Stressed men beat wives in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan
The article, ‘Intimate partner violence among Afghan women living in refugee camps in Pakistan’ by Adnan A. Hyder, Zarin Noor and Emma Tsui of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Center for Injury Research & Policy, and Drexel University College of Medicine, is in the press with the Social Science and Medicine journal. Daily Times produces an abridged version:
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 20 women of reproductive age and 20 health workers serving these women in an Afghan refugee camp near Peshawar, during the summer of 2004.
Stories of violence against Afghan women have been ubiquitous in international news media for almost a decade now. In March 2004, the New York Times ran an article entitled ‘’For More Afghan Women, Immolation Is Escape’’ prompted by the Afghan Human Rights Commission’s discovery of 40 cases of self-immolation over six months in the Herat region.
In a review of 50 population-based surveys around the world, between 10% and 50% of women report they have been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Domestic violence may be an even more pressing issue in refugee settings, where women have fewer opportunities to draw attention to their plight. Often refugee men feel they have failed to protect their families. Research suggests that the stress of poverty may lead men to use violence within the family in order to reclaim their sense of power and control.
According to one survey by the International Rescue Committee of 200 women in Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, and cited in a report by the Reproductive Health for Refugees Consortium, 79% of the women reported having been beaten by their husbands. The report also revealed that participants believed that younger brides were more likely to suffer abuse.
In most refugee camps, there is no effective reporting system, and there is still uncertainty about how to respond to such reports from victims. In refugee settings, women often do not know where to turn if they need help and are unfamiliar with the host country’s laws regarding domestic violence. Unfortunately for Afghan women refugees, the Pakistani legal procedures regarding domestic violence make it difficult for victims to seek justice.
As one interviewee told us, ‘’The in-laws think that the girl whose worth is high is more precious. The father has taken a lot of money for her. The girl that is not sold has no worth.’’ The in-laws may consider the mistreatment of the bride as justified if they did not pay money for her. A dowry (money given by the bride’s family to the groom’s family) is also seen as a ‘’safety factor’’ for brides in their in-laws’ household. ‘’When they are not able to give dowry then it becomes difficult for the daughter to survive the in-laws. The in-laws always tell her that ‘you have not carried a dowry with youÂ’,’’ one woman said.
The in-laws seemed to use the topics of dowry and brideprice against the bride during conflicts, especially for women whose marriages did not involve a significant exchange of money or other resources. In some cases where there are insufficient funds to pay dowry (or brideprice), siblings or other family members may be exchanged for marriage with another family. These ‘’exchange marriages’’ were frequently mentioned in conjunction with reciprocal violence-that is, when one daughter-in-law is beaten, the daughter-in-law in the other family may also be beaten as a consequence.
One woman described these marriages as follows: ‘’Exchange marriages are not good, but it is the custom in our families. People do exchange marriages in order to avoid giving money for a girl. They don’t think about the result of the exchange or whether the families will be happy or not.’’
Women described the role of wives in the family as follows: to produce children, to carry out domestic work, and to obey the husband’s family. When these expectations are not met, conflict can follow. According to the interviews, these expectations seem to be an especially significant problem for married adolescent girls-a not uncommon phenomenon-who may have insufficient knowledge about their role as a wife. As one woman said, ‘’Early marriages affect it [the husband-wife relationship] more because they [young brides] do not know about married life.’’
Family living structure was also mentioned frequently in conjunction with conflict in the home. As one woman said, ‘’There are some conflicts in every home. Sometimes a quarrel is due to children beating each other up and then the mothers get involved. Ten days ago, I had a quarrel with my sister-in-law about our children and we beat each other up.’’ Besides fighting between their children, conflict between sisters-in-law was said to be preceded by quarrels over shared domestic work, or quarrels over the distribution of resources between their children (like food).
In joint households, elders and parents-in-law usually serve as decision-makers for the family. As one woman described: ‘’Most of the decision-making power lies with my father-in-law. He makes most of the decisions. However, decisions about marriages or making something for ourselves or for our children are made by us jointly. My father-in-law has the final say and we all obey him because he is the elder. He acts as our father.’’
The positioning of parents-in-law in this role of authority seemed to both exacerbate and protect against violence. One woman respondent claimed that her father-in-law told her husband ‘’to beat me because women should not be given respect. They should be considered like shoes. They must be afraid of you.’’ However, decision makers may also play a mediator role. During conflicts among sisters-in-law, the mother was usually the one to intervene.
