Hidden scars

Published December 6, 2023

IN Pakistan, the spectre of gender-based violence casts a long, oppressive shadow over women and girls. Rooted in societal norms, GBV manifests in forms like ‘honour’ killings, domestic abuse and sexual exploitation. The Pakistan Medical Association has highlighted an increase in such incidents, emphasising GBV as not just a social issue but also a health crisis affecting victims’ physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Brutal incidents in Thatta and Khairpur and the recent Kohistan jirga case, where a girl was killed allegedly by her father and uncle, exemplify the deep entrenchment of these practices. Pakistan’s Demographic and Health Survey and the United Nations Population Fund further paint a grim picture. Research reveals that 39pc of Pakistani women aged 15-49 have suffered abuse, and 80pc of married women face domestic violence. These statistics reflect individual stories of suffering and the urgent need for justice. Institutional apathy and judicial inaction compound this crisis. The Sindh High Court’s observations on inadequate police investigations in GBV cases highlight a systemic failure, a betrayal of the trust in institutions meant to protect. Yet, there are positive changes. The enhancement of the federal Gender Crime Cell to a Gender Responsive Policing Unit and the efforts of the National Police Bureau and UN Women show a shift towards more effective GBV case handling. The Supreme Court’s proactive stance signifies awareness at the highest judicial levels for a comprehensive GBV combat strategy.

The choices we make today will shape our moral and social fabric for generations. Strengthening and enforcing GBV laws, ensuring swift justice for perpetrators, is crucial. Comprehensive training and resources for police and judicial officers, especially women, are vital for sensitive GBV case handling. National campaigns to educate the public and challenge societal norms that perpetuate violence are essential. Establishing support systems such as shelters and counselling services will aid survivors in rebuilding their lives. International collaboration and learning from global best practices are also necessary to better address such cases. The fight against GBV in Pakistan is a battle for the nation’s soul, demanding collective societal will, institutional commitment, and individual courage. As the world observes the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, it is time for Pakistan to rise to the challenge, creating a future where no woman or girl lives in fear, and every individual’s dignity is protected.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2023

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