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Atrocities against women in Pakistan


Muhammad Arif

Understanding violence against women is a complex issue. Several explanations coming from various theories have been offered to understand the phenomenon. Research reports from countries all over the world show that violence against women still occurs, though the form may vary from one society and culture to another. It is a major public health and social problem requiring considerable attention, as it entails severe physical, psychological, social and emotional consequences. 
The term violence against women has been defined as the range of sexually, psychologically, and physically coercive acts used against women by current or former male intimate partners. It is the most pervasive yet least recognized human right abuse in the world. Some of the other terms that are used interchangeably to describe the issue include intimate partner violence, courtship violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, spouse abuse, battering, and marital rape. It is difficult to estimate the prevalence of violence against women due to the inconsistency in definitions, under reporting, and lack of epidemiological studies concerning the subject. 
However, available statistics from around the globe indicate that one out of every three women experiences violence in an intimate relationship at some point in her life. In 48 population based studies from different parts of the world, ten to sixty-nine percent (10- 69%) of women reported having been physically assaulted by an intimate partner during their lifetime. A woman is battered, usually by her intimate partner; every 15 seconds and more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners every day in the United States. As perusal of literature shows most of the explanations are contextually and culturally based. 
Here we attempt to analyze the issue of violence against women using several theories applicable within the Pakistani context.
In Pakistan, domestic violence is considered a private matter, as it occurs in the family, and therefore not an appropriate focus for assessment, intervention or policy changes. Women have to face discrimination and violence on a daily basis due to the cultural and religious norms that Pakistani society embraces. According to an estimate, approximately 70 to 90% of Pakistani women are subjected to domestic violence. Various forms of domestic violence in the country include physical, mental and emotional abuse. Some common types include honor killing, spousal abuse including marital rape, acid attacks and being burned by family members. Spousal abuse is rarely considered a crime socially unless it takes an extreme form of murder or attempted murder which could range from driving a woman to suicide or engineering an accident (frequently the bursting of a kitchen stove).
According to a survey conducted on 1000 women in Punjab, 35% of the women admitted in the hospitals reported being beaten by their husbands. The survey reported that on an average, at least two women were burnt every day in domestic violence incidents and approximately 70 to 90% of women experience spousal abuse. 282 burn cases of women were reported in only one province of the country. Out of the reported cases, 65% died of their injuries. The official figures given for murder of women during the year are in thousands including 885 murder cases reported in only one province. A study conducted in Karachi reported that a large proportion of women are subjected to physical violence that has serious physical and mental health consequences.
Honor killing is one of the forms of familial violence against women in Pakistan. The practice of karo kari is known to occur in many parts of the country. Official figures show that more than 4000 people including 2800 women have died during 2011 to 2017. Previous figures reveal that there were eighty-six karo kari killings in Larkana, Sindh, alone, with fifty-three of the victims being women. The entire scenario clearly reflects that violence against women is an enormous public health and social problem in Pakistan, which has never been appropriately responded and dealt by the government. A recent report noted that one in five homicides in Pakistan is attributed to honor killings. The prevalence of such honor killings that have been reported are around 2,000 killings every four years.
According to Human Rights Watch, it is estimated that between 70 and 90 percent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse. An estimated 5000 women are killed per year from domestic violence, with thousands of others maimed or disabled. Women have reported attacks ranging from physical to psychological and sexual abuse from intimate partners. Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked Pakistan as the third most dangerous country in the world for women, after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo; it is followed by India and Somalia. The majority of victims of violence have no legal recourse. Law enforcement authorities do not view domestic violence as a crime and usually refuse to register any cases brought to them. Given the very few women's shelters in the country, victims have limited ability to escape from violent situations. 
Dowry deaths have been described by the United Nations as another form of domestic violence. Women are often attacked and murdered if their in-laws deem their dowry to have been insufficient.
Acid attacks in Pakistan came to international attention after the release of a documentary by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy called Saving Face (2012). According to the Acid Survivors Foundation, up to 150 attacks occur every year. The foundation reports that the attacks are often the result in an escalation of domestic abuse, and the majority of victims are female. 
Psychological abuse generally includes yelling, insulting, controlling behaviors, and threatening. In a study by Zakar et al., of 373 randomly selected married women of reproductive age interviewed in Pakistani hospitals, 60.8% reported as current victims of severe psychological violence with 15% having been victims in the past. The percentage of women going through current psychological violence far surpassed the percentages of women going through current sexual (27.3%) and physical (21.7%) violence. Moreover, more than half of these participants, 54% reported being currently in a poor state of mental health.
Associated with poverty is illiteracy and social stigma against domestic violence. Lack of an education due to financial reasons accompanies a lack of awareness about women's rights. 
Another reason given for abuses is patriarchalism in Pakistani society, which marginalizes women's role. In some traditional societies, a man is considered to have the right to physically beat his spouse. According to Rahel Nardos, it is "the dual constructs of women as the property of men and as the standard-bearers of a family's honor set the stage for culturally sanctioned forms of violence".
