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August 1, 2021

Mechanisms created by the government to protect women fail to deliver effectively

photo by Rahat Dar
photo by Rahat Dar

Many significant wrongs that are allowed to linger for excuses likw culture, tradition, religion or system lead to tragedies like Noor Mukadam ’s murder that has shaken the entire country.

The gory incident has once again brought violence against women into the spotlight. Rotten attitudes, discriminatory and violent social mindsets, mechanisms with limited scope, protection structures that have failed us many times, and unimplemented laws are all being discussed once again at forums that criminally ignored the issue in the past.

This article assesses the existing mechanisms at federal and provincial level and their effectiveness to address violence against women. Pakistan has strong policies and laws to address violence against women. These include the National Plan of Action for Women 1998 and National Action Plan for Human Rights developed by the Ministry of Human Rights (MoHR) in the year 2016. The plan envisages activities at federal and provincial levels for promotion and protection of human rights with specific focus on women’s rights.

There are 19 women police stations in the country including one in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), three in the Punjab (Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad), five in Sindh (three in Karachi, one in Hyderabad, and one in Larkana), two (Peshawar and Abottabad) in Khyber Pakhtunkhawa (KP), one in Balochistan (Quetta) and seven in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

There are 36 Darul Amans and 12 Women Crisis Centres in the Punjab, one Darul Aman and 3 Women Crisis Centres in Balochistan, 6 Darul Amans and no Women Crisis Centre in in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 5 Darul Amans and 4 Women Crisis Centres in Sindh and one Women Crisis Centre in Islamabad.

There is a helpline, 1099, established by the Ministry of Human Rights in 2015 that provides free legal advice and a referral for redress of any kind of human rights violation. The helpline, that can also be accessed through a mobile application launched recently, has strong linkages with police departments, judiciary, law colleges, law firms, Bar associations and other organisations. The helpline received 13,1336 [is this 131,336?] calls during first six months of June with 1,612 regarding women’s rights. There is a Gender Crime Cell established in 2006 at National Police Bureau to address the lack of data on gender crimes in Pakistan.

Despite all these efforts, the situation on the ground speaks of profound challenges. Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey (PDHS) 2017-18 showed that 34 percent of married women (age 15 to 49) have experienced spousal physical, sexual or emotional violence. The most common type of spousal violence is emotional violence (26 percent), followed by physical violence (23 percent). Of this, 56 percent of women never sought help due to socio-cultural barriers, economic dependency and lack of information, accessibility as well as lack of existence of support systems such as healthcare and psycho-social support services.

The Social Development Organisation (SSDO) Annual Report 2020 on incidents of violence and harassment against women and children in Pakistan says that in the year 2020, 9,401 incidents of violence against women were reported in Pakistan. There were 1,422 cases of domestic violence, 15,714 cases of kidnapping, 4,321 cases of rape, 1,118 cases of honor killings and 1,980 cases of child abuse. The organisation believes that the statistics are just the tip of the iceberg.

“Pakistan does have good laws which tend to curb violence against women, but some provisions of Qisas and Diyat in the PPC major are misused and abused to provide relief to the offenders, like blood money and waiver of Qisas in incidents of murder. The major flaw lies in weak institutional mechanisms that rest entirely on police and criminal justice system. This is the weakest area and requires radical reform. This has not developed into a deterrent force,” says Aurat Foundation executive director Naeem Ahmed Mirza.

Besides that, every institution has its own helpline. The long list of public and private helpline numbers is hard to remember and only a limited number of people are aware of the existence of these mechanisms and helplines. Recently, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced the launching of a consolidated helpline but the project has yet to see the light of day.

The shelter homes and crisis centres are under-resourced and too few. A majority of these centres provide shelter to distressed women for 24 to 72 hours. The survivors are then moved to Darul Amans which operate like sub-jails. There is ample awareness of rights among women but there is no economic rehabilitation plan for those who decide to come out of a violent situation. No woman can decide to leave home to end up in a jail-like situation in a Darul Aman.

The commissions created to observe and report violation of human rights and women rights at federal level, the National Commission on the Status of Women and National Commission on Human Rights, did not have chairpersons for two years. This makes them almost inactive. Provincial commissions fail to make a difference mostly due to lack of funds and structural support.

Women police stations are under-staffed, under-resourced and inaccessible for survivors of violence against women. There are too few of them in any case. A women violence survivor in Dir cannot reasonably be expected to register her case at a Peshawar women police station.

In short, mechanisms created by governments to protect women fail to deliver effectively. There is clear lack of synergy among essential service providers that deal with cases of violence against women including health, police, justice and social services departments. Only a coordinated effort among these departments can significantly mitigate the consequences that violence has on the well-being, health and safety of women and girls, assist in the recovery and empowerment of women, and stop violence from recurring.

The writer is a reporter at   The News in Islamabad

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