Pakistan often attracts international media attention due to the brutalities women suffer
March 8 is observed as International Women’s Day to celebrate women’s achievements and highlight the inequalities they suffer. In Pakistan, the day has been getting significant attention recently due to active mobilisation and participation of women from various strata of the society.
Pakistan is one of the worst countries in terms of gender parity. The Global Gender Gap Report 2021, ranked Pakistan 153rd out of 156 countries, better than only Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan. In South Asia, Bangladesh has the 65th position; Sri Lanka and India are also performing better than us. Pakistan often attracts international media attention due to the brutalities women suffer.
While some people argue that their homes are the safest spaces for women, many women suffer their worst pains and face their hardest challenges, including violence, at their homes. In a study on domestic violence against women in the Punjab, a shocking finding was the large number of attempted suicides.
Aliya, a mother of three sons, married to her cousin serving in the Police Department, was a victim of physical violence over minor issues. It was learnt that his father had had a similar attitude towards his mother. After she was brutally injured, she sought protection from her neighbours. Later, she returned to living with her parents. She was denied custody of her children. She says she pleaded with her husband for the sake of her children but was not allowed to visit them. In the end she took some poison to end her life. She was taken to a hospital and an effort was made to save her life but she did not survive the poisoning.
In another case, Zehra drank a strong acid to end her life. However, she survived following prompt hospitalisation. Her medical problems then required her eldest daughter to leave school to look after her younger siblings.
Domestic violence often goes unreported because it is perpetrated against women in ‘safe spaces’. Besides, family honour, concern for their children and financial dependence are big barriers that stop many from leaving abusive relationships. Ultimately, some of them end up believing that suicide is their only option.
It later came out that Aliya‘s husband had been involved with other women and had not been providing the necessary financial support to the family. He did not change his attitude despite the constant unhappiness at home. While she did not wish to continue her marriage; her parents pressured her to stay with him, arguing that a separation will make it harder for daughters to be married.
Noor, struggling with low self-esteem and self-worth due to the abusive behaviour of her husband and in-laws, consumed a large quantity of some random medicine to end her life but survived. Asia said she had always tried to make her husband and in-laws happy, but they were never satisfied. She said they had made her conclude that she was not good at anything. She said she had made several attempts to end her life.
Domestic violence often goes unreported because it is perpetrated in ‘safe spaces’. Besides, family honour, concern for their children and financial dependence are big barriers stopping women from leaving abusive relationships. Over time, many victims of domestic abuse end up believing that suicide is their only option.
Reporting the violence to the police is not an option for most as domestic violence is considered a private matter. The mental health of abuse victims is often ignored by families. This is a serious problem as women facing violence from their husbands almost always require mental health support besides an intervention to stop it. In most cases they are advised to reconcile which in the absence of support and reciprocity leads to further suffering and alienation.
Media campaigns, targetted economic empowerment, and safe housing for women are needed to prevent the stigmatisation of divorce so that women can consider leaving abusive relationships instead of ending their lives.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
The writer is a teacher and researcher at the University of the Punjab. She has a PhD from the University of Leeds, UK