A NEW report published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies highlights the ways in which women continue to be marginalised in Pakistani society, by focusing on the prevalence of domestic violence in Punjab. Despite the province making considerable gains in recent years, women still cannot access justice due to various legal and cultural obstacles in their path. It seems the passing of progressive legislation has not had the desired effect on the status of women in society, nor has it resulted in a decrease in the violence committed against them. Three years ago, the Punjab Assembly passed the Protection of Women Against Violence Act, which aims to safeguard women against domestic, emotional and economic abuse. It was hailed as a welcome stride towards the realisation of greater rights for women, and yet, according to the report, despite one-third of all criminal cases falling under the domestic violence category, the conviction rate is a meagre one to 2.5pc. Three years before that, Sindh became the first province to pass a law to protect women, children and “any vulnerable person” from domestic abuse with the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2013. So far, however, only one conviction has been reported. Meanwhile, KP has still not been able to pass the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Domestic Violence against Women (Prevention and Protection) Bill due to strong opposition from religious quarters.
Unfortunately, for many in this country, domestic abuse continues to be seen as a private affair — a dispute be ‘settled’ within the home — and not a criminal offence to be dealt with by the state. Each time such a bill has been tabled, there has been considerable outcry and unnecessarily prolonged debate before its passage. And so, even with the passing of pro-women laws, it seems that the desired change has not seeped into this nation’s collective psyche. Thus, an effort to make it easier for women to access a complicated criminal justice system, along with addressing societal stigma and fear around such issues, must accompany lawmaking. Years of deep-rooted societal misogyny cannot be eroded so quickly with paperwork when violence against women becomes such a ‘normalised’ part of our lives. One simply needs to scan the daily headlines — harassment, acid attacks, rape, so-called honour killings, dowry deaths — and then observe the lack of public outrage to get an idea of how normalised women’s suffering is.
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2019