KARACHI: In the case of Pakistan, which ranks sixth on the list of the most dangerous countries for women, it is not possible to change gendered social norms regarding domestic violence by only focusing on legal reform, according to a recent report published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies.
“Women are subjected to violence that includes acid attacks, female genital mutilation, child marriage, forced marriage and female infanticide,” said the report titled ‘Not accepting abuse as the norm: local forms of institutional reform to improve reporting on domestic violence in Punjab’ that is co-authored by Maryam Tanwir, Shailaja Fennell, Hafsah Rehman Lak and Salman Sufi.
The report looks at reforms in Punjab, where legal structural obstacles and discriminatory gender norms prevent women from accessing justice.
According to the report’s abstract, it draws on a new framework for influencing changes in individuals’ behaviour to reduce the condoning of domestic violence.
Using a mixed-methods approach the report introduces a new initiative of women for institutional reform undertaken by the Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU) in Pakistan, to examine the role of social norms in normalising the practice of domestic violence.
This initiative, the report claims, provides an opportunity for examining how prevalent social norms can be changed by both improving women’s access to legal processes regarding the registration and prosecution of crimes as well as addressing public shame associated with the wearing of a tracking device by the assailant.
Conviction rate for violence against women is abysmally low
“This model of institutional reform of the criminal justice system could provide the way forward to close the large gap between incidents of violence against women (VAW) and the low level of convictions in many societies,” it said, adding that such institutional reform could be adapted for use in other countries to comprehensively reduce VAW cases and to increase the success in prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators of such crimes.
According to the report, despite the high number of cases relating to domestic violence that is more than one third of all criminal cases, the conviction rate for violence against women is a mere one to 2.5 per cent of all registered cases.
“This dismally low conviction rate has been a further sense of distress for the victims, as some resorted to extreme measures such as setting themselves on fire to bring attention to their neglected cases,” it added.
According to Salman Sufi, who introduced the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016 and South Asia’s first Violence Against Women Centre, this was an evaluation-based design institutional intervention, a mixed-methods research using qualitative insights and desk review was done.
“We conducted a two-year multi-stakeholder analysis of the existing case-flow process by examining the procedures involved in the registration of cases. A mixed-methods approach was adopted, comprising an analysis of the following sources of government data collected by different provincial agencies,” he told Dawn.
“We also examined the existing sets of rules and standard operating procedures of the Medico-Legal Surgeon Office, the Punjab Forensic Science Agency, and the prosecution and police departments,” he added.
Talking about the SRU, Mr Sufi said that the unit took numerous steps to alleviate the problems of its citizens through revolutionary public sector reforms, especially in the domain of women’s rights and empowerment.
“The unit through its innovative measures devised a seminal reform to provide an effective system of justice, protection, relief and rehabilitation of violence against women victims. It helped in conceptualising and implementing various revolutionary, historic and groundbreaking reforms to facilitate women in the country such as the Women on Wheels initiative, Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016 and Women Protection Authority,” he said.
Access to justice
This model, according to Mr Sufi, will ease access to justice, allow for refuge, and the wearing of the tracker by the male assaulter will start a chain of shame in a severely gendered society.
“Through our extensive research, we identified the prime reasons which resulted in a low conviction rate of gender-based violence crimes. These include: disconnected evidence collection; lack of sensitisation to gender-based violence issues; passing of moral judgments; and absenteeism of relevant personnel. Multan VAWC has inbuilt institutional reform aspects to address all these,” he said.
“Multan’s VAWC streamlines the investigation-prosecution case-flow process by bringing all previously disconnected justice delivery services under one roof. These include first aid care, police reporting, investigation, prosecution, provision of legal aid, medical examination and treatment, collection of forensic and other evidence, psychological evaluation, counseling, and post-trauma rehabilitation. The centre is 24-hour operational, all-women run facility with dedicated police investigation and prosecution teams to coordinate response to any VAW offence,” he explained.
Mr Sufi added that since the VAWC Multan was established, they had seen a tremendous increase in the number of reported offences in the Multan region as well as in Khanewal and Muzaffargarh.
Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019