November 26, 2022
According to a UN report, one in three women in Pakistan suffers from domestic violence. This among several other aspects of the crime was discussed in a Voicepk seminar recently marking the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
The webinar was hosted by Ahmed Saeed, Reporter at Voicepk and Robina Shaheen, Women Protection Officer at AJLAC (Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell), and panelists included Azma Bukhari, MPA (PML-N) who helped pass the Women Protection Act in 2016; Ume Laila, Executive Director of Homenet Pakistan, an expert on home based women workers; Alia Malik, Senior lawyer of the Lahore High Court and an important part of AJLAC; Risham Adnan, gender expert at South Asia Partnership; and Muneeza Butt, head of Violence against Women Centre (VAWC).
During the webinar, Azma Bukhari said that it was true that the issue of domestic violence was not taken seriously before. “In 2002 during Musharraf’s rule, a DV Bill was introduced in the Punjab Assembly for the first time,” she said. “Even at that time, opposition members supported the bill. It was an uncommon thing, but it took us 10 years to establish to the others that DV was indeed an issue that should have legislation. in the 2002 assembly people used to make fun of us, they said we were interfering in the matters of a husband and wife.”
But with help from civil society, a struggle ensued and despite that the Bill could not be passed because of the opposition of the male members including those from her party, she said. But this did however start a discussion on the issue.
“We established that DV was a crime. Later the Women Protection Act was established and a VAWC was established in Multan too but the project was not taken forward,” she said. “We were labeled foreign agents when we tried to push the issue.”
She specified that the DV was in physical, psychological, mental, and sexual forms.
Bukhari added that it was true that when women were the subject everyone brought religion into the discussion, along with a lot of resentment.
“There was a lot of uproar from the religious right and thats why we could not implement the Bill how we wanted to,” she said referring to the 2016 Act. “the VAWC in Multan would have been replicated in every district. We said the offender who tortures women should have a bracelet with a chip and this was made into a big deal by all.”
Bukhari said the matter was the State’s matter and that a woman who had been beaten and kicked out of her house should have a place to go to – adding that there was a lot left to do at the moment.
Meanwhile, Ume Laila said that the women she represented, were subjected to such violence that they could not even talk about it.
“Patriarchy conditions women to stay silent,” she said. “That’s why they dont talk even to each other. It exists in our society in this way. We don’t accept these things and it becomes taboo to talk about these things, even if we are an authority in this country.”
Speaking about the access of women to justice, she said the legislation was meant to provide justice. the incidence of violence in Pakistan is increasing, and we need laws that women and girls are safe inside their homes. “When you see it is the systematic barriers, which cause blockades in providing justice to women,” she said.
Muneeza Butt, head of VAWC, said that this center was the implementation of the VAW Act. “The incidence of violence is increasing, and our one center, per year, the ratio is rising. We were to take 1200 cases each year but last year we received 2300 cases. We give them services including women police, prosecution, legal aid with the help of AGHS, and medicolegal, and psychological support. We also have a follow-up of cases,” she said. “We should strengthen our laws rather than make new ones. the existing services should be upgraded.”
Risham Adnan, who focuses on women’s issues, says that there is gender discrimination from the beginning and the child grows up in a patriarchal system.
“In this context, the girl never believes something wrong is happening with her,” she said.