, more than 50 percent of female victims of sexual violence age less than 15 years. Moreover, in such acts, nearly 54000 girls of 10-19 years of age lost their lives; and among these victims approximately 30000 were in South Asia only. The fact which warrants a special mention here is that 1 out of 5 women in the world is prone to sexual violence. In wars and armed conflicts, the situation further aggravates because forced rape has since long been used as warfare tactic.
Amnesty International while painting the grim picture of the state of affairs says that if we take the world as a village of 1000 people, half of its population i.e. 500, consists of women, though it should have actually been 510. The number is less because these ‘deficient’ 10 are either killed before birth through abortion or they died during infancy because they were not given due care. Among various communities of this village, boys are valued more than the girls. Ages-old traditions as well as an inherent inclination of denying right to inherit further compound the prejudice against girls.
It is also true that in this ‘world village,’ women are more prone to the HIV/AIDS and already 3 of them are suffering from this killer syndrome. Moreover, they are less aware of this menace and have less knowledge about the family planning methods that may help prevent the contracting of HIV. More than 167 women in this village are either subjected to physical violence or are forced to have illicit sexual relations; and one out of three women may fell victim to such affliction. Women are also vulnerable to be killed by their own family members because as per the data available, 70 percent of women are killed by their spouses. But, sadly, only 60 percent of such women report the violence they had faced. Furthermore, only 70 percent somehow admit in surveys or interviews that they had gone through this painful experience. Nearly 100 women are raped or subjected to some other act of sexual violence. And, if there is some sort of armed conflict in this village, the situation would further deteriorate because violence against most of them is never reported.
Pakistan is a tiny part of this vast ‘global village’ and here the state of affairs regarding violence against women is increasingly becoming grave, and demands immediate attention. The gravity of the situation can be gauged the data presented in the Aurat Foundation’s report entitled “Situation of Violence against Women in Pakistan 2013” which states that between 2008 and 2013, there has been a 3.71 percent increase in acts of violence against women with their actual number reaching as high as 7852 as compared to 7571 in 2008. This means that during this period on an average, 22 such acts a day were reported. During this period, the worst situation was witnessed in Faisalabad district where 1033 such incidents were reported. With 598 occurrences, Lahore district remained second on this ignoble list while Rawalpindi district was ranked third with 430 acts of violence. These figures present a dismal picture of the situation, yet overall situation is worse than that presented in the report because numerous such acts go unreported. This is so because all the facts and figures were collected from news in the print media. But, we have to admit that during the recent years, newspapers have been overwhelmed by news about precarious law and order situation, instable political situation, elections, natural calamities, Indian aggression on Line of Control and other such events. Amidst all these happenings how it would be possible for the newspapers to present a true depiction of actual acts of violence against women — that’s a big question already. However, unless the collection of actual facts and figures is regulated and public access to them is ensured, we will have to rely on the media reports that are credible, though partially, but are not the only reliable source to feel the grimness of the situation. Another source of collecting data about acts of violence against women is the police record but that too is not completely reliable, and easy access to it is also a critical issue. The public image of police, their attitudes and behaviour and environment of police stations discourage the reporting of these criminal acts. If these heinous acts are not reported, then how the help of the law could be sought to overcome this burning problem?
Analysts and experts believe that solution to this problem lies in increasing women’s participation in country’s law-enforcement mechanism, especially in police because it’s a universally acknowledged fact that presence of female personnel in police and reporting of rape crimes have a direct connection. Despite this, the on-ground facts reveal that only 9 percent of police around the world comprises female staff. According to a United Nations report “The World’s Women 2010,” women constitute only 3 percent of police in South Asia while in Pakistan there are nearly 3700 policewomen — less than 1 percent of the police force — according to a research conducted by an NGO ‘Individual Land’.
There would be hardly any household in the world where women would not face physical violence, degradation and deprivation in one form or the other. According to the UN, one in every three women in the world has to bear gender-based abuse. With regard to unreported acts of violence, the situation in Pakistan, too, is not much different. The facts and figures that Pakistan Demographic & Health Survey 2012-13 puts forward reveal that nearly 32.2 percent of married women belonging to age group 15-49 years are subjected to physical violence whereas 38.5 percent women have to bear physical or psychological torture on the hands of their spouses. The highest ratio of such women was found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where 57.4 percent women are abused by their husbands. The second highest ratio was recorded in Balochistan where 50.1 percent women faced domestic violence. Punjab has been ranked third with 39.3 percent followed by Islamabad Capital Territory where the ratio was 38.9 percent. The lowest ratio of violence against women was 20 percent in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Subjecting women to physical violence and psychological abuse is more rampant in rural areas than the urban ones; as 41.6 percent married women belonging to rural areas became the victims of such violence as compared to 32.2 percent of their urban counterparts.
It is to be noted here that this grim state of affairs is based only on those cases that became known; nonetheless, there are still thousands of unreported incidents most of which die down inside the four walls of the house. Women themselves too avoid raising their voice against violence, abuse or economic exploitation they are subjected to.