Child marriage Defined as marriage before the age of 18 years is widespread in Pakistan and linked to spousal violence. Child marriage occurs most often in rural and low-income households where education is minimal. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey conducted from 2012 to 2013 reported that 47.5% of currently married women aged 15 to 24 had been married before the age of 18. Moreover, of those child marriages, one-third of those women reported spousal violence. 
Consanguineous marriages, or those within blood relations such as first and second cousins, are considered marriages in biraderi, or brotherhood, within many Pakistani subcultures. Based on reported research, about two-thirds of all Pakistani marriages are within families. Analysis of a Pakistani Health Demographic Survey from 2012 to 2013 showed that women in consanguineous marriages are more likely to face psychological domestic abuse.
Another factor given for the rise in domestic violence has been due to increased urbanization. As people move from villages and increasingly live apart from an extended family, assaults are less likely to be prevented by the intervention of family members, who in past times often intervened in domestic conflicts. In particular, women who move cities or areas after marriage away from their respective family are more at risk for domestic violence. 
Domestic violence leads to increased risk towards certain health outcomes like major depression, dysthymia, conduct disorder, and drug abuse. Moreover, because women are primary caretakers in Pakistan, children also face increased risk for depression and behavioral problems.
Women in domestic violence relationships often have no recourse of escaping due to fear of murder from the perpetrator. A vivid example of this is the practice of watta satta, or bride exchange, whereby a daughter from one family is swapped for a daughter of another in a brother-sister pair. Power dynamics between the families follow a revenge-based model. If a husband is harsh on his wife then the mutual threat exists of the husband's brother-in-law being harsh on his sister. These reciprocal threats leave women in positions with little to no bargaining power. This leaves women in a position where they cannot escape a marriage because of cross bride exchange family entanglement. Adding to the complexity, divorce is also highly stigmatized within the Pakistani culture. 
Coming to legislation on violence against Women, in 2009 a Domestic Violence Protection bill was proposed by Yasmeen Rehman of the Pakistan People's Party. It was passed in the National Assembly but subsequently failed to be passed in the second chamber of parliament, the Senate, within the prescribed period of time. The Council of Islamic Ideology objected to the bill, claiming that in its current form it will increase divorces and argued that the bill considered women and children the only victims of domestic violence, ignoring elderly and weak men. 
The council claimed that the punishments suggested by the bill were already enacted by other laws and suggested lack of action on these laws as the reason for increase in domestic violence. After the passage of Eighteenth constitutional amendment, the matter pertaining to the bill became a provincial issue. It was re-tabled in 2012, but met with a deadlock in parliament because of stiff opposition from the religious right. Representatives of Islamic organizations vowed resistance to the proposed bill, describing it as "anti-Islamic" and an attempt to promote "Western cultural values" in Pakistan. They asked for the bill to be reviewed before being approved by the parliament. The bill was passed for Islamabad Capital Territory. 
In 1976 the Pakistani government passed legislation on dowry and bridal gifts in an attempt to eliminate the custom but, because of cultural and societal norms combined with government ineffectiveness, such killings over inadequate dowries continue. 
In 1999 the Senate of Pakistan rejected a resolution which would have condemned the practice of murdering women for the sake of family honor. In 2011 the Senate passed the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill to repress acid attacks in the country; the senate also passed the prevention of anti-women practices bill. 
On April 21, 2001, Pervez Musharraf declared that honor killings were "vigorously condemned" by the government and would be treated as murder. The Ministry of Women Development set up ten crisis centers to help the victims of domestic violence and raise the awareness level of the people on this issue. Particularly in 2004, Pakistan's Criminal Law (Amendment) Act passed that provided legal protection for women against any offense committed by family members for the sake of honor. However, Pakistan's legal system has done little to uphold this legislation. 
The National Commission on the Status of Women reports that Pakistan is doing little to bring justice to perpetrators. If the family of the victim forgives the perpetrator, then the perpetrator will be set free despite clear violation of Pakistani law. Oftentimes, families who are caught in an honor killing case come from rural areas where families must work together in a village on the daily to live. When an honor killing occurs, the families of the victim are highly likely to forgive the perpetrator based on what elders of the village advise them to do. 
Education gives strength to fight for women emancipation. Here is a story of a young Doctor of Pakistan: In Pakistan if you go to any court two type of cases are in abundance. One relates with land and tenancy issues and the others are of divorced issues. These two problems have emerged from our social set up
I know one of such person. She is a medical doctor with yet to start her profession. After completing her education she was married to an Engineer settled in UK so she moved with him to UK 
Her story is very simple as of every woman in Pakistan whether educated or otherwise have to pass through such events. In fact our society considers females too weak to fight against inequalities.
She is now a mother of a son and is endeavoring to stand on her own feet after passing through some domestic problems 
She has now cleared all her medical exams in UK and is determined to work as a doctor from now on.
However the main point here is that education has now given her the strength to stand against any injustice that normally is considered fate of any Pakistani women. She is now fighting for her rights and living with her son. 
In our villages and far flung areas the condition of women is like a slave. The solution and advice in this regard would be for all parents to provide enough education to their women members along with their male members. This is how we can fight against any injustice meted out to women in Pakistan

