Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Violence against women: Who is responsible?

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In a country where women constitute an estimated 50% of the population, and the society is rocked by ever increasing incidents of violence against women ranging from rape, killing in the name of so-called honor, acid attacks, domestic abuse, forced marriages and even in certain cases involuntary religious conversions, the security of a female in the state of Pakistan hangs as a question, staring at the faces of our institutions.

Debate has shifted from the arena of ensuring participation of women in all spheres of life and gender equality, and fallen to the basics of human security that espouses freedom from fear, freedom from indignity, freedom from exploitation, freedom from all forms of sexual violence and freedom from degradation.

Laws pertaining to violence against women in Pakistan

In the recent past, the state has undertaken several concrete steps to safeguard and empower the women of Pakistan. Amendments were made in the Pakistan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to punish culprits of heinous acid crimes under the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011 where the punishment can extend up to life imprisonment along with a fine.

Read more: Is chemical castration the solution to violence against women?

The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011 deals with oppressive and discriminatory customs practiced towards women protecting them against forced marriages, sinuous arranged marriage with the Holy Quran and safeguarding their right to inheritance where the punishment for such acts ranges between 3 to 7 years of imprisonment and fines to the tune of 10 lakh rupees.

The Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offense of Rape) Act 2016 covered sweeping grounds and made a far-reaching impact in dealing with the culprits and facilitators of this appalling crime. Life imprisonment was set for the rape of minors or persons with disabilities, provisions of legal aid for the survivors of rape by the Provincial Bar Council were made and it set the imprisonment of up to 3 years or fine or both for any public servants failing to carry out the investigation properly.

It went on to protect the identity of the victims where printing or publishing of the name or any allied information that had the potential to publicize the identity of the alleged victim of rape is punishable with a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and fine.

We have advocated and educated our society on women rights and gender equality, perhaps now the lessons should shift towards concepts of consent and allied prevention strategies to foster a compassionate society

Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honor) Act, 2016 makes murder committed in the name of honor punishable with death or imprisonment for life. Reputational damage or breach of privacy under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act is punishable with imprisonment of up to 7 years or a fine of 5 million rupees or both.

Who is to blame for the lack of implementation?

Now, the thought arises whether it is the failure of the state, its inaction or the society, that a climate of gender repression and rampant violence against women prevails in a country that follows a number of key international commitments and guarantees the rights of women under its constitution and the best of laws and initiatives are failing to protect.

Today, we are collectively afraid and wary of the direction the security and safety of women in Pakistan is taking. Are we on the footsteps of our next-door neighbor where even an 86 year old grandmother is not safe? Does the blame rests on political instability, and state’s inaction that renders even the best of initiatives such as Punjab smart cities model helpless, as the responsibilities are shuttled and thrown about? Who is to be blamed for this lack of enforcement?

Read more: Op-ed: There is no legal basis for two-finger virginity testing on women

Or perhaps the objectification and unchecked sexualized portrayal of women in the media? Maybe the blame partially rests with our television serials where the rapist or the abductor goes unpunished, in some cases even wed to the victim and the show proceeds to normalize the union?  Or our actors are shown engaged in acts of physical violence against women of their household. Again, who is responsible for checking the spread of such rogue concepts?

Violence against women: The way forward

The commitment of the state of Pakistan to safeguard its people is clearly reflected in its policies and initiatives. National and provincial legislations combined with administrative procedures are all the right steps but much more is desired if we are to shelter the vulnerable in our society.

Times call for the identification of repressive practices in our society, and efforts to be made at the grass root level. We have advocated and educated our society on women rights and gender equality, perhaps now the lessons should shift towards concepts of consent and allied prevention strategies to foster a compassionate society. Programs can be introduced in schools aimed at addressing bullying, victimization, name calling and other such behavioral issues.

Read more: Family Laws in Pakistan: Dissecting the Procedure

Instead of debating upon the slogans raised by activists, we can endorse social-emotional learning and healthy sexuality among our society, especially the younger generation. Collectively, we must encourage adoption of norms that protect against sexual violence. The thread that would bind the law enforcement agencies, policy makers and women rights activists, lies in creating a healthy symbiosis between the state’s security efforts and the efforts being undertaken to safeguard women in Pakistan.

The author is a Political Economist, currently working with Punjab Board of Investment and Trade with core interests in Politics, Media and Human rights Issues. Her work has been published with various blogs and news outlets. The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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