Thursday November 30, 2023

Women have little relief from harassment despite laws

March 03, 2016


Although the Punjab Assembly has passed the Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2015 that criminalises all forms of violence against women, this was not the first time when the Pakistani legislators had actually opted to strive for this cause.

In the past, a good number of such futile exercises were initiated by the Pakistani lawmakers, but to no avail as domestic, sexual, psychological, emotional, economic and verbal violence against women still continues unabated.

For example, in 1976 the Pakistani government had passed legislation on dowry and bridal gifts in a bid to eradicate the custom, but young women continue to be killed over inadequate dowries even after that.

In April 2000, General Musharraf’s government had condemned honour killings and had declared it would be treated as murder.

The Ministry of Women Development had set up 10 crisis centres to help the victims of domestic violence and raise the awareness level of the people on this issue.

And then there were occasions where legislators running or hailing from religious outfits had chiefly thwarted and sabotaged the efforts of their colleagues.

For example, in 2009, a Domestic Violence Protection bill was proposed by Pakistan People’s Party’s Yasmeen Rehman (sister of retired Justice Malik Qayuum and MNA Pervaiz Malik) in the National Assembly. The bill was passed by the Lower House of the Parliament, but the Senate had not ratified it somehow.

The Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had opposed the bill, asserting it would increase the ratio of divorces.

The scholars sitting in this Council had also argued that while the bill ignored the elderly and weak men, it considered women and children as the only victims of domestic violence.

They had claimed that the punishments suggested by the bill were already enacted by other laws and had opined that lack of action on those laws was the key reason for increase in domestic violence.

In 2011, the Pakistani Senate had passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill to repress acid attacks in the country and the Anti-Women Practices Bill.

The “Human Rights Watch,” a New York-based international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, had estimated in 2009 that between 70 and 90 percent of women in Pakistan had suffered some form of abuse.

The NGO’s study had revealed that about 5,000 Pakistani women were being killed every year from domestic violence, with thousands of others maimed or disabled.

The research had showed that majority of victims of violence had no legal recourse.

So, had something being done for the protection of women after the passage of the 1976 legislation, female victims would not have had limited ability to escape from violent situations in 2016.

A February 25, 2016 report of the “Reuters” news agency states: “A study conducted by the Aurat Foundation, a Pakistani women’s rights group, in 2013 showed that Punjab province alone accounted for 5,800 crimes against women - 74 percent of crimes against women in the whole of Pakistan. A poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2011 ranked Pakistan the third most dangerous country in the world for women, after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

The United Nations has described dowry deaths as a form of domestic violence, categorically stating that Pakistani women were often murdered if their in-laws deemed their dowry to have been insufficient. Most of these widely-reported “bride burnings” were camouflaged as “stove deaths.”

Dowry deaths are common in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran. India reports the highest total number of dowry deaths with 8,391 reported in 2010, 1.4 deaths per 100,000 women. Adjusted for population, Pakistan, with 2,000 reported such deaths per year, has the highest rate of dowry death at 2.45 per 100,000 women.

(References: Indian National Crime Records Bureau, Asian Human Rights Commission, UN Women, American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, University of
Munich and the Lahore-based Center for Economic Research etc)

A local NGO “Madadgar National Helpline” had claimed that at least 1,601 women were killed in Pakistan in the name of honour or for other reasons in 2013.

According to data provided by this NGO, at least 370 women were raped while 185 incidents of gang-rape were reported across the country.

Similarly, 2,133 women were tortured during the same year while 887 faced torture by police, 608 women were abducted and some 406 were forcibly married.

The forced marriages had included 176 cases of Vani.

(References: Archival knowledge from Pakistani newspapers, Katherine Van Wormer and Fred Besthorn’s book “Human Behaviour and The Social Environment, Macro Level: Groups, Communities” Juliette Terzieff’s book “Pakistan’s Fiery Shame: Women Die in Stove Deaths” and “Ending Violence Against Women: A Challenge for Development and Humanitarian Work” by Caroline Sweetman, Francine Pickup and Suzanne Williams)

Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network” shows that although an unprecedented number of countries have framed laws against domestic violence, women generally have no respite.

In 2009, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, had viewed: “Across the world-in rich and poor countries alike-women are being beaten, trafficked, raped and killed. These human rights abuses not only inflict great harm and suffering on individuals-they tear at the fabric of entire societies. In 2008, the Secretary-General launched a multi-year global campaign called “United” to end Violence against Women. He is appealing to all partners to join forces to eliminate this scourge. The campaign recognises the power of the law: one of its five key goals is for all countries to adopt and enforce, by 2015, national laws that address and punish all forms of such violence, in line with international human rights standards.”