Occasionally, however, in the name of stopping conflict, mothers-in-law may create further tensions; for instance, by reporting the incident to the husband (her son) who then may engage in conflict with his wife. Thus, even in cases in which a decision maker may be protecting one party against conflict and violence, additional conflict may be created for another party.
In our interviews, conflict between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law often stemmed from arguments that involved questioning the amount of domestic work that the daughter-in-law had completed or the quality of that work.
Interestingly, conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law were also said to arise when the daughter-in-law and her husband had a ‘’love marriage’’. “She [my mother-in-law] never was good with me because my husband and I had a love marriage,” one woman said. “Whenever he bought me something, she would get angry and quarreled with me. I did all the domestic work at home. But she would get angry if I did not cook well. She also abused my family. But in front of her son she would keep quiet.’’
In love marriages, there were fewer arguments between the wife and the husband. The wives were vested with more decision-making power and were less likely to be held to strict, traditional roles. As this same woman described, ‘’My husband has a love marriage with me. So he says the number of children is according to my will. He never forces me to have more children.’’
Interviewees characterized conflict between women and their husbands as having two major drivers: peace-making, in which the husband makes an effort to resolve some pre-existing dispute within the family, and punishment, for failure on the part of the wife to appropriately cater to the husband’s preferences.
Women reported the majority of conflict with husbands as being verbal, and only occasionally escalating into physical violence. Additionally, as in the following quote, many women indicated that there is an expectation of some level of conflict in every marriage. ‘’I have a good relationship with him [my husband]. Sometimes there is a little quarrel in every home. Once when I beat my children, he quarreled with me verbally. Only once did he beat me and I got injured. After that he began talking to me so that there are no big conflicts between us.’’
It should be noted, however, that the involvement of the husband in conflicts between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law may serve to increase the level of violence. As one interviewee described: ‘’Once when I was 6 months pregnant she [my mother-in-law] quarreled with me. It was a verbal quarrel. Even though it was her fault, she told my husband that I quarreled with her and didn’t obey her. My husband beat me and I had a little bleeding. Thank God my child was protected.’’ The role of the husband in situations like this one may seem at first contradictory-he creates violence in the name of fostering peace in the home-but may actually provide insight into the narrative trajectory of these conflicts. The husband may see his role as that of putting an end to the conflict, resolving it by deciding who is in the wrong and exercising his power, as a male member of the household, to punish that person, thus ending the conflict.
In light of the physical violence that could be part of these conflicts, many women respondents spoke about strategies they used to avoid conflicts or to prevent the escalation of conflicts with their husbands. These strategies included obeying the husband, keeping quiet, and stopping verbal conflicts before they escalated. As one woman said, ‘’Sometimes if he is angry, then I keep quiet.’’ While keeping quiet or not speaking back to the husband was a strategy employed by women during the actual argument to prevent further escalation of the conflict, obeying the husband was seen as preventive strategy. These ideas are consistent with the expectation that women stay close to their traditional roles as wives and that they not question the husband or his decisions. According to the women, any deviation from this role gives the man an ‘’opportunity’’ to incite conflict.
Interestingly, this assumes that conflicts with the husband are, for the most part, expected and predictable.
Women whose husbands were away for work seemed to indicate that they had comparatively low conflict relationships with their husbands because of the husbands’ absence.
Access to healthcare, restrictions on the mobility of women, and the role of the parents-in-law in enforcing this were frequently mentioned by staff as barriers to care. Some workers categorized these mobility restrictions as a form of violence, particularly when they prevented access to care in emergencies. Mobility restrictions typically require that women get permission from their in-laws or husband in order to visit the health center.
However, as evidenced by the following quote, economic realities, distrust of the health system on the part of the mother-in-law, and a desire to preserve health traditions may also serve as barriers to care. As one staff member said, “Mother-in-laws tell the women to have the baby at home. Sometimes they will have a daya [traditional birthing attendant] present to help with the delivery. The women suffer from bleeding and infections. There was one girl that was brought in last week. She was so pale when they brought her. She had lost a lot of blood during the delivery of her baby at home. When I asked the mother-in-law why they did not bring her here since they lived very close to the hospital, she told me she did not know she was in labor. I find that difficult to believe especially since they live in the same place. The girl ended up dying.”
Source: Daily Times