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Violence against women on the rise in Pakistan

S. Khan Islamabad
September 23, 2019

Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country in the world for women, with cases of sexual crimes and domestic violence recording a rapid rise. Activists blame society's patriarchal attitudes for the problem.

Pakistani women face pervasive discrimination
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Keystone USA Falkenberg

40-year-old Shazia S. was busy talking to her daughter at her parents-in-law's house in Lahore. The mother of six barely had any idea what awaited her. Her husband Sajjad R., a mason by profession, suddenly turned up and asked her to accompany him. She was surprised, but went with him nonetheless.

"He grabbed me firmly, shoving me against the wall and unleashing a barrage of kicks and slaps," Shazia told DW. "Then he picked up a metal pipe and started hitting me mercilessly," she added. Shazia's husband suspected that his wife was having an extramarital relationship. He kept asking about it while hitting me and wouldn't listen to me even though I stressed that I wasn't having any extramarital affair, she said. 

Read more: A daughter killed by her family – a story of love and 'honor'

Sajjad even threatened to kill her and used his knife to cut off her nose, Shazia said. "No one could hear my cries because he had tightly locked the door. He also inflicted wounds on other parts of my body, including my neck, and then fled. He left me bleeding and crying for help," she recollected. 

After the ordeal, Shazia's neighbors took her to a hospital, where she was treated. The doctors said they couldn't fix her nose with plastic surgery, but that she could try and get some treatment abroad.

Amjad Ali, an investigating officer in the case, told DW that the police raided various locations to nab the accused, but could not find him. Shazia's husband has now received bail and the court hearings of the case are set to take place in the coming weeks.

"The police failed to arrest my husband, who managed to get bail even before his arrest," Shazia said. "He came back to our area just the other day and told one of the residents that he chopped off my nose to teach me a lesson and save his honor, because he suspected me of meeting another man." 

Shazia, who is now living with her mother in Lahore, fears for her life. Her husband wants her to withdraw the case against him. But she says she cannot imagine living together with a person who has ruined her life. She is also afraid that her father-in-law, a retired police official, might influence the authorities and seek to compromise the legal case against his son. Shazia stressed that she would not let her husband go scot-free.

Rising numbers

Shazia is not the only victim of gender violence in Pakistan over the past several months. Recently, a woman was badly beaten up by her husband, a policeman, in Sheikhupura, a city located 55 kilometers away from Lahore.

Violence against women has been on the rise in Pakistan, a country of over 200 million people. It ranks sixth on the list of the world's most dangerous countries for women.

According to statistics collected by White Ribbon Pakistan, an NGO working for women's rights, 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Over 15,000 cases of honor crimes were registered. There were more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence and over 5,500 kidnappings of women during this period.

According to media reports, more than 51,241 cases of violence against women were reported between January 2011 and June 2017. Conviction rates, meanwhile, remain low, with the accused in just 2.5% of all reported cases ending up being convicted by the courts.

The chief justice of Pakistan has recently announced that 1,000 courts would be set up to deal with the cases of violence against women.

Activist Jilani: Pakistan 'cannot thwart' women's rights

A systemic problem

Pakistani women's rights activists like Mukhtaran Mai say it's a systemic problem.

"Women police stations and other facilities are set up in cities while the majority of the violence cases take place in villages," Mai said. "In rural areas, feudal landlords call the shots; the administration and police are subservient to these feudal chieftains who view women as commodities. So how can justice be delivered in such cases?"

Farzana Bari, another prominent women's rights activist, believes the patriarchal attitudes prevalent in Pakistani society are responsible for the problem. "No government has ever tried to put an end to this mindset," she said.

"It can be done by educating women in rural areas, empowering them economically and raising their representation in the legislature. If women constitute more than 45% of the population, why should they not have the same representation in the economy, employment and government?"

Read more: Mukhtaran Mai: 'More Pakistani women are demanding their rights now'

Critics say the current Pakistani government, under Prime Minister Imran Khan, hasn't been focusing on empowering girls and women. 

In the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, governed by Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, official recently issued guidelines ordering girls to wear the veil or abaya.

The order drew widespread outrage, forcing the government to reverse the decision. PTI leader and former federal minister Ishaq Khakwani admitted that the government did not pay enough attention to address the issue of violence against women.

"Only the government cannot be blamed for this situation. The entire society will have to come forward. The police and the judiciary will also have to play their roles. If cases linger in courts for years, then victims are forced to find other ways to settle such cases. So a comprehensive reform program is needed and all sections of society will have to play their role."

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