The data presented in PDHS 2012-13 reveals that among married women belonging to age group 15-49 years, 51.3 percent neither call somebody for help nor do they mention their plight to anyone. Enchained in this silence, more than any other province, are the women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the ratio of women who virtually sew their lips and did not complain any maltreatment is as high as 66.8 percent. Nearly 66.4 percent of such women are in Balochistan followed by Sindh (58.9 percent), Gilgit-Baltistan (58 percent), Islamabad Capital Territory (46.8 percent) and Punjab (40.6 percent).
Another major cause behind this growing menace is the childhood marriages. According to United Nations Population Fund, annually 140 million girls of below-18 years of age are made to tie the knot which quintessentially means that almost 38000 girls a day — 1 girl in every 13 seconds — become the victims of child marriage. Moreover, as per the Unicef’s State of the World’s Children Report 2015, in terms of marriages of girls of below-18 years of age, Pakistan ranks 64th in the world while for age category of below-15 years, the country is ranked 70th. Among 21 percent of married women of age 20-24 years in Pakistan, 18% were married before they reached the age of 18 years while 3% got married before 15 years. Underage marriages mean girls become mothers in their adolescence; another big threat to health and life of both mother and the child. Moreover, as Unicef says, the chances of maternity deaths among the mothers of 15-19 years for age are more than double to those in the mothers aging 20 years or more.
Any kind of violence against, or abuse of, women not only adversely impacts their physical and psychological health, but also reduces their chances of participating in social activities. Moreover, the harmful effects of torture continue to the next generations as well. Violence against women takes a heavy toll on the psyche and the rearing up of children and also on their mental health.
In addition, the society too has to pay a heavy price of inflicting violence on women which is although very high but is oft-neglected. As per the UN reports, these costs, including those incurred on women’s medical treatment, financial assistance to their children and the money spent on seeking justice and bringing the perpetrators to the book, are the direct expenses. The indirect ones, however, result mainly from loss of employment, divorce from the productive activities and other human injuries and sufferings. In the United States, these acts of violence committed by male partners against the females cost US$ 5.8 billion annually and out of this US$ 4.1 billion are spent only on providing medical care to the victims whereas it also inflicts a loss of US$ 1.8 billion in form of cutting away from the productive processes. In the United Kingdom, the annual cost of both direct and indirect losses is as high as 23 billion pounds.
Such colossal financial losses are, in fact, the direct outcome of the flawed thought under the influence of which men believe that they have a rightful authority to torture women while, unfortunately, women too don’t find any wrong in their miseries. The UN’s “Progress of the World’s Women Report 2015” says that more than one-fourth of the populations in 17 out of 41 countries, for which the survey was conducted, feel that a man has every right to beat his wife. Moreover, according to United Nations’ Report of the World’s Women 2010, in the 33 countries for which the data was available, 29 percent women think that a man has the right to beat his wife, if she argues with him. Moreover, 21 percent agree that the wife can be beaten if she does not cook the food properly.
Although there is a growing consciousness against violence against women throughout the world and majority of the people believe that it’s a crime and a blatant abuse of human rights, yet it has not been so before. Experts believe that the presence of laws aimed at curbing violence against women ensures a significant decline in such acts. International researches bear testimony to this, as they find that the incidents of violence against women are considered justified only by a marginal segment of the society. To be exact, more than 50% of the people belonging to countries, which do not have strict laws, find such gory acts legitimate and justified as compared to only 22 percent of their counterparts in the countries having strict laws in this regard.
Despite the fact that violence against women is being increasingly seen as an abuse of human rights, the attitudes of the governments are not coherent and have a lot of disparities; some countries have adopted comprehensive policies for curbing violence against women while some are still moving at a snail’s pace. And, this disparate attitude has been depicted in a UN report entitled “Progress of the World’s Women 2015-16,” according to which legislation to curb domestic violence has been in place in 119 out of 195 countries of the world and in 42 countries the process is still in embryonic stage. The data for 34 countries could not be made available. Similarly, laws against sexual harassment of women are enacted in 125 countries while 36 states don’t have these laws; no information was available for 34 countries. Although 132 countries have adopted uniform age for marriage for both sexes, 32 countries have yet to take action in this regard. Likewise, 143 countries around the world have ensured equal status for men and women but 52 countries still have to do so. In the context of Pakistan, it’s a welcome development that a number of women-specific laws have been passed during the last decade. Some prominent of them include:
- National Commission on the Status of Women Bill (2012);
- Acid Control and Acid Prevention Act (2011);
- Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Laws Amendment) Act (2011);
- Protection Against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2010;
- Section 509 of the Pakistan Penal Code (amended in February 2010);
- Standard Operating Procedures for medico-legal examination of women victims of violence (2010); and
- Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill (2009).
But, still rampant acts of violence demand an effective implementation of these laws because violence against women is a big impediment to achieving the dream of equality, development and peace which we sorely need at present. And, for this, the establishment of a society where there is no violence against women is a sine qua non.