• Rights activist Anis Haroon says any form of violence needs to be opposed by society
• UNFPA estimates 32pc of women experience physical violence in Pakistan

KARACHI: A large number of women in the country across all age groups and class continue to face violence and endure sexual, mental, and physical abuse, and despite betterment in education, the rising number of such cases shows that society is still falling short of actively safeguarding women, it has emerged.

“Enduring any form of abuse has a profound impact on both mental and physical well-being. It takes a terrible toll that can take years to heal. One tries to erase the memory of a life before the abuse, because the harsh reality of exposure to such mistreatment becomes an inescapable part of one’s existence,” expressed Saba, a 28-year-old who endured four years of domestic violence in her marriage.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates, 32 per cent of women have experienced physical violence in Pakistan and 40pc of ever-married women have suffered from spousal abuse at some point in their life. However, it says that these statistics do not accurately represent the actual number of cases; it is much higher as many women never tell anyone or complain about being abused.

Saba, hailing from a prosperous family by societal standards, married an educated man holding a high-paying job. While he was described as caring and kind by his former wife, his inability to control his temper led Saba to become the unfortunate target of brutal physical violence.

“He would beat me with whatever he could get his hands on, and the next morning would beg me to forgive him. In four years of my marriage, whoever I discussed this matter with, told me to ‘be patient’ because at least he is apologising,” she told Dawn.

“I kept my patience intact until one day, I lost my child before he could open his eyes into this world and my husband again love-bombed me with care. In that moment I knew I was not only subjected to physical abuse, I was also being subjected to mental abuse which was manipulation,” she said.

According to Saba, her husband would confuse her with his behavioural patterns.

“He would be ready to buy the world for me. Whatever I used to lay my hands on, he would buy it for me. I was never ever asked to do household chores, but underneath that soft, kind and loving man, he was a monster,” she said, her voice heavy with tears.

Saba is right now seeking trauma survivor therapy which helps patients deal with physical, emotional and psychological effects of a traumatic event.

Upon closer examination of the matter, numerous instances of violence against women surfaced, revealing a disturbing trend without discrimination on the basis of age, class, caste, or social status. In every section of society, heartbreaking narratives unfolded, illustrating the helplessness experienced by women in the face of violence.

Anis Haroon of the National Commission for Human Rights said that any form of violence, whether physical or mental, needed to be discouraged and opposed by society. “But, unfortunately, the society is also responsible for this problem due to its stereotypical and patriarchal beliefs,” she added.

Speaking of domestic violence, she said it also happened because divorce was also stigmatised by people. “A woman tries her best not to break her home. But when enduring oppression goes beyond her limit, she is compelled to take divorce, which is and should be acceptable and society should not see it as a bad thing,” she added.

“If you listen to my story, you will know how a man can destroy multiple lives of the same family, and won’t ever be held accountable for it. But women would be forced to stay quiet, no matter what,” another victim 40-year-old Razia said.

Sharing her horrible tale of gender-based violence, Razia said she was subjected to physical and sexual violence at the hands of her employer, and later her seven-year-old daughter was subjected to sexual violence at the hands of the same predator.

“I started working when I was very young, I don’t remember my exact age but I remember the harassment I was subjected to, however, in comparison to what I faced later in life, the initial harassment was nothing,” she said.

Razia got married young, and was divorced after she gave birth to a daughter. She came back home and started working at the house of a man, who she describes as someone wealthy and powerful, where she was subjected to horrible sexual violence at the hands of multiple people.

“They threatened to kill my daughter, my father and my relatives. I was scared of death because I did not have money, and this job was my only source of income. I wanted to scream ‘no’ in their faces, but I could not. This is how helpless a woman is,” she said.

Later, when her father passed away, she had no choice but to bring her daughter to her workplace too. She would never let that child get out of her sight. However, she was not able to save her from the brutality of the world.

“She was not even old enough to understand what was happening to her. They’d abuse her too by keeping me distracted, and the worse part of this story is the fact that women in that house did not help me one bit, they knew what I was going through, but they won’t stop it,” she claimed.

Chairperson of the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women Nuzhat Shirin said the state institutions failed to prevent such violence because those institutions were incomplete and lacked proper procedures to address this issue effectively.

She said there was also unwillingness by organisations to pay much-needed attention to this issue. She said there was scarcity of shelter homes in Sindh. “In a city like Karachi, there is only one shelter home, and similarly in other cities of Sindh,” she added.

Ms Haroon said women made around half of the country’s total population and should be utilised for its progress. And for this, a positive and healthy attitude was required towards them.

(Names have been changed to protect the victims’ identities)

Published in Dawn, December 18th, 2023

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