Gender based violence in Pakistan

Gender Based Violence (GBV) is a universal phenomenon affecting all societies in one way or another. Almost every woman, during her life time, has faced discrimination or fear because of her sex. The World Health Organization estimates that at least one in every five of the world’s female population has been physically and sexually abused at some time. GBV affects both physical and emotional health of women and has far-reaching effects on society as a whole.

Women in Pakistan live in a society which is predominantly governed by strict religious, family and tribal customs. Though there is realisation on the part of the government and civil society of ensuring women rights, treatment of women remains more or less the same and they continue to suffer unabated because of their gender. They face various forms of violence and discrimination in almost every aspect of their life.

The Gender Gap Index 2015 ranked Pakistan second from the last among 145 countries in terms of gender based disparities. Published by the World Economic Forum, the Index measures national gender gaps in economy, politics, education and health. The position of Pakistan on the Index reflects the miserable condition women are in by living in the country.

Gender based violence is one of the most pervasive violations of rights of women in the country. According to the official figures released by the Ministry of Human Rights, 8648 incidents of human rights violation were reported in the country between January 2012 and September 15, 2015. These included 90 incidents of acid burning, 481 of domestic violence, 860 honour killings, 344 rape/ gang rapes, 268 sexual assault/harassment and 535 cases of violence against women. Another report by War Against Rape released in July 2015 stated that four women were raped every day in Pakistan in 2014, a 49 percent increase in the number of cases as compared to 2013. Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded 987 cases of honour crimes in 2015 with 1096 female victims and 88 male victims, out of which at least 170 were minors. The Acid Survivors Foundations conducted a study entitled “Situational Analysis” on acid violence 2015 in collaboration with National Commission on the Status of Women. The analysis revealed that from 2007 to June 2015, there were 1231 victims of acid violence in the country and 1004 acid attacks were reported. About 70 percent of the victims were women falling in the age bracket of 17-30 years. Sadly GBV is on increase despite different government initiatives taken recently.

Major categories of crimes against women most prevalent in Pakistan are murder, kidnapping and rape/gang rape. Honour killing and suicide remained the major categories as indicated in different reports. There are other types of violence prevalent in the country. These include rape, marriage with Quran, watta satta, vani, swara,walwar,honour killing,karo kari, burning of women, acid throwing and dowry related violence.

Gender based violence in Pakistan is a very serious problem. Gravity of the situation can be gauged from the above-mentioned data. Discrimination and violence in Pakistan is more a societal problem than legal. Society breeds discrimination which often finds its manifestation in gender based violence. Legal framework is not supportive to women, thereby aggravating the situation by leaving no breathing space to those who at times find it difficult to escape the vicious trap of violence.

In Pakistan the underlying causes of violence are due to deep rooted social and cultural values. Sadly, women facing discrimination and violence cannot get support from society or the government. The government must formulate gender-sensitive policies in collaboration with the civil society so that crimes against women can be minimised. Such policies will help in changing attitudes in the long run.

By Muhammad Shahid Rafique