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Hits and misses: Developments indicate better days for women’s rights

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: February 23, 2014
http://tribune.com.pk/story/675083/hits-and-misses-developments-indicate-better-days-for-womens-rights/

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Discussing Sindh, experts shared that enrolment of girls in schools is going up and there is an increased focus on funding female literacy projects. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI:
Somewhere in Pakistan, a woman is struggling to get a CNIC, but NADRA only accepts a biometric system of identification whereby her thumb must be scanned. Her thumbs are too chafed due to constant work in agricultural fields with sickles.
Another woman in Pakistan is sucked into an armed conflict situation. Her son is taken away at a tender age by people she knows will misuse him, but when it comes to the peace process, her opinion is not taken into account. At another location in Pakistan, a jirga of men sits and decides a woman’s fate, while other women who are members of the community cannot share their perspective
The questions and issues are multiple. The achievements, challenges and opportunities in this regard were discussed recently at the one-day Provincial Consultation of Sindh for the State Report on Beijing+20. Held on February 21, it was organised by the National Commission on Status of Women (NCSW), Shirkatgah and Rozan. It aimed at involving all stakeholders including NGOs, parliamentarians and activists.
NCSW is leading the process of compiling the State Report on Beijing Plan for Action, which is an agenda for women’s empowerment. In this, NCSW is being co-facilitated by Shirkatgah and Rozan.
Beneath a whole lot of jargon that development sector professionals typically use, the underlying idea was resounding: what will it take for humanity to realise that salvation, progress and development are all clutched tight in the fist of one single solution – empowering the mother, the daughter, the wife, the sister. It is a little difficult for a journalist to understand what it exactly means by “best practice” and how can a 100 plus people know all the UN resolutions and Pakistan’s legislations regarding women by heart. Yet, the sincerity is obvious in such meets. And a lot of good is coming out of them.
Just talking of Sindh, experts shared that girl-child enrolment in schools is going up. There is an increased focus on funding for female literacy projects, including women with minor disabilities. The Domestic Violence Act and laws pertaining to acid burning, as well as the anti-women practices acts are promising. There is increasing talk of involving women in peace processes as equal stakeholders, even if they are unaware that UN Resolution 1325 requires us to do it. Land allotment schemes are tilting towards including female peasants as small land-holders.
Yet, as discussed in presentations given by the many groups that had been given different topics pertaining to women’s empowerment, there are many ifs and buts. For example, when talking of the encouraging presence of women in the field of media, it was pointed out that the growth of women in this field should not be only horizontal but also vertical, whereby more women in media should be in decision-making key positions. It was discussed that the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women stated 20 years ago that “violence against women is an obstacle to the achievement of equality, development and peace”. Much remains to be achieved but it appears that Pakistan is at least on the journey towards a better future for its women.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2014.

In Pakistan, education is no shield against Violence Against Women

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: November 25, 2012

Educated, urban women also prone to domestic abuse; legislation continues to be stalled.

KARACHI: “I‘m 29, married and have a son, but whenever I look back, I remember my father as a man with rage in his eyes and a shoe in his hand, hitting my mother mercilessly,” recalls *Ahmer Ali.

“She clung to his leg, pleading that he let go, promising that she’ll never ask again why he was late from work,” Ali adds.

Ali’s father stopped hitting his wife, an educated, urban Pakistani woman, once Ali and his siblings grew up.  But the effects of the violence linger on in the family.

Ali confesses to having anxiety and self-esteem issues and has hit his wife twice in their three years of married life.

This is not an anomaly. According to psychologists, children who witness their mothers being hit are more prone to behavioral problems and are likely to repeat the cycle of violence with their own spouses.

Endemic violence

Ali’s story resonates with thousands of women in Pakistan who continue to face violence and abuse, as the world celebrates the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25.

A report titled ‘Violence against Women (VAW) in Pakistan — a qualitative review of statistics 2011’ by the Aurat Foundation says, “Treating domestic violence as a private affair has given protection to perpetrators and has led to the victimisation of women.”

Women find themselves beaten and then threatened of divorce and more violence. The report revealed that a total of 8,539 cases of violence against women were reported in Pakistan in 2011.

Urban phenomenon

It’s not just uneducated women who suffer at the hands of violent spouses. A silent but large number of educated Pakistani women also go through this trauma.

“In some ways, the educated and rich woman is more of a coward. She has more to lose,” says Najma Khan, 42, who got a divorce four years ago and is now re-married.

“When I was thinking of leaving my husband, a foreign-educated man who’d hit me every few months without reason, my friends would tell me I would miss out on the social respect that marriage is giving to me. But I came to a point where it was no longer about social respect. It was about self-respect,” Khan adds.

Therapist Anees Fatima Hakeem at PNS Shifa, Karachi concurs.

“Any abuse is a form of punishment. It’s all about power and control. Even educated women get trapped in this is because the men are not abusive all the time. They can be very good providers and charming. Often, the woman blames herself. A common tactic for the guy is to behave like it never even happened, or tell her she was the reason it happened,” Hakeem says.

Domestic violence, however, not only affects a woman’s psychological health but also gives rise to long-term stress-related health issues like arthritis, hyper-tension and cardiovascular diseases.

“[My husband] feared it would become a police case, so he never let me see a doctor after I was beaten. I would feel abdominal tenderness and bleed from my mouth for days. I’m afraid my body has suffered long-term consequences,” adds Khan.

Violence against women takes many forms, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, human trafficking and traditional practices like female genital mutilation, dowry-related violence and honour killings.

The Aurat Foundation reported 1,988 murders or honour killings of women in 2009.

Investigations by the Ansar Burney Trust also shows cases of women seeking divorce or separation who were subject to mutilation, such as having their noses, ears and hair cut off by angry husbands.

Legislating against violence

Policy makers are aware of the numbers but policymaking is slow.

The lower house of parliament passed the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill in 2009 but it failed to make it past the upper house.

The bill was retabled in the Senate in February, 2012, but was met with a deadlock yet again.

After the passage of the 18th Amendment though, the issue has come under provincial jurisdiction.

Maliha Zia, a lawyer who is an expert on gender and law, says, “The Domestic Violence Bill in Sindh has moved from the Home Department and is with the law ministry. It’s been approved by the chief Minister for tabling in the Sindh Assembly. However, it’s waiting to be tabled.”

“Pakistan must prioritise prevention of violence against women not just on paper but in actual implementation, and pass a law on domestic violence with punishments for those who commit violence against women. It must focus on implementation of existing law and not allow perpetrators to get away. There must a policy of no tolerance of violence against women,” Zia adds.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2012.

http://tribune.com.pk/story/470882/international-day-for-elimination-of-violence-in-pakistan-education-is-no-shield-against-female-violence/