The “UN Women” had opined: “Gender equality and the empowerment of women are not products that can be shipped, warehoused and distributed. They are long-term socio-cultural and behavioural processes that change over longer periods of time and require strong financial commitments in order to see results and impact. Although, many decision-makers have now come to this understanding, not all have acted accordingly.”

A very recent World Bank Group publication “Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal” has revealed that over half a billion women across the globe are not legally protected from violence.

The publication had revealed: “Legal gender differences are widespread: 155 of the 173 economies covered have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions. Not fewer than 46 economies covered have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence. In 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working. Over the past two years, 65 economies carried out 94 reforms increasing women’s economic opportunities. This edition covers 173 economies, including 30 economies that were not previously covered: Afghanistan, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Djibouti, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Grenada, Guyana, Iraq, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Myanmar, Qatar, Sao Tome and Príncipe, Seychelles, South Sudan, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Swaziland, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Trinidad and Tobago.”

The World Bank Group publication under review had gone on to write: “Globally, the most common form of violence women experience is from an intimate partner. Almost one-third of all women who have been in an intimate relationship have experienced physical or sexual violence. Indeed, intimate partners commit as many as 38 per cent of all murders of women.”

World Bank’s “Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal” has found that life expectancy for women is higher where they are legally protected from domestic violence. Of the economies covered, 127 have laws on domestic violence, of which 95 cover both physical and sexual violence and122 cover psychological violence. Economic violence, which can result in women being deprived of the economic means to leave an abusive relationship, is rarely covered. Subjecting women to economic violence is not addressed in 94 of the total 173 economies for which data has been collected. Laws covering all four types of violence are prevalent in Europe and Central Asia, and in South Asia, where about 74% of economies examined cover physical, sexual, emotional, and economic abuse. This is also the case in 63% of economies in Latin America and the Caribbean, 44% in East Asia and the Pacific, 37% in Sub-Saharan Africa and 25% of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) high-income economies. In 2014, Lebanon adopted Law 293 on the Protection of Women and Family Members from Domestic Violence-the only law in the Middle East and North Africa to cover all four forms of violence. Additionally, Italy and Macedonia amended their domestic violence legislation to cover financial violence, and Belarus, Latvia, Saudi Arabia and Tonga enacted new laws on domestic violence. However, in many economies, women still have no legal protection. In fact, 46 out of the 173 covered economies have yet to enact laws to address domestic violence.”

It had further stated: “Seven economies-Belgium, Canada, Estonia, Iceland, Morocco, the Netherlands and Tunisia-have no explicit laws on domestic violence but have addressed the issue by intensifying penalties when criminal offences are committed against spouses or within the family. In Latin American and the Caribbean, East Asia and the Pacific and South Asia, only Haiti, Myanmar and Afghanistan have no laws on domestic violence. In Europe and Central Asia, Armenia, Russia and Uzbekistan have no laws on domestic violence. Legislation on domestic violence is less prevalent in the Middle East and North Africa, where only 4 out of 19 economies covered have enacted such laws, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, where about half of the covered economies have done so. Over the past 25 years, the number of economies introducing laws addressing domestic violence has risen precipitously from close to zero, to 118.”

The research continued: “In 2009, a study conducted in the United States, shows that protection orders are effective in reducing violence while increasing the victim’s safety, and further have a positive impact in terms of cost savings for the state. In 124 of 173 economies, victims of domestic violence may seek such measures to limit an abuser’s behavior. Where protection orders exist, they generally allow for removal of the perpetrator from the common home and prohibit contact with the victim.”

The publication has added: “Establishing specialised courts or procedures for domestic violence cases may make legal action more effective. Of the 173 economies covered, 117 have specialized courts or procedures for domestic violence cases. There are similar provisions in 113 other economies covered, and in 94% of the economies that have protection orders, the perpetrator can be prohibited from contacting the victim. Globally, 7% of women have been sexually assaulted by someone other than a partner. In New Zealand and Australia, 10% to 20% of women have experienced sexual violence from non-partners. Within European Union economies, for example, 40% to 50% of women have experienced unwanted sexual advances, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at work. Women, Business and the Law data show that 41 economies out of the 173 examined have no laws against sexual harassment.”

