Feb 15, 2009

Terms of endurance

YET again a young woman has made headlines not for any other reason but her tragic end. Shikarpur’s 22-year-old acid attack victim Maria Shah succumbed to her burns last week after spending 25 days in Karachi's Civil Hospital. A midwife by profession, Maria had acid hurled at her by a young man who claims to have been in love with her but was refused marriage by her and her family. The jilted Arslan Sanjirani has since confessed to the heinous crime but says he has no regrets. Sadly, hospital statistics also make for harbingers of present and future female desolation — out of the 50 patients at the Burns Centre, close to 35 are tormented women with only a few accidental scaldings. The question, however, remains hauntingly familiar: despite the increase in the number of elected women representatives, what will prevent a woman from being the primary and most convenient target of a man’s wrath?
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is seen as an international bill of rights that clearly states: 'complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields.' Regrettably, most tales of torture in our country are rooted in the legal framework where accountability initiatives have so far failed in either implementation or promulgation. Take the case of the Harassment Bill which has not completed its journey to becoming an act, and this delay is likely to hinder the progress of the Domestic Violence Bill, the blueprint of which was submitted to the relevant ministry some two months ago. The latter is a product of consultations with NGOs as well as civil society. According to sources in social development sectors it does not duplicate sections in the PPC but keeps a tight focus on aspects of violence that are often brushed aside as ‘personal’ issues such as verbal abuse, abandonment, maltreatment of female domestic help, beating, stalking and others. In a scenario where there is no defined cover for victims of domestic violence, such an act will guarantee protection, empowerment, and, above all, change in the attitudes of men and the police force; an advantage that can only come from accountability and penalty. The sensitisation of the police towards hazards seen as ‘family matters’ must be a subject of focus, along with moves to increase the number of women’s police stations that are pivotal to breaking the silence.

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