Pakistan’s Silent Epidemic

Patriarchal culture enshrines that women are the property of men and they have unlimited control over their bodies and minds.

Violence against women is a dark and undeniable reality in Paki­stan. It happens with almost the same frequency in rural and urban ar­eas. When it comes to the subju­gation of women, the educated class and the illiterate majority are on the same footing. From harassment at the workplace to honor killing, women are facing abhorable problems. Suc­cessive governments have failed to bring any meaningful change in the state of affairs. The Human Rights Com­mission of Pakistan(HRCP) has paint­ed a dark and horrible picture: 90% of the women in Pakistan are victims of do­mestic violence in their lifetime. This si­lent epidemic must be paid heed to and eradicated with the collective efforts of the state and society.

Domestic violence has many forms and manifestations. ICT Domestic Violence(Prevention and Protection) Bill 2020 broadly defines domestic violence as physical, sexual, economic, emotional, and psychological abuse. The provincial legal frameworks also define domestic violence in almost similar wording.

It is beyond imagination that a victim of rape can be punished. As history has vast and strong memories, one can dig out such heinous examples. The case of Safia Bibi is not part of our recent dis­course. She was raped in 1982 in Sahi­wal by her employer. She got pregnant and a baby was born. What happens next is the nadir of humanity and moral­ity. She could not prove the allegation in the District & Sessions Court. Resultant­ly, she was sentenced to three years by the court. This case is a mere reflection of the state apparatus. But four decades have passed, and seemingly such gloomy days are over. Unfortunately, nothing has changed at the societal and state level.

The cases of femicide are a constant news item. From the chilly Kohistan to the city of lights Karachi, this awful dark­ness is rampant. According to Al Jazeera, 5000 women have been killed by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and other relatives on the pretext of honour in the last four years alone.

Two tragic incidents have occurred in Toba Tek Singh where this epidem­ic emerges with all its symptoms. A young girl Maria was murdered by her father and brother. A father poisoned his daughters and wife, six of his family members died. In order to decipher this spree of violence, a simple question can be asked. What are the enabling factors for domestic violence in Pakistan?

A recent report by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (2023) has re­vealed that social, cultural, religious, and political factors enable and prolif­erate domestic violence in one way or the other. First, the patriarchal culture enshrines that women are the proper­ty of men and they have unlimited con­trol over their bodies and minds. The pa­tients of the patriarchy are on steroids of control and authority. They snub women at home, at their places of work, and in colleges and universities in their differ­ent capacities.

The financial dependence of the women also contributes to domestic violence. The participation of women in the workforce is limited. According to findings of the In­ternational Labor Organization(2023), women constitute a mere 21% of the workforce. Out of work women are depen­dent on their husbands and fathers. They are a mere liability for their families. It also makes them the easy target of harass­ment, violence, and other forms of pain.

In a similar context, social stigma and shame attached to the reporting of cases of domestic violence also assist the crim­inals in perpetuating their evil designs. Women are considered the custodians of family prestige and value. It is unac­ceptable for them to report violence, de­spite the fact that they suffer cruelty in one way or the other.

Institutional hurdles are also quagmire in reporting and disposing of cases relat­ed to domestic violence. The investiga­tion and prosecution are either slow or complacent in such cases. Complaints re­lated to domestic violence are mostly not registered. Local and traditional reme­dies are offered by police to sort out these issues. The Legal Aid Society(LAS) has compiled data which is a stark reminder of institutional failure. It takes more than 1.3 months to register FIR in cases of do­mestic violence. Similarly, the average time of submission of challan by police is 4.6 months and trail prolongs on average for 10 months. In all this, victims learn very well: never to complain and bear the pain as their fate. The impacts of domes­tic violence are frightening, too.

Domestic violence has both physical and mental impacts. The victims of do­mestic violence are usually devoid of proper healthcare. They endure cuts, broken bones, and even in some cas­es eventual death. The violence leaves inalienable impacts on the minds of the victims as well. They face incessant stress, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression. And there are non-existent mental healthcare facilities in Pakistan. The combination of these factors also leads to social isolation for the victims of domestic violence. The women victims usually do not mix up in society because of stigma, shame, and social pressure. Overall, their lives be­come a misery.

What needs to be done is an open se­cret. The solution to curb domestic vio­lence lies in the will of the state and so­ciety. The government must provide support and assistance to the victims of domestic violence. It is not only a consti­tutional obligation of the government, but it also improves their plight. At the societal level, awareness must be given to all segments through schools and me­dia. Gender equality and the concept of human dignity must be prioritised in for­mal instruction. There must be efforts to eradicate the traditions and norms that promote domestic violence.

Khaliq Dad Lak
The writer is a civil servant. He can be reached at khaliqlakk1@gmail.com

Khaliq Dad Lak
The writer is a civil servant. He can be reached at khaliqlakk1@gmail.com

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