ACCORDING to a report recently published in this paper, 722pc more women from all over Sindh moved court seeking separation from their husbands in 2020 compared to the previous year. In 2019, a total of 632 family suits were filed in family courts. However, in 2020 — a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns and layoffs — this number rose to 5,198 cases, out of which 4,050 were from Karachi. The steep increase reflects how the many problems women face on the domestic front in our patriarchal society were compounded by circumstances arising from the pandemic. In fact, 2020 was a particularly difficult year for women around the world, as cases of domestic violence rose sharply in the wake of economic and social adversity triggered by Covid-19 lockdowns in a number of countries, including in the West. In the US, for instance, distress calls by women increased by as much as 30pc during the initial lockdowns.

Given that Pakistan was ranked the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women in a 2018 survey, the indirect effect of lockdowns would undoubtedly be felt far more acutely by Pakistani women, who are already marginalised and prevented from making autonomous choices about their health, safety and personal lives. According to rights groups, women from low-income households who are part of the informal workforce were most affected by domestic violence. It is unfortunate, then, that while the wellbeing of families is discussed in connection with economic hardship and mental health during the pandemic, the emotional, physical and economical plight of women is seldom taken into account. It is imperative that the authorities demonstrate commitment to upholding laws such as the Sindh Domestic Violence Act, 2013, and the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016, and ensuring that all women have access to shelter and rehabilitative services should they seek support. Several crisis helplines were launched last year; these initiatives can only be effective if the legal aid they provide is synergised with the government’s own criminal justice system.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2021

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