How to protect women against violence in Pakistan?

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News Analysis |

Amnesty International South Asia, human rights organization, has appreciated the incumbent government for taking swift action in Asma Aziz’s case. In a tweet, the organization stated, “we are glad that strong and swift action has been taken against the torturers of Asma Aziz”. But it is also added that “we note with dismay the alarming rise in reported cases of violence against women. Systemic change to protect women is necessary. Action can’t only be taken on a case-by-case basis.”

A woman from Lahore, Asma Aziz’s husband, and his employees allegedly stripped her naked, beat her, and shaved her head for refusing to dance in front of them. Asma in a video appealed to the people of Pakistan to stand for her since, according to her video message, police had refused to take any action unless they were given some money.  Dr. Shirin Mazari, Federal Minister for Human Rights, took the notice and directed authorities to take lawful action against the culprits.

It is pertinent to mention here that Pakistan has passed several laws to protect women across the country. But data shows that the cases are increasing with the passage of time despite the presence of a legal mechanism of protection. Experts now suggest to look into Pakistan’s social order and evaluate if it welcomes any law which heavily negatives some social values and cultural beliefs.

Honor killing has become almost a norm in many parts of Pakistan where women are treated as a commodity and whose sole responsibility is to be submissive guardians of men’s honor and ego.

Although in the province of Punjab a law The Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2015 has been passed yet there are numerous cases of violence against women in the province. According to a report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, which put the number of honor killings between June 2017 and August 2018 at 737. The total number of such murders since the organization started keeping records in 2016 stands at 15,222. Honor killing has become almost a norm in many parts of Pakistan where women are treated as a commodity and whose sole responsibility is to be submissive guardians of men’s honor and ego.

Rafia Zakria, prominent academic and columnist, observed in this regard that “the truth of the matter, whether any wrongdoing was actually done, is almost irrelevant; the power of the community, exercised through the ruling of jirgas and panchayats (which are tribal councils made up of community elders and other strongmen) is front and center. A community that can police its own, those who have invited questions or controversy, is a strong community, the thinking goes. In this battle, the laws passed by the federal government criminalizing such murders go up against the traditional and communal mores of a village or clan or tribal group.”

Read more: Has Asma’s case exposed patriarchal predominance?

Experts and researchers suggest that in Pakistan’s social setting like many other developing polities, is a complex and rigid concept of power. Violence against women, like rape, is a demonstration of power and strength. It should, therefore, be considered from a sociological perspective which helps to understand the context in which these incidents take place. If a girl, for example, refuses a marriage proposal of a man or any other demand for any stated or unstated reasons she, by doing so, insults the man and hurts his ego.

Dr. Zakria while proposing the solution argues that “the answer, perhaps, lies in changing the debate and acknowledging that trickle-down feminism is not working to end honor crimes. If communities are clinging to these horrific practices as a means of highlighting their continued power against a modernizing world, then the way ahead may hinge on change at the community level, involving the very people who are now wielding power in tribal jirgas and other grassroots justice mechanisms”.

In most cases, these negotiations to find acceptability for situations that are locally unpalatable can take weeks or months and intervening layers of institutions have to be trained for that.

Analysts believe that by developing a comprehensive mechanism of conflict resolution may help Pakistan to get rid of it. Prominent TV anchor and columnist Dr. Moeed Pirzada offered an interesting solution in an article he wrote almost two years ago.

“Police, local political elite and lower judiciary – most of whom themselves are convinced of the value of ‘honor’ — need to be trained to understand these conflicts in the context of modernity and to be able to help institutions like Dar-ul-Amman, local councils and government approved local bodies to find solutions. In most cases, these negotiations to find acceptability for situations that are locally unpalatable can take weeks or months and intervening layers of institutions have to be trained for that.

Read more: Mahwish Arshad’s case: Violence against women is a demonstration of power

This is what their capacity building is about. And perhaps most importantly media and educational institutions need to change the narrative; with the help of celluloid and books we need to spread the message around that young adults have the right to make their choices in love – and this includes the right to make painful blunders. And there is no family ‘dishonor’ in matters of the heart,” he argues.

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