LAHORE: Keeping in view the shocking statistics of incidence of violence against women in Punjab, which are highest in the country, it has become all the more important to legislate effectively to curb the menace, besides making efforts to sensitise society on the issue.
According to the data gathered by Aurat Foundation, an NGO working for women rights, as many as 7,010 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab in 2014. Similarly, 1,707 cases of kidnap were reported during the year, while those of rape and gang rape numbered 1,408.
Honour killings too were highest in Punjab compared to the other provinces, coming to around 340 reported cases.
The NGO recorded that six women were kidnapped, four raped, three committed suicide and six were murdered every single day in Pakistan, in the same year.
In this backdrop, the introduction of the Domestic Violence Bill in Punjab has become a necessity. The bill still lies pending with the social welfare department.
Aurat Foundation has also been pushing for the legislation. Its Chief Operating Officer Naeem Mirza says the department had gone through the bill and had included the civil society in the process.
“We are part of the committee and we are pushing for the bill to be passed as soon as it can be,” he says. “The draft seems to be unanimously approved so far, but now it basically depends upon the assembly and the secretariat which has to give it priority.”
He says that although the situation was serious, a positive consensus had emerged over the bill, which was a good sign.
In this connection, the importance of the National Women’s Day which falls on Feb 12 each year, cannot be ignored as its history is rooted in violence against women.
The day marks a movement started by a group of women that took to the streets in 1983 against the tyrannical Zina and Hudood Ordinance which miltary dictator General Zia-ul Haq had implemented.
Nighat Khan of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) remembers the terrible day when the women also protested against the Law of Evidence. She says that they were to march to the Lahore High Court on The Mall where ‘massive numbers of police were deployed’.
She says the situation took a sudden turn when late Habib Jalib read out one of his poems and the police attacked him.
“It was as if the people just suddenly exploded. We were so angry then that we broke through the police cordons and willingly got beaten up by them. Some were thrashed very badly and many of them were arrested. But our resolve was so strong that we continued on to the high court till we reached there.”
One thing she remembers is the support that the public lent to the protesters.
“Shopkeepers, mostly men, gave us water and wet towels to counter teargas, and helped us get up from the ground. That gave us a new passion and energy to move on,” she said.
“In today’s day and age one cannot imagine this kind of public support.”
She says that in a recent informal gathering when young women from different backgrounds were asked what angered them most as women, they replied with only personal experiences.
“None of them referred to the pain or issues of other women, or the problems of terrorism, or militancy or a theocratic State. Today it seems, there is more heightened individualism and little collectivity. Also there is little consciousness. Back then, we as a nation knew who the enemy forces were.”
It was this movement by the women of Pakistan that eventually led to the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), she said with a justified pride.
Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2015