It had viewed: “Where laws do exist, they vary in the areas covered, such as employment, education and public places. Specific provisions covering sexual harassment in employment have been enacted in 114 economies. Laws on sexual harassment in education are less common: only 52 economies specifically protect girls from sexual harassment in schools. And only 18 economies specifically protect women from sexual harassment in public places.

The French government recently unveiled measures to curb sexual harassment in public transportation after a poll in which 100% of women surveyed said they had been confronted with the problem.”

World Bank research shows that countries that 18 countries have no legislation in either area. These include Afghanistan, Congo, Cameroon, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Guinea, Haiti, Iran, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Oman, Russia, South Sudan, Swaziland and Uzbekistan.

With help sought from numerous internationally-reputed entities like the World Health Organization, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, and various United Nations and World Bank publications on the subject, here follow some important facts and statistics about the never-ending global violence against women:

In India, rape is one of the most common crimes against women and a female is raped every 29 minutes.

Incidents of reported incest rape increased 46.8 per cent from 268 cases in 2011 to 392 cases in 2012.

At least 106,527 women had reported cruelty by a husband or relative in 2012.

(Reference: A 2013 report of the Indian National Crime Records Bureau)

The September 2, 2013 edition of “The Telegraph” had reported: “Official figures from India’s National Crime Records Bureau reveal that 8,233 young women, many of them new brides, were killed in so-called ‘dowry deaths’ in 2012. While dowry deaths fell slightly from 8,618 to 8,233, the number of cases of cruelty committed by husbands and their relatives increased significantly from 99,135 in 2011 to 106,527 last year. Many of the cruelty cases are believed to be dowry-related and many dowry killings are preceded by cruelty by the husband and in-laws. According to the Bureau’s latest figures, charges were brought in 94 per cent of the 8,233 dowry death cases, but the conviction rate was just 32 per cent. In cruelty cases, the conviction rate is only 15 per cent.”

A December 16, 2014 report of the “Huffington Post” had stated: “ According to the Indian the National Crime Records Bureau, cases of violent abuse of women have steadily increased since 2009. By 2013, the number of such cases has increased by over 50 percent. That’s over 848 women who are harassed, raped or killed after abduction every single day. Some are sold off to traffickers.”

So, if one goes by the “Huffington Post” statistics—-which certainly include the reported cases only—-at least 309,520 women are harassed, raped or killed after abduction annually.

Nobel Laureate, Dr. Amartya Sen, had calculated in 1986 that 37 million women were “missing” from the country. Since then the process of elimination of women from India, has only escalated.

According to him, there are many methods of elimination of females in India. These include female feticide, infanticide, starvation of little girls, dowry related murders, “honour” killings, and maternal mortality through repeated and forced abortions to rid girls.

Rita Banerji, the founder and director of “The 50 million missing campaign,” has viewed: “government must launch a media blitzkrieg, to establish the stopping of this genocidal violence as an issue of national priority, of the type it recently used to successfully inform all citizens about the digitisation of television in India, by addressing it every 15-30 minutes on all media networks.”

According to a 2005 National Family and Health Survey, the total lifetime prevalence of domestic violence was 33.5 per cent and 8.5 per cent for sexual violence among women aged 15-49. The instance of violence was reported to be lowest among Buddhist and Jain women, and highest among Muslim women in India.

A March 8, 2014 report of the “Lancet,” one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals that was founded in 1823, the reported 8.5 per cent sexual violence rate in India was among the lowest in the world. Hence, the large population of India meant that the violence affects over 27·5 million women during their lifetime.

This is what the 2014 “Lancet” study about India had also found out: “Low reporting to police might in part be because marital rape is not a crime in India. Most sexual violence in India occurs in marriage; 10% of married women report sexual violence from husbands. Adolescent girls also account for 24% of rape cases in the country, although they represent only 9% of the total female population. An estimated 2·5 million adolescent girls (aged 15-19 years) are victims of sexual violence in India. Safety of girls and elimination of child marriage must be at the heart of sexual violence and rape prevention. The National and local surveillance of sexual violence will help us better understand, track, and reduce sexual violence in India.”

A 2012 Indian National Crime Records Bureau report had stated that the country experienced a reported crime rate of 46 per 100,000, rape rate of 2 per 100,000, dowry homicide rate of 0.7 per 100,000, while the rate of domestic cruelty by husband or his relatives was 5.9 per 100,000.

In India, the Domestic Violence Act of 2005 legally defines domestic violence and the prosecution guidelines of those cases that are reported to the police.

