IT is a war without boundaries and seemingly without end. A UN report on femicide released on Nov 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, reveals that every 11 minutes a woman or girl is killed by an intimate partner or a family member. According to the report, more than half the women and girls murdered last year were slain by a partner or close relative. These are chilling statistics, all the more so because they are merely the tip of the iceberg. They are a reminder of how vulnerable millions of females are, even in their own homes. Their physical and mental health, their relationships and productivity all suffer as a result. Natural disasters and wars exacerbate structural and gender inequities and create conditions, such as displacement, in which women’s safety is further imperilled. Gender-based violence also registered a massive spike during the Covid-19 pandemic when women and girls were forced into lockdowns with their abusers and had few opportunities to escape or seek help.
Patriarchal societies like Pakistan, with notions of honour predicated on how a woman’s behaviour and appearance may be perceived by others, have a particularly deep-rooted problem. Domestic violence is still largely seen as a private issue, even a male ‘privilege’. Reported data indicates that 34pc of ever-married women in Pakistan have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence at the hands of their spouses. Yet, because of cultural norms and/or dearth of resources, 56pc of ever-married women who reported suffering physical or sexual violence have neither sought help to stop their abusers’ behaviour nor confided in anyone. Every province now has legislation against domestic violence but implementation varies from weak to non-existent — although some recent, particularly horrific, cases of femicide have led to gender-based violence being more openly discussed with perpetrators publicly censured. Legislation against honour killing, an age-old form of violence against females, has been strengthened during the past few years. However, as the acquittal of the killer of social media star, Qandeel Baloch illustrates, loopholes in the law can be exploited by misogynistic mindsets. Sexual harassment of women at the workplace is a more insidious form of gender-based violence, but again, patriarchal notions about the public space belonging to men, with women merely interlopers, often stymies implementation of the law against it. It is high time the state discards outmoded norms that violate the rights of one-half of the population.
Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022