Photo Credit: Huffingtonpost.ca
A country like Pakistan is no stranger to violence against women, here conservative ideals and deeply rooted patriarchal structures are responsible for shaping its psyche and social fabric. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 90% women face domestic violence at some point of their lives from their families and husband. This is quite alarming on its own and one cannot but help condemn the archaic tribal traditions and growing trends in religious extremism for playing their part in women’s sufferings.
Like many other societies, Pakistani women too suffer in silence, due to the taboo around the topic. However, country wise prevalence of “highly alarming” domestic violence are documented for provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan. Not surprising as both provinces have been subjected to the nonsensical violence sponsoring Taliban that ensure existing domestic violence against women continues with “religion tag” attached to it.Government of Pakistan doesn’t really give hoots about tackling domestic violence on a country scale, yet it boasts of achieving smaller glories in the despicable “war on terror” that has come at a great price to the entire nation. And women victims of violence continue to go unheard in the noise from this corrosive warfare.
Domestic violence prevalence is documented in Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey* (2013) and highlights startling findings almost 59% of rural women in KPK reported being subjected to physical abuse since they turned 15. The urban women in Sindh at 21% were the least exposed to domestic violence. The sample size from Gilgit-Baltistan was too small for comparison with the rest of Pakistan. One in 10 rural women in KPK and Balochistan each routinely experienced domestic physical violence compared to only 5% rural women in Punjab and 1.5% rural women in Sindh. Divorced, widowed or separated women were two-times more likely to report frequent domestic violence than married women.
The country has a long-standing societal trend of using religious-cultural mandates that violence against women need not be discussed openly. And much to the abject horror of readers, many women think that perpetuation of violence is a “man’s” right and their submission is a “given.” Some years ago, hard liner clerics and a political religious party also demanded to review a bill for outlawing domestic violence, citing it risked undermining “family values”.
Being a feminist is not really easy in my country and dealing with the myriad of anti women issues is quite exhausting, still the broken heart continues to function in whatever way it can… with a career exclusively women rights focused; I know we need to continue this fight whatever the odds. When I listen to wild religious sermons like “The women have been given so-called freedom and liberty, which causes danger to themselves” or “Western culture, not abuse, is why women seek divorces” I understand that Pakistan has a lot to do in terms of overcoming this hijacking troupe of radical Islam and prevalent militancy with KPK and Balochistan the epicenters of militant insurgencies in Pakistan.
But I don’t believe that its lack of education and development that causes domestic violence and contributes to militancy and terrorism. Somewhere along the line, religion and culture are being misused for the widespread acceptance of domestic violence against women. A country where young men have witnessed childhood experiences of women being subjected to violence inside their homes, naturally grow-up believing such violent norms are to be reapplied to their socio-political lives. My co-author Papatia is going to discuss at length Islamic jurisprudence on perpetuating violence in the second part of this series, for readers.
Pakistan’s very own renowned historian, Dr. Mubarak Ali has compiled the history of women oppression in his book ‘Tareekh aur Aurat’ (Woman and History) that highlights to readers the hundreds of years of indoctrination, producing male-dominated morality and violence, several ideologues advocating women suppression including Imam Ghazali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mowlvi Ashraf Ali Thanvi. More ever, he argues that local tribal and feudal societies seldom recognize women rights and men in these societies resort to violence when women try to assert greater control over their lives. Children, especially males, raised in households that tolerate violence against women are often desensitized to violence and may readily embrace violence then others.
Violence against women is a common given, recalling Samia Sarwar, a Pashtun woman murdered in her lawyer’s office with her parents’ blessings. Leaving a drug addict and abusive husband, through taking proper legal action is something frowned up still in this country. Archaic right? Devised was the propaganda of Saima an adulterous woman leaving her husband for another man, therefore deserving of being killed in broad day light. Equally reprehensible was Pakistan’s Senate’s response when some Senators voted against a resolution tabled by others condemning her murder. Politicians from Balochistan and KPK openly supported this murder in name of honor and had the gall to defend the murderers. What’s so honorable and holy in domestic violence against women, be it a married woman like Saima Sarwar or Shazia Aziz a well sought singer who refused marriage proposals from a lewd suitor?
Pakistan could do well to confront its escalating terrorism problem by addressing its root causes, one of which is the continued domestic violence against women. Additionally Pakistan needs to decentralize religion from state because the matter of violence against women are mostly distorted and defended under so called traditional- religious values. If nothing, we must end outdated traditions that exalt men as Gods and women as appendages for their usage – both kind and brutal.
Plus there is the need to speak about the five hundred pound elephant in the living room otherwise called feminism. My society has a very severely negative opinion of feminism and feminists, no surprises as we shake the patriarchal shackles. Pakistani writer and NYT columnist, Bina Shah, says that “the country needs a feminism that elegantly marries both strands of feminism, secular and Islamic”. As that is how Pakistan was formed – on both Islamic and secular principles.” Yes, women’s rights are misunderstood, under-represented and disregarded in Pakistan but they are by no means absent. Our people need to be informed that feminism does not mean being anti-male or anti-Islamic.
Those rallying for women rights need to be clearer and more united in their stand and find a workable balance between what is right and what we know. The message of feminism does not signify that women should in any way be superior, nor does it call for immoral and anti-religious practices. It is simply trying to strive to give well deserved respite to lives of women across this country that continue to endure continuous violence against themselves.