It goes without saying that in Chairman Indian Railway Board v. Chandrima Das Case of 2000, the Indian Supreme Court had awarded an unprecedented compensation of Rs10 million to a Bangladeshi survivor of rape by Railway officials in West Bengal.

The procedural requirements for emergency protection orders differ from country to country.

Preliminary findings of an ongoing study by WHO and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine show that more than 35 per cent of all murders of women globally are reported to be committed by an intimate partner.

In comparison, the same study estimates that only about 5 per cent of all murders of men are committed by an intimate partner.

According to European Union’s “Daphne Programme,” there are approximately 3,500 intimate partner violence-related deaths every year in Europe.

In fact, women account for more than 77 per cent of all victims of intimate partner and/or family-related homicide, with women between the ages of 35 and 44 at a noticeably higher risk.

A recent Geneva Declaration publication “Global Burden of Armed Violence 2015” reveals: “On average, based on data available from 104 countries and territories, the Global Burden of Armed Violence (GBAV) estimates that 60,000 women and girls worldwide were killed violently every year, from 2007 to 2012. These deaths account for approximately 16 per cent of all intentional homicides committed globally. Since the 2011 edition of the GBAV, the median rate of women killed has decreased slightly and female homicide rates have become polarised, as the number of countries with very high and very low rates of lethal violence against women increased.”

The publication asserts: “While much of the lethal and non-lethal violence against women and girls takes place in non-conflict settings, the risk of multiple or repeat victimisation of women is compounded during conflicts. While the majority of homicide victims are men, women are the primary victims of intimate partner homicide, including homicide-suicide events. In countries with low levels of female homicide, most killings occur inside the home and are generally perpetrated by an intimate partner or member of the nuclear or extended family.”

The “Global burden of armed violence 2015” has noted: “Despite the increased awareness, there is a persistent lack of data on the killing of women, whether inside or outside the home.”

In Austria, and some other European countries including Germany, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Slovenia, police may issue ex officio an order that expels a person who endangers the life, health or freedom of another person from a shared dwelling for 10 days.

In Bulgaria, under the Law on Protection against Domestic Violence (2005), the complainants/ survivors may apply for an emergency protection order through either the court or the nearest police department.

In Philippines, under section 14 of the “Philippine Anti-Violence against Women and Children Act (2004),” the elected village officials may issue ex parte protection orders of 15 days’ duration.

Laws on domestic violence in many Latin American countries, including Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela, provide for similar orders which are called “urgency” or “protection” measures.

In Fiji, a court may grant an injunction under the Family Law Act (2003) following an ex parte application by the complainant/survivor.

Under section 14 of the Domestic Violence Act (2007) of Ghana, an interim protection order (of no more than three months) will become final if the respondent does not appear before the court to show cause why the interim order should not be made final.

In Georgia, the “Law on Elimination of Domestic Violence, Protection of and Support to its Victims (2006)” authorises courts to consider the safety of the child in custody decisions in protection order proceedings.

In Bulgaria, courts may temporarily relocate the residence of the child with the parent who is the victim or with the parent who has not carried out the violent act at stake.

In Spain, any violation of a protection order is criminalised and, when a protection order is violated, the survivor is entitled to a full hearing on whether aspects of the protection order should be amended, including the distance the perpetrator must keep away from the survivor, the duration of the protection order, or the use of electronic devices to track the perpetrator. In case of severe risk or great harm, the offender may be put in precautionary pretrial detention.

In South Africa, violation of a protection order is a criminal offence under section 17 of the country’s “Domestic Violence Act (1998).” When a court issues a protection order under that Act, it also issues a warrant for the arrest of the respondent which is suspended subject to compliance with the order.

In United Kingdom, the “Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act (2004)” specifically criminalises the breach of a protection order.

United Kingdom’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Act (1995) provides reparation proportional to the damage caused by the violence.

The United Kingdom has had positive experiences with the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme as an option in sentencing. The programme runs for 26 weeks and is focused on getting perpetrators to accept responsibility for their behaviour and commit to altering their behaviour and attitudes.

In UK, lawsuits against third parties provide an additional opportunity to hold the state agencies and other institutions accountable for violence against women, and may also present a source of monetary compensation for the survivor.

For example, in 1999, the English House of Lords had made a landmark decision in relation to a claim of asylum based on domestic violence.

The case had dealt with the claims of two married Pakistani women who were forced by their husbands to leave their homes and were at risk of being falsely accused of adultery in Pakistan. The House of Lords had granted asylum to the two women.

