No country for women
Numbers have an innate ability to enhance the significance of facts and perceptions and highlight the gravity of matter. In a recent survey conducted by the Thomson Reuters to investigate the plight of women across the world, the results were staggering. Contrarily to common assumption, South Asia had to bear the ignominy of being home to three of the top five countries which are most dangerous for women.
It is harrowing to see that amidst all the veneer of expanding economies and growing modernity, more South Asian countries foster extremely hostile environment for women than African countries which are traditionally perceived to be more dangerous with rampant civil war and genocides.
Afghanistan is at the top of the list with Pakistan in third, followed by India in fourth place. A total of 213 gender experts ranked countries in two ways; overall perception of danger and by six risk categories namely “health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking.” It must be noted that regular warfare is not the primary cause of danger to women. Whereas Afghanistan was declared the most dangerous country because of the ongoing conflict, devastating poverty and very limited access to health care for women there. Pakistan made the list because of cultural violence and religious practices, which include acid attacks, childhood or forced marriages, and brutal physical punishments for crimes. Sadly, these results would hardly raise many eyebrows in this country since the stories of women survivors of vicious physical attacks have become ominously common. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, there were 2,903 reported cases of rape and 791 women were murdered in the name of honour in 2010 alone.
The traditional societal set-up of this region is such that it makes it easy for men to establish their power over women and by extension their entire families, through physical violence. In our society, ruling parties’ senators can stand in the upper house and defend honour killing as part of “tribal tradition.” The traditional enigma attached to violence against women hampers many women from reporting it. Those who do decide to break the mould and fight for their lives are subjected to years of ignominy without any guarantee of justice. Giving credit where due, in the last one year, our elected legislators in the parliament have made some remarkable progress in passing women-friendly legislation, which includes the bill to protect women against harassment at the work place and a bill for the control of acid crimes. Though these legislations are praiseworthy, there is still a long way to go in terms of their implementation. Unless accountability is not ensured across-the-board among all social classes, such legislations will only gather dust without effecting any serious dent in the pattern of suffocating misogynist practices. Only their implementation will allow us to observe how far such acts will become a deterrent for possible offenders.
What is needed in Pakistan is a massive, public awareness campaign to promote the idea of equal rights and dispel the stigma attached to women reporting gender-specific crimes. This part of the campaign must be done simultaneously along with comprehensive police reforms and their reorientation to violence against women. One such inspiration can be taken from the current campaign by women in Saudi Arabia.
The stakeholders in Pakistan, with their own set of debilitating problems, also need to strategise beyond the usual rhetoric to garner public and political support for the cause of women rights. The day we start thinking of violence against women not as an issue relegated to just women, but as an ailment, which has existed in our collective psyche long enough, the battle for women’s rights will be half won.
Source: Business Recorder