In the shadows behind the curtains,in the murky depths of despair and in the black of night, domestic violence continues to ruin lives in Pakistan.Inside the disturbed minds of those who commit these crimes they are not desperate to escape. Those who have the power to prevent and/or punish this violence through religion, law or custom openly or tacitly approve it. For every high-profile case, more victims die shrouded in silence and countless others endure the daily torture of not knowing when it will happen again. In the emptiness of abuse all alone, frozen in fear, victims stand in the cold dark alleys of torture and violence for the sake of their lives and children. The question is: when will they feel safe?
Far too often we as spectators fail to see it. Even worse, we turn a blind eye. It is time to shine a light on domestic violence.This remains a national tragedy for a country that purports to be civilised, tolerant and safe, or at least what politicians and leaders of the country claim to be the case.By placing domestic violence atop the national agenda they can expose and erase the dark underside of home life while helping victims find the warmth and optimism they deserve. But change will require recognition of the extent of the damage by those who behave as though it is still the dark ages.
Gender-based violence has recently been emerging as a pervasive national issue. Existing statistics suggests that profound physical and psychological sequelae are endemic following intimate partner violence. The presentation of domestic violence in our country is culture specific. A new lexicon, prompted by the expansion of psychological analysis, describes particular threats to women, including dowry deaths, honour murder and disproportional exposure to HIV/AIDS as well as globally generic perils including abuse, battering, marital rape and murder.
The relevant statistics are truly alarming. According to the statistics of violence against women contained in a report to parliament by the ministry of law, justice and human rights, there were 860 ‘honour’ killings (mostly women), 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases of rape/gang rape and 268 incidents of sexual assault/harassment. That is just the official toll. Less than half of abuse is reported.
These are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives; these are the people who live next to you. These are real people and they are horrifying numbers. Behind the veneer of social respectability across all demographics, women are suffering from physical, psychological, manipulative and controlling behaviour by dangerous, sick men. It emanates from a mind-set that blames the victim and tolerates disrespect for those who are of another gender, background, lifestyle or are simply powerless. It does not stop there; children are even being assaulted, traumatised and used as weapons in the middle of this social pathology. Change will require challenging the culture of saying nothing. Change will mean recasting many of the myths about what a significant minority of men regard as being mard (macho): rugged,powerful, dominant and the breadwinner, able to apply double standards to being faithful, fearless and allowed to embrace loss of control and physical violence as a birth right.
When interviewed, most women who had been abused felt it was a private matter or feared retribution. Most live in fear of being tracked down by their abuser. True, more women today are economically independent and most know there are services out there to help if partners become abusive but only few take the risk of speaking out and refuse to be demeaned. But fewer still make the flight to safety or use the support of courts and the police to remain in their own homes. There must be more protection of whistle-blowers who lift the veil of secrecy. For how long will the fear of social ostracism or economic desolation dissuade women in particular not to report their dire situations?
While still fragmentary, data reveals strengthening associations between domestic violence and mental health. Depression, stress-related syndromes, anxiety, drug dependency and suicide are consequences observed in theshort-term context of violence in women’s lives. Sadly, though, many women develop long-term mental illnesses, often driven by a husband’s jealousy linked to low self-esteem. They try to destroy the confidence of a victim to the point where she feels like a prisoner dependent on the captor.In these cases, early signs of abuse are even harder to identify. The process can be so insidious that sometimes women are murdered without having endured a single act of physical violence up to that point.Change will require the courage of society to stop allowing men to make excuses along the lines of“it will not happen again; they were stressed and now they are sorry”. No, they are committing criminal acts and they should be punished.
Evidence shows most men make excuses, calling temporary anger and verbal abuse normal while shrugging off the seriousness of financial control as punishment. Women in our society, particularly from poor families, are prone to regard domestic violence and abusive behaviour by husbands as the norm too. Many men have grown up in families that functioned peacefully yet many remain deeply affected.The spread of cyber bullying and trolling on social media only makes the task harder when it comes to showing young boys, who soon grow into men, that disagreements can be settled peacefully and personality clashes need not become abusive. This intergenerational problem remains, despite some changed attitudes on the role of aggression in marital conflicts. The fact is that the children of families that endured domestic violence are more likely to offend as adults.Society needs to tackle these long grained infected cultural legacies and domestic abuse because there is a common link: disrespectful attitudes towards women.
There are some glimmers of hope.Emerging social, legal, medical and educational strategies, often culture specific, can offer novel local models to promote social change, beginning with raising the status of women. The ubiquity, gravity and variability of domestic violence across the culture compel that additional efforts should be made by parliamentarians and leaders of the country to promote the recognition, intervention and prevention of domestic violence that are both locally specific and nationally instructive.
There is a long way to go before the abuse and the killing are wiped out. That is why it is critical that advocates such as civil society champions and local governments work even harder with mental health professionals to find better domestic violence strategies.Can we count on our policy makers to do just that?
Dr Fawad Kaiser
March 09, 2015