In Turkey, a perpetrator who violates a protection order may be sentenced to prison for three to six months. In 2003, Article 462 of the Penal Code of Turkey, which previously

granted sentence reductions to a person killing or wounding a family member who had committed adultery, was deleted.

In the United States and some countries in Europe, more severe penalties for repeated incidents have proven to be effective.

According to the Violence Policy Center, which is an American nonprofit organisation that advocates for gun control, at least 1,706 American women were killed by men in 2012, whether in domestic disputes or not, although victims were 13 times more likely to be killed by a male they knew.

In United States, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was signed by President Bill Clinton. This Act had provided $1.6 billion toward investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women, besides imposing automatic and mandatory restitution on those convicted.

It had also allowed civil redress in cases prosecutors had chosen to leave un-prosecuted.

However, in the United States versus Morrison Case of 2000, the country’s Supreme Court had struck down the VAWA provision allowing women the right to sue their attackers in federal court. By a 5-4 majority, the Court’s conservative wing had overturned the provision as exceeding the federal government’s powers.

The VAWA was reauthorised by bipartisan majorities in Congress in 2000, and again in December 2005, and signed by President George Bush Junior.

On March 7, 2013, President Obama had signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorisation Act of 2013, after the US Senate had passed an extension of the Violence Against Women Act by a vote of 78-22on February 11, 2013.

On February 28, 2013, in a 286 to 138 vote, the US House of Representatives had passed the Senate’s all-inclusive version of the bill.

New amendments to laws in the United States provide that judges can grant protection orders that last for 50 years when a survivor has had two previous protection orders against the abuser or when the abuser has violated a protection order on two occasions. In many cases of violence against women, the perpetrator may be sentenced, in criminal proceedings, or ordered, in civil proceedings, to pay a fine.

A fine is an amount of money paid by the perpetrator to the State for a breach of either criminal or civil law. The imposition of fines on perpetrators of domestic violence has been noted to potentially burden the survivor and, therefore, constitute an inappropriate form of punishment for the perpetrator.

In the United States, some states and localities permit complainants/survivors of gender-based violence to file a lawsuit for the violation of their civil rights.

For example, in the Thurman v. City of Torrington Case of 1984, a plaintiff had sued the city of Torrington, Connecticut, in the United States, alleging that police officers had repeatedly ignored her complaints about violence by her estranged husband and had even stood by and watched as he brutally attacked her.

She was awarded US$ 2.3 million in damages by the jury. Following the case, many US police departments have strengthened their policies on responding to domestic violence.

The Swedish reform package of 1998 had introduced a new offence “gross violation of a woman’s integrity” to address situations where a man was found repeatedly committing certain criminal acts against a woman with whom he was married or was cohabiting. This offence is punishable by imprisonment of no less than six months and at most six years.

In Czech Republic, Section 215-a of the country’s Criminal Code provides for enhanced penalties in cases of repeated domestic violence.

The Guatemalan Law against Femicide and other Forms of Violence against Women (2008) provides reparation proportional to the damage caused by the violence.

In Spain, a special fund for survivors of violent crimes and crimes against sexual freedom was established by the “Act Concerning Aid and Assistance to Victims of Violent Crimes and Crimes against Sexual Freedom (1995).”

Moreover, Spain’s “Organic Act on Integrated Protection Measures against Gender Violence (2004)” provides the possibility of suspension or substitution of other penalties in cases of violence against women, when the possible jail penalty would be less than two years.

Articles 11 to 20 of the Costa Rican Criminalisation of Violence against Women Law (2007) provide detailed instructions on when alternative sentences may be imposed and the alternatives available.

The New Zealand Human Rights Act (1993) defines sexual harassment as a form of discrimination and a violation of women’s human rights.

The United Nations has viewed: “Decades of mobilising by civil society and women’s movements have put ending gender-based violence high on national and international agendas. An unprecedented number of countries have laws against domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of violence. Challenges remain however in implementing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished.

It is estimated that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

It adds: “Women who have been physically or sexually abused by their partners are more than twice as likely to have an abortion, almost twice as likely to experience depression, and in some regions, 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV, as compared to women who have not experienced partner violence. About 43 per cent of women in the 28 European Union Member States have experienced some form of psychological violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. It is estimated that of all women who were the victims of homicide globally in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members, compared to less than six per cent of men killed in the same year. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation/cutting in 30 countries.”