Domestic violence: how victims are left on their own in Pakistan
Lying on a Hayatabad Paraplegic Centre’s (HPC) bed in Peshawar, Razia Bibi, 16, resident of Urmar – a suburb area of Peshawar – says ‘every woman dreams of a happy married life. I also dreamed of it and the day of my marriage was a big day of my life.’
But she says her dreams tumbled quickly after wedding day.
‘My friends and cousins were singing songs on the day when I tied the knot with my cousin Muhammad Umar on 4 May 2016. I, wearing fancy bridal dress – coloured red – wearing make-up and jewellery was in high spirits and making plans for my future life. But all my happiness turned into nightmares when my hubby started beating me just a few weeks after our marriage.
He is unemployed, and along with his mother, he used to beat me for serving food late, putting too little salt, too many, or not enough, chillies in the meal. Initially, when my husband hit me, I concealed the bruises on my face thinking that my love and silence will change him. But it didn’t happen – and when he further crossed the limits, I told to my parents.’
She goes on: ‘to escape beating I went to my parents’ house several times, but every time his family called jirga – a traditional gathering of elders that makes decisions by consensus between rival parties – in which he always promised not to raise his hand to me again. But he never kept his words.’
Narrating her ordeal, she says ‘I was fed up with the abusive relationship. I shot myself in the breast after having arguments with my husband and being beat on 8 February 2017.’
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) report ‘State of Human Rights in 2015’, 279 cases of domestic violence were recorded – whereas 777 women committed or tried to commit suicide.
However, HRCP recorded almost 3,000 cases of violence against women and girls in 2016. These instances included murder, rape, domestic violence, sodomy and kidnappings.
According to a study carried out in 2009 by Human Rights Watch, between 70 and 90 per cent of women in Pakistan have suffered some form of abuse. An estimated 5,000 women are killed every year from domestic violence, with thousands of others maimed or disabled.
Similarly, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has in the past ranked Pakistan third on the list of most dangerous countries for women in the world.
A 28 year-old domestic worker who wishes not to be named says, ‘I have been subjected to domestic violence for the past four years.
‘My husband is a drug addict. He demands money from me to buy drugs and when I refuse to give it to him he beats me severely,’ she says. Besides beating, he also used to scold me in front of others which embarrassed me, she adds. She says that ‘when I told my parents about our abusive relationship, my parents replied, “have patience” he will become a gentle man with the time.’
She adds that when she shared the idea of leaving him with her parents, they strongly rejected the idea because divorce is taboo. ‘Divorced women are considered women of bad reputation,’ she says.
Sara Naimat, clinical psychologist at the HPC says abused women can develop self-harming behavior, suicide tendencies, impulse behavior, passive aggression and social withdrawal. She says women who suffer domestic violence are at greater risk of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and fear.
Shabeena Ayaz, resident director of Aurat Foundation, an organization working for the rights of women in the country, says cases of domestic violence are rising at an alarming rate in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan. She says there is no law to control the horrific crime against women in the province.
On 20 April 2010, the 18th amendment in the 1973 Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was published in the official Gazette of Pakistan after the approval of parliament. It meant that legislative, administrative and other matters were going to be transferred from federal to the provincial governments.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa remains the only province lacking law to deal with domestic violence. The Sindh Assembly passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act on 8 March 2013.. The Balochistan Assembly passed The Balochistan Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act on 1 February 2014. And the Punjab Assembly passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill 2016 on 24 February 2016.
Ayaz says every second woman faces abuse of some form in the country. In the worst forms of domestic violence, husbands chop off the nose of their wives, make them maim and sometimes axe them to death. She says that as a consequence of living in a patriarchal Pakistani society, most women don’t realize that they have been suffering from domestic violence – they don’t think it’s a big deal if their husbands smack them.
Ayaz adds that the majority of women do not report cases of domestic violence to the police because they think husbands have the right to beat their wives and brush the matter under the carpet.
‘Sexual and Reproductive Health of Young People in Asia and the Pacific’, a United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report released in 2016, revealed that 53 per cent of teenage girls in Pakistan believe domestic violence is justified, and that more than 30 per cent of girls aged 15-19 had experienced physical or sexual violence in the country.
Member of the KP assembly Shaukat Ali Yousafzai says the provincial government is taking steps to curb domestic violence, adding that, to control the menace, the government had launched a helpline for women to call.
He says the government established a women’s complaint desk in police stations to report cases of crimes against women such as harassment, gender-based violence, etc. He adds that before the formation of the complaint desks, women were reluctant to report problems to male police officers. He maintains that the government and KP Commission on the Status of Women also drafted a KP Domestic Violence Bill in 2016, but the Council of Islamic Ideological (CII) – a constitutional body that advises the legislature whether or not a certain law is repugnant to Islam, namely to the Qur’an and Sunnah – rejected the bill in April 2016 saying that most of its clauses were against Islam.
He says that the CII’s reservations would be removed and the bill would be discussed in the provincial assembly ‘soon’.