Sunday May 19, 2024

Change for the better

By Dr Sharmila Faruqi
November 09, 2022

Pakistan is a country that has a plague-like problem of abusing women, including everything from domestic violence to child marriage.

Only recently, the former wife of a much-celebrated actor came out and tweeted about having been subjected to physical and psychological violence during her marriage. She allegedly suffered blunt injuries to her arms, back, and chest – as described in a medical report. The actor denied these allegations but the medical report was clear, showing that even in an economically well-off position, the situation is not too different from the rest.

Domestic violence is rampant in many households in Pakistan. The government had launched a helpline for domestic abuse victims, and reasserted its commitment to ending abuse and protecting women but unfortunately legislative, policy and institutional measures still remain widely unimplemented. According to an estimate, approximately 70-90 per cent of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence.

Various forms of domestic violence in the country include physical, emotional, and mental abuse – such as honour killing or ‘karo kari’, spousal abuse like marital rape, acid attacks and being tortured by family members. Spousal abuse is socially rarely considered a crime unless it takes an extreme form of murder which could range from driving a woman to suicide or engineering an accident. According to the Global Database on Violence Against Women, Pakistan ranks as the second worst country when it comes to gender inequality, which includes health and survival, in which Pakistan ranks 143rd.

Another recent case which sparked nationwide outrage was the murder of Noor Mukkadam, and it was very obvious from the details that the murderer Zahir Jaffer fully expected to get away with his crime. Initially, even after such clear brutality, the accused looked for excuses such as lack of proper state of mind. Finally, after being convicted, he was sentenced to death and his co-conspirators sentenced to jail. Getting away with gender violence such as murder is not hard in Pakistan. More than 470 cases of honour killings were reported to police in 2021, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). As the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women approaches, Pakistan’s gender violence issues remain unabated and undeterred through its systematic incapability to deal with it.

Rape is another issue that is unchecked in Pakistan, with many victims being children. As many as 1,170 cases of child sexual abuse, 803 cases of abduction, 212 cases of missing children, and 26 cases of child marriages were reported across the country in the first half of 2022. According to another report, two women are raped every hour in Pakistan, meanwhile the conviction rate remains a shocking 0.2 per cent.

In 2022, about 1,301 cases of sexual violence against women were heard across 44 courts in Pakistan, but only four per cent of the cases went to trial. The media reported about 350 cases in 2022. In 2020, the UNDP ranked Pakistan top among 75 countries with an anti-women bias in courts. Just a few days ago, a minor 8-9-year-old girl was gang raped in Karachi’s Clifton area after being abducted from outside a mall. She was a flood victim belonging to Shikarpur. The persons remain unidentified and so far the police have not been able to arrest them.

According to data by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, around 1,957 incidents of honour killings were reported over the past four years. Around one-fifth of the world’s honour killings are committed in Pakistan (1,000 out of the 5,000 per year total), where the death of the victim is viewed as a way to restore the reputation and honour of the family. Despite legal reforms it still remains a widely committed act. Due to ours being a patriarchal society, male family members are prompted by these ideologies and societal pressure to attack any female family member who may have brought ‘dishonour’ on the family.

Pakistan being ranked so low on the gender inequality index is not a coincidence. Violence against women is ingrained in our society and protected by the weak laws that govern it. The horrifyingly high number of cases of violence demands a change. All of our government institutes and social agencies must be involved to bring about this change in our society once and for all.

The writer is a member of the Sindh Assembly.