Gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women are terms commonly used in Pakistan by the media. They denote intellectual poverty, or worse so, intentional ignorance of the basic human rights and status awarded to women by the Women’s Protection Bill (2006) and the long awaited Protection of Women Against Violence Bill (2015). Though the law claims to ensure women’s security, actual enforcement and execution remains a huge challenge in a conservative society, pockets of which is still governed by a tribal mindset.
Legislation challenging the patriarchal/religiously motivated values of Pakistan has met stiff resistance from a very vocal right wing and conservative members of the parliament.
This article, alongside identifying acts of violence against women, clarifies the distinction between the terms GBV and violence against women. GBV is derived from unequal power distribution and the resultant power struggle between men and women, in which the female usually yields first or, generally speaking, is forced to do so.
State of GBV in Pakistan
Analysis of the 2011 data was quite alarming. Out of the 2,718 cases of GBV, 687 women were abducted, 22 were victims of acid attacks, 14 were burnt alive, 9 were tortured by wild dogs, 8 were subjected to karo kari (honor killing) in addition to another 124 victims of honor killing. 82 were murdered over love marriages, 259 were murdered over domestic disputes, 13 succumbed to police violence and torture, 2 were victims of panchayat verdicts, 286 females’ dignity was forcibly violated, 8 were sexually harassed by police, 589 women committed suicide over family disputes, 538 were victims of domestic violence, 12 women were married off as vani while 6 were victims of the exchange of brides custom (watta satta). Bear in mind, that these are reported incidents.
Another 3,100 cases were reported in 2012. This count of GBV increased threefold in 2014 as a total of 13,183 women were oppressed in Punjab, out of which 9,397 alone are from South Punjab districts of Bahawalnagar, Bhakkar, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Laiyya, Rajanpur, Muzzaffargarh, Multan, Vehari, Lodhra and Khanewal. Around 96 cases of honor killing and 15 cases of karo kari were reported in South Punjab where 24 were married off as of vani. In region, about 30 women and 19 immature girls were forced into marriage, 56 were victims of acid attacks, 1 died of a burner explosion, 41 were tortured by hot oil, 24 were sexually harassed, and 147 were murdered over property disputes. There were 501 cases of attempted rape, 1,007 were raped, while 459 were gang raped. A total of 2,246 were abducted followed by 136 cases of attempted abduction. The list goes on and on.
The intensity of GBV did not, in any respect, mitigate in 2015. What is more, the state of women’s health care and literacy rate presents another alarming aspect in the region of South Punjab, further highlighting the need for a socio-economic and political revolution regarding women, putting a stop to the ongoing infringement of their basic constitutional rights as citizens of Pakistan.
GBV Cases in 2016
As evident from the recent statistics the GBV cases continued to occur even in 2016. Three major incidents so far stand out. A 16 year old girl was burnt alive in Galyat’s Makool village of Abbottabad for assisting her classmate to elope from the village. Another 19 year old girl was burned alive in Murree for refusing a marriage proposal. In another incident, a teenage girl was burnt alive by her own mother in the name of honor for marrying a man of her choice in Lahore. These incidents are indeed part of the ongoing cycle of violence against women in Pakistan.
South Punjab – the Epicenter of GBV?
Available data suggests that violations of women’s rights have predominantly increased in the region of South Punjab, where women are victims of unabated male tyranny and socio-economic oppression. Three of the worst cases reported by the media in the month of May speak volumes on women’s oppression in the southern region of Punjab. On May 21, a visually impaired woman was allegedly gang raped by three men in Layyah district. Two days later, on May 24, a hearing impaired and mute woman died after allegedly having been raped. On May 26, over the love marriage of a couple in Seetpur, the Panchayat (village council) ordered a forced marriage between the bride’s brother with the groom’s sister, who threatened to commit suicide over this decision.
Furthermore, media reports in May and June brought some 62 GBV cases in South Punjab (Saraiki Waseeb) where women were tortured while 2 were reportedly married off as vani. A total of 47 cases of rape, 59 cases of abduction and 25 cases of honor killings were reported.
Obstacles in reporting of GBV cases
Taking into consideration the healthcare services (or lack thereof), there is not a single hospital particularly for females in the entire region of South Punjab. If we analyze the poor health conditions of the Pakistani female, it becomes perceivable that the conventional system of landlord domination, imbedded deep in the very foundation of our society and infesting our political, educational, economic and social institutions, has been and still is the culprit of women’s oppression. Even in the era of former president Pervez Musharraf, a member of the graduate assembly belonging to Southern Punjab, claimed that honor killing is a rational act while karo kari and vani are part of our customs and was, therefore, not seen as guilty or even misguided in the eyes of the government.
Unfortunately, all the non-governmental originations (NGO’s) for Women’s Right in South Punjab are occupied with financially profitable endeavors rather than working for the betterment and advocacy of women’s rights. As a matter of fact, law and ordinance can be no more than redundant while the national representatives, higher authorities, landlords and the representative of village councils, continue to be dishonest about GBV. Even when media reporting and displayed public interest make it unavoidable for police to investigate an issue, the tactic of switching to a patsy is common practice.
However, Pakistan has some national and international commitments to address the issue of gender-based violence. These commitments include, Convention to End all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979, Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2000, National Policy for Development and Empowerment of Women (March 2002), Women Ombudsperson Punjab and Women Development Department (WDD) 2012. The pressing need of the time is to, now; abide by designed action and conflict policies with a religious regularity and efficiency to warrant the safety and consequential prosperity of our women.
Since the government of Punjab seems keen to deal with the alarming amount of violence committed against women in Pakistan, and the chairman of Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) is busy in conducting press conferences for women’s rights protection, there is a dire need to implement the letter of the law in South Punjab. Practically speaking, measures must be adopted to raise women’s literacy rate and the standard of their healthcare services. In this regard, NGOs have organized awareness seminars on women’s economic independence in Multan. These kinds of seminars on the subject of women’s rights could be a good source of expressing women’s grievances to the higher authorities.
What is more a cause for concern is the fact that official statistics and reported cases have been called out as only a meager representation of what is actually going on behind the veil. Most victims are forbidden or choose not to report cases of violence, even if they are able to identify the perpetrators. The oppressive nature of our patriarchal society combined with an ignorance of the law protecting their rights as human beings, added with the ‘societal shame’ of being a victim of violence and speaking out against it, stifle the state of women’s rights in Pakistan.
This article was published in the Daily Jang on 06, July, 2016, and has been translated and reproduced by Ms. Anam Fatima research fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS).