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November 25, 2020

Violence against women

Editorial

 
November 25, 2020

Despite being a country with a host of laws intended to protect women against violence, Pakistan, according to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, is currently the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women. This stems from the fact that around 5,000 women are killed each year in the country, often by their own family members on the grounds of honour. These killings can take place for many reasons, amounting to a decision by an adult Muslim woman to marry of her own free will, or a far more minor offence, such as talking to an unrelated male over the telephone or on social media.

In the mid-2000, a law was put in place to make honour killings a crime which could not be compounded. But this is rarely followed by the courts, and old practices continue. There has been no decrease in the number of honour killings in the country, although some of the increase may be due to the wider reporting of these crimes. In addition, in September 2019, international groups monitoring honour killings and other acts of violence against women noted that such acts were on the increase in Pakistan, including domestic violence, and other forms of abuse, aimed at humiliating or causing physical and emotional pain to women. While three of the four provinces, Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan have laws which aim to protect women against violence, and specifically domestic violence, these are poorly implemented. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the law proposed by the government is under consideration by a panel of clerics. The fact, however, is that no matter how many laws exist, and they do exist, they will be of little use until they are enforced and implemented by police and the lower judiciary. This is something we should keep in mind, as we observe the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women.

It is essential to educate people, and especially men, about precisely what violence against women means. Abusing a woman, restricting her movements, harassing her, or otherwise passing remarks or resorting to threats is also violence. But the follow-up on laws has been virtually non-existent. This comes down to a matter of government will to enforce legislation and to make sure women are protected. In some cases, as in Sindh and Punjab, shelter homes and laws to govern them, have also been put in place. But even these have proved insufficient and the fact is that today in the country, according to a 2009 report by the New York based Human Rights Watch, 70 to 90 percent of women in the country suffer some kind of violence, whether physical, emotional or psychological. This is too high a number. We need to act to stop it and bring the violence down.