Islam on women
The Quran expresses two main views on the role of women. It both stresses the equality of women and men before God in terms of their religious duties (i.e. belief in God and his messenger, praying, fasting, paying zakat (charity), making hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca/ Medina)) and places them "under" the care of men (i.e. men are financially responsible for their wives). In one place it states: "Men are the maintainers and protectors of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women)." The Quran explains that men and women are equal in creation and in the afterlife, but not identical. Surah an-Nisa' 4:1 states that men and women are created from a single soul (nafs wahidah). One person does not come before the other, one is not superior to the other, and one is not the derivative of the other. A woman is not created for the purpose of a man. Rather, they are both created for the mutual benefit of each other.

Female education in Islam
Historically, women played an important role in the foundation of many Islamic educational institutions, such as Fatima al-Fihri's founding of the University of Al Karaouine in 859 CE. This continued through to the Ayyubid dynasty in the 12th and 13th centuries, when 160 mosques and madrasahs were established in Damascus, 26 of which were funded by women through the Waqf (charitable trust or trust law) system. Half of all the royal patrons for these institutions were also women. 
According to Ibn Asakir in the 12th century, there were various opportunities for female education in what is known as the medieval Islamic world. He writes that women could study, earn ijazahs (academic degrees), and qualify as scholars (ulam?') and teachers. This was especially the case for learned and scholarly families, who wanted to ensure the highest possible education for both their sons and daughters. Ibn Asakir had himself studied under 80 different female teachers in his time. In nineteenth-century West Africa, Nana Asma'u was a leading Islamic scholar, poet, teacher and an exceptionally prolific Muslim female writer who wrote more than 60 works. Female education in the Islamic world was inspired by Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH) wives: Hazrat Khadijah RU, a successful businesswoman, and Hazrat Aisha RU, a renowned hadith scholar and military leader. The education allowed was often restricted to religious instruction. According to a hadith attributed to Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH), he praised the women of Medina because of their desire for religious knowledge: 
"How splendid were the women of the ansar; shame did not prevent them from becoming learned in the faith."
While it was not common for women to enroll as students in formal classes, it was common for women to attend informal lectures and study sessions at mosques, madrassas and other public places. For example, the attendance of women at the Fatimid "sessions of wisdom" (maj?lis al-?ikma) was noted by various historians including Ibn al-Tuwayr and al-Mu?abbi??. Similarly, although unusual in 15th-century Iran, both women and men were in attendance at the intellectual gatherings of the Ismailis where women were addressed directly by the Imam. 
While women accounted for no more than one percent of Islamic scholars prior to the 12th century, there was a large increase of female scholars after this. In the 15th century, Al-Sakhawi devotes an entire volume of his 12-volume biographical dictionary Daw al-lami to female scholars, giving information on 1,075 of them. 
Recently there have been several female Muslim scholars including Sebeca Zahra Hussain who is a prominent female scholar.
Hence female education has its prominence in Islam. We need to highlight this aspect for parents and for our coming generation.

Chairman Centre of Advisory Services for Islamic Banking and Finance (CAIF), former Head of FSCD SBP, former Head of Research Arif Habib Investments and Member IFSB Task Force for development of Islamic Money Market, former Member of Access to Justice Fund Supreme Court of Pakistan.