ISLAMABAD: Around 63,000 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) were reported in Pakistan over the past three years, with some 4,000 being reported in the first half of 2020 when lockdowns were imposed to curb the spread of coronavirus.
This was revealed in a new report released by the National Commission of Human Rights (NCHR) on Tuesday.
The commission, while quoting numbers from the human rights ministry said 80 per cent of these cases were related to domestic violence, while some 47pc of domestic rape where married women experienced sexual abuse.
The report cautioned that since the data was based on reported cases, the actual number could be much higher.
The NCHR’s report termed “key contribution in leading the discourse” regarding intimate partner violence was shared with participants in a gathering at a hotel.
Policy launched to combat domestic violence; calls for fresh laws, training of police to address issue
The 57-page report was a policy brief to combat domestic violence against women in the hope of building legal frameworks to address systemic discrimination and patriarchal structures that contribute to gender-based violence.
The ceremony was attended by Senator Sherry Rehman, MNA Shazia Marri, Federal Shariat Court (FSC) Chief Justice Muhammad Anwar and Islamabad IG Akbar Nasir, among others.
During their addresses, Senator Rehman and MNA Marri termed these cases the tip of the iceberg.
Senator Rehman, who is also the Minister for Climate Change, said violence against women was a display of “power” and called such cases a “hidden pandemic” and “statistics of shame”.
“The statistics are staggering — 90pc of women face some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, yet 50pc do not report it, and only 0.4pc of them go to courts,” she said.
“Our society is layered with patriarchy, and it subjugates women through a series of institutional, social, and cultural norms that allow and normalise violence against women.”
She said that in addition to legislation, the implementation of laws and changes at the societal level are equally important to address the root causes of domestic violence.
A bill to end domestic violence was first introduced in 2004 but the legislation still has to see the light of day, Ms Rehman added.
BISP Chairperson Shazia Marri said ‘be a man’ and similar phrases prevalent in society are an attempt to malign women.
Ms Marri said a society which excludes women is restricting its economic as well as social growth.
She also responded to criticism surrounding ‘Aurat March’ and quipped that there would be no need for such protests if “you provide safety to your women”.
Better police, prosecutors, and judges
The Islamabad police chief said there was a need to enhance the capacity of police to deal with cases of gender-based violence. In addition to establishing a special investigation unit that would probe offences against women and children, there was a need to hire and recruit able prosecutors as well as judges who are sensitised to this issue.
FSC CJ Muhammad Anwar said Islam abhors violence against women and referred to Chapter 58 of the Holy Quran. “Domestic violence has nothing to do with Islam,” he reiterated.
In her address, NCHR Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha said the commission through this document aimed to lay the groundwork for an inclusive society, where women are equally empowered.
The status quo is rigged against women, forcing them to tolerate injustice and violence in silence, the speakers agreed.
The report also drew a link between education and women’s ability to report abuse or seek help against violence. “…women with a higher education are much more likely to seek help to end violence (46pc) than women with no education (25pc).”
It said domestic violence is grounded in multiple social, cultural and religious factors, such as patriarchy, gender inequality, lack of awareness, economic dependence, religious beliefs, and social stigma. These factors are compounded by institutional hurdles that “women face in accessing justice and redress”.
It claimed the cases of domestic violence are dismissed by police as a ‘private matter or ghar ki baat’ and mediation is encouraged despite abuse and relevant legislation. Unlike other provinces, domestic violence is not criminalised in Punjab, the report.
The report also addressed the use of religion to oppose laws pertaining to such violence. It quoted a FSC judgement wherein the court said the “domestic violence legislation of Punjab is in line with Islamic injunctions and constitutional fundamental rights”.
The policy document called for a comprehensive approach to addressing domestic violence in society through the ICT Domestic Violence Bill, 2020, support to victims, awareness and promotion of education, sensitisation of the judiciary on gender issues as well as a redress mechanism for victims.
The report also advocated training for law enforcers and health professionals, the inclusion of male allies in campaigns against domestic violence, and legal aid systems available to women at all levels.
Published in Dawn, March 8th, 2023