According to the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights NGO, there were at least 7,571 incidents of acid attacks, rapes, spousal beatings and other violence against women in Pakistan in 2008 alone. And because that statistic is based on media reports, the number is actually higher, particularly since most victims don’t come forward about their abuse. Although the government is inching closer to passing a law “banning” domestic violence, that is only the first step in the battle (implementation and enforcement will be a far greater challenge).
Below, Sehar Tariq, a Master’s student in Public Policy at Princeton University and who blogs at Sehar Says, delves into a discussion on the prevalence of domestic violence in Pakistan and what that says about our society as a whole [a shorter version of this piece first appeared in The News this week]:
We all remember the barbaric footage of the Taliban flogging a young girl in public. Chillingly similar was the story of the police in Faisalabad, flogging a woman who had gone to report a theft. We all remember the months of debate on whether the flogging of the girl in Swat was authentic or not. We argued about whether this was planted by the NGOs with their liberal agenda of destroying our pious and well-functioning society by encouraging women to run around demanding things such as rights. The recent news reports of flogging a woman in Faisalabad seem to confirm my worst fear that what happened to Chand bibi in Swat is by no means unique. The Taliban are not the only ones brutalizing women in Pakistan. Apparently, there is a bit of barbarian in most Pakistani men.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, it is estimated that up to 90% of women in Pakistan are victims of domestic abuse. The public flogging of the girl in Swat presents an endemic social problem in heightened form. Aurat Foundation believes that, in one out of every three households, there is violence against women. Violence takes the form of beating, torture, rape, burning, confinement and even murder. And regardless of which statistic you believe, (and I know that statistics can be tricky!) we have to admit that Pakistani women face staggering amounts of violence.
Unfortunately, these acts of violence cannot be attributed to American drones, RAW or the Zionists. The causes are internal and require us to take a good look at what we are teaching our boys that turns them into barbarians capable of inflicting such harm on an innocent and unarmed human being. Given that a large proportion of women suffer from such violence in varying degrees – we must realize that what we saw the Taliban do is not limited to the realm of the poor, the illiterate, the smelly and unkempt. The richest, the smartest, the most educated are all equally involved in the brutal treatment of women – except they don’t do it in public squares where people can make videos.
Given our high tolerance for domestic violence, it is evident that there is a fault within our social structure that impacts large parts of our population. And those fault lines lie on the shoulders of the parents and teachers of such boys and barbaric men. From a young age, many Pakistanis discriminate between male and female children both in the home and in school early on in life; we make our sons believe that they are better. We inculcate in them an undeserved and unearned sense of superiority.
When it comes to the distribution of goods like food, education and healthcare, male children receive preferential treatment. They get the best cuts of meat, the juiciest slices of fruit and access to the best schools. We teach our sons that somehow they have a natural right to what is better. We instill in them a greed for the best of things without teaching them how to share.
We send our sons out in the world to make them aware, street smart and independent. We never send our daughters. We make them dependent. We teach our sons that women are to depend on them. We create boundaries of work and space without teaching our sons the tolerance and respect for those women and girls who, through choice or necessity, do not adhere to the male-female divide of the public and private space.
We teach our sons to have courage merely to fight but we teach our daughters to have the courage to resist and persevere in the face of even the most brutal physical or mental assault. We teach our sons the value of honor but we peg it to their mother and sisters. We teach our daughters the value of honor but we peg it to their own conduct. We tell our sons that success is getting what you want but we teach our daughters that success is dealing with what life throws at you.
As a result, we have raised a nation of very resilient, resourceful, considerate and brave women but we have raised a country of spoiled, insecure and violent boys who will resort to violence against those who are weaker when they don’t get their way. What is most disturbing is that often women have been at the forefront of inflicting pain on other women. When these wonderful women become the mothers of sons, they fail to teach their sons the lessons of tolerance and respect. The cycle and selective teachings of preference continue and we continue to churn out barbarians.
In order to break this cycle of violence, we need laws that will protect women, and the domestic violence bill is a step in the right direction. But a law is of no use till we can get the people to internalize its spirit. This is no easy task and will not happen overnight. But in my lifetime as a Pakistani woman, I have not seen even one concerted nationwide attempt by the government to denounce domestic violence or to raise awareness about it. On the contrary, governments have shunned and further harassed the victims.
And one would imagine, that in our schools, the preparation grounds for real life, we should have something that addresses this source of violence and conflict. We don’t. Our school curriculums, both for government and private schools continue to pander to harmful attitudes about men and women which are imbibed by impressionable young minds. We are not teaching our boys to adjust to shifting gender roles. And until we make a concerted effort through the media and our system of education to address this imbalance we will continue to churn out girls that are made of, “sugar and spice and everything nice” and little boys made of not just “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails” but things more sinister like rage and hate and a propensity to hit their mate.
The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.