ARE women in Pakistan on the retreat? This seems to be the case at a time when they should unite with men to 'end violence against women and girls' as exhorted by the UN on International Women’s Day today. It is in the context of violence that women have emerged as the worst sufferers. Given the horrifying prevalence of terrorism and crime in Pakistan, gender shouldn’t determine the victim. Men, women and children are falling prey to those who wield the gun. But women are more vulnerable.
The militants who are gaining strength have directed their fury against women singling them out as the target of their vigilantism. The new agreement in Swat guarantees the Taliban the right to arbitrarily start a campaign against obscenity and vulgarity. This will be used against women, and the trend towards organised violence against them could spread to other parts of the country as well. Thus a new form of violence will be added to the unending list that includes honour killing, murder, rape, gang rape, etc that are already taking a high toll. According to Aurat Foundation, 7,733 women fell victim to all kinds of violence in 2008.
At a time when awareness of women’s rights has been growing worldwide, in Pakistan as well, it is paradoxical that violence against them should be on the rise. It is a measure of our low civilisational development that the use of violence by the powerful to subjugate the weak should be so widespread. Be it the police attacking those in custody or a teacher using corporal punishment against a student or examples of domestic violence, all are accepted as normal.
There is a need to change this mindset by educating people. Moreover, societal prejudices that cause women to be held as inferior also contribute to the rising incidence of violence. When this phenomenon is given political approval tacitly by appointing men who condone violence against women to high office, it further encourages the trend.
The social process is a slow one but it produces the most durable results. But it is also important that women refuse to become silent victims of mindless violence. Collective resistance is known to pay dividends. This, however, succeeds only when legal processes are created to protect women. It calls for laws that explicitly recognise acts of violence against women as a crime, creating institutions such as shelters for women and having effective women police and facilities for legal aid.
On their part, women should be willing to avail of these. Pakistan has failed to adequately provide any of these. Many laws discriminate against women while others do not provide them adequate protection. It is time various pieces of legislation, such as those against domestic violence, sexual harassment and the one strengthening the provisions against karo kari, are adopted without delay. Eliminating violence calls for a concerted effort.