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Pakistan takes steps to prevent domestic violence
Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2012, passed in February
By Amna Nasir Jamal
LAHORE – Pakistani women have long been victims of abuse, and now the government is taking steps to stop the violence and discrimination.
The Senate unanimously approved the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill, 2012 for the Islamabad Capital Territory February 20. The bill criminalises any act of violence perpetrated privately and aims to protect women, children and other vulnerable people from domestic violence.
“In the vast majority of cases where women lost their lives as a result of violence at home, it was their husbands and in-laws who were to blame, while at other times it was the victims’ brothers and fathers,” said Anis Haroon, chairwoman of the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Islamabad.
The NCSW has submitted four drafts of a bill regarding domestic violence to the Ministry of Human Rights. The group has also proposed some amendments to the Pakistani Penal Code. For example, forcing pregnant women to work in the field should be considered violence, she said.
Fighting for the bill
It has been a battle to move the bill this far, advocates said.
“The Domestic Violence Bill was first passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009, but it lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within three months, the time period required under the constitution,” Haroon said.
But something must be done to stop the rampant abuse, she said.
About 80% of Pakistani women experience domestic violence, while one in three experiences violence such as rape, honour killing, immolation, acid attacks, and verbal or psychological abuse, according to an Oxfam Great Britain strategy paper. More than 75,000 women have died from violence in the past 10 years, Madadgaar Helpline data indicate.
Most offences against women are torture- and murder-related, with the largest number occurring in Punjab.
“The passing of the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Law, amendment in the penal code to check harassment at the workplace and the tabling of the related bills are a landmark achievement of National Assembly and Parliament under which denial of property rights to women and forced marriages have been recognised as severe offences,” Kashmala Tariq, Member National Assembly, told Central Asia Online.
Woman parliamentarians are working actively to curb violence against women. “The Women's Parliamentary Caucus is more committed to play a key role in putting together all different areas around a common agenda to ensure protection and access of rights for women,” she said.
Effects of violence
Domestic violence is a critical and burgeoning issue for women in Pakistan, said Dr Nasir Saeed Khan, associate professor of psychiatry at Services Hospital, Lahore. Interventions are urgently needed to decrease domestic violence and the resulting physical and psychological trauma, he said.
“Long-term solutions in Pakistani society not only require the co-operation and involvement of both women and men but also an understanding of the practices and perceptions of Pakistani men regarding wife abuse,” Nasir said.
Some cultural factors make women more vulnerable to domestic violence, he said, citing misinterpretations of Islamic thoughts and traditions, the common belief that men are superior, the low educational level of many women, and their lack of political clout.
“There are many common precipitating factors that are responsible for domestic violence in Pakistan, like daily conflicts, family-related problems, disagreements between women and men on any decision, preferences, conflicts of the two genders, etc.,” he said.
Violence goes beyond the obvious injuries, such as fractures and wounds, and includes hidden effects such as gastro-intestinal problems, chronic pain, sleeping disorders, sexual dysfunction and psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety and depression.
“Awareness programmes should be conducted for both women and men. It should be done by using the resources like nurses, doctors and psychologists, working under governmental and non-governmental organisations,” Nasir said. “This could easily be done either by direct or indirect teaching. The direct methods would include one-to-one teaching, counselling or group-based teaching. Indirect methods would involve the use of media, pamphlets, role plays, and drama and talk shows.”
Overall change needed
Solving the problem requires a wide-ranging approach.
“Dogmatic obscurantism is the root cause of violence toward women,” said Islamabad-based public policy scholar Javad Hassan. “It is a consequence of intellectual degeneration and moral turpitude, which we must fight if we truly want to revive a progressive society.”
Violence against women is “a symptom of a disease” and the problem merits national attention, he said.
“There is also a need of reforms in the police departments and judicial processes that place constraints on women from accessing justice,” Hassan said. “Policewomen should be trained to deal with women facing domestic violence so that women could feel safe and protected. Indeed, the presence of a nurse or doctor in the police department team would facilitate a (supportive) environment for the sufferers.”