We need domestic violence legislation…now

Published: January 31, 2012

We need to give our daughters, the future wives and mothers of this country, a safe and secure environment to live in. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistan is considered to be the third most dangerous place for women to live in, according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation poll 2011.

Despite the fact that the majority population in Pakistan is female, it is still a strictly patriarchal society where women are sometimes killed for something as personal as choosing a husband. In the West, women liberation now means fighting for tax payer funded abortion; in Pakistan, we are still advocating the treatment of women as equal beings who deserve the basic rights to life, family, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment.

While there is some progress on  the issue of honour killing and forced marriages (even if implementation is still nonexistent), when it comes to domestic violence, sadly there exists no law in Pakistan specifically addressing and prohibiting it. We still seem confused about whether domestic violence is a family norm that is allowed and even encouraged by religion, or a criminal act.  This reality exists despite the fact that everyday violence at home results in women being tortured, mutilated, subjected to acid attacks or burned alive.

According to a survey conducted by the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, over 90% of married Pakistani women were kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were unhappy with their cooking or cleaning, if they give birth to a girl or failed to bear a child.

Yet, lawmakers have not given this issue enough importance. A bill addressing domestic violence had been passed by the National Assembly in 2009 but lapsed due to a lack of interest by the Senate and the president. However, it is not just the lawmakers at fault here; it is the mindset of our society that needs to be changed – a mindset that believes women should be suppressed and kept under control; that advocates that such laws are against the teaching of the Quran and Sunnah.

Conservative interpretations of Surah An-Nisa justify violence against women, even though countless renowned scholars and their teachings have clarified that the verse does not support beating a woman, but separating oneself from her in case she is continuously disobedient and unfaithful. Unfortunately, inconsistency in interpretations due to different schools of Islamic jurisprudence and the politics of religious institutions has turned this very simple matter into a mess.

Asma Barlas, author of “Believing Women in Islam”, states that women’s status and role in Muslim societies and patriarchal structures is the result of various factors, the majority of which has nothing to do with religion. Judy Mabro, editor of Muslim Women’s Choices, also holds up this notion. She further states that the status of Muslim women in terms of the Quran and other Islamic sources is all too often taken out of context.

It is important to understand that such violence is not part of religion, but rather a cultural aspect that men refuse to let go since it makes them feel empowered.

We need to understand that if the law on domestic violence is passed, it will not just benefit women but also men, children and society overall. Instead of viewing the law as a gateway to freedom for women, it should simply be seen as what it is: a step towards a more civilised society. Domestic violence includes all acts of physical and psychological abuse committed by a perpetrator against any ‘vulnerable person’ with whom the accused was or had been in a ‘domestic relationship’.  Whether it’s the father using violence against his son as a form of punishment, or a disobedient son showing aggression to his elderly mother or even a wife behaving violently towards her husband, all these forms of abuse will be prohibited and punishable if the law is passed.

Domestic violence is a crime, a mental and physical health concern and a social failure of our country. Authorities often tend to disregard domestic violence as a private or family matter. Police often refuse to register cases unless there are extreme signs of injury. Therefore, the vulnerable party cannot take any action against the offender till a substantial amount of harm has already been done.

I find it appalling that we claim to be a Muslim nation but use religion in every aspect of our lives to justify our wrongdoings. Ill-informed maulvis preach concepts and interpretations of religion that they fancy. In the pursuit of ulterior motives, the true spirit of our religion has been long lost in our country and has been replaced by hypocrisy.

It is high time we make serious efforts to create awareness for the urgent need to pass the domestic violence law. We need to give our daughters, the future wives and mothers of this country, a safe and secure environment to live in. We do not want them to live in fear, helpless and vulnerable. We do not want them to endure the same faith as women today. We need to instill tolerance and forgiveness in our men.  We need to move beyond all excuses and debates and make it clear cut for our citizens that violence of any form is prohibited within a household.  We need to give our children a more civilised society to live in.

The lawmakers, political leaders, and educated class of our country have the power to make this happen.

Hira Anwar

Hira Anwar

The writer works in the legal department of the Express Media Group and studied at the University of Manchester

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Danali Dahraj

    Enforce the laws that are there already; Violence of any sort is a crime and against the law. Just like you have Human Rights and then you have Woman Rights; Human Rights are and should be sufficient if rightly enforced!Recommend

  • Danali Dahraj

    One more thing Madam, how come you have not reported a single incident of domestic violence against men? To report one, wife of a very popular Sindhi actor threw acid on his face while he was sleeping because she was jealous of his popularity and also ‘felt’ insecure.Recommend

  • Aysha Raja

    Fantastic job Hina Anwar. I can’t believe something as pertinent as this receives such little attention.

    Danali Dahraj
    I think Hira Anwar has been very through in her article as should be made amply clear from the excerpt below. If, as you insist, women are amply protected by human rights then this little addition to the statue books shouldn’t really raise your hackles much. No?

    “Instead of viewing the law as a gateway to freedom for women, it should “simply be seen as what it is: a step towards a more civilised society. Domestic violence includes all acts of physical and psychological abuse committed by a perpetrator against any ‘vulnerable person’ with whom the accused was or had been in a ‘domestic relationship’. Whether it’s the father using violence against his son as a form of punishment, or a disobedient son showing aggression to his elderly mother or even a wife behaving violently towards her husband, all these forms of abuse will be prohibited and punishable if the law is passed.”Recommend

  • MAD

    What good is legislation without enforceability.Recommend

  • MetroMale

    Unfortunate for urban women to hide behind suburban incidents. Both environments are different altogather. Here in the Metro its the men get hammared. Giving and giving till they have nothing left to give and still they see that its the female who is the victim. When female talk of equal rights, i like them to make the equal scarifices and test there endurance as have men for so long and so hard.Recommend

  • Bee

    @Danali Dahraj:
    I second Aysha Raja…Hira Anwar has made her point very clear. n yeah thats true that men have also been the victims of domestic violence but these cases are very rare.. accept the fact that women are underprivileged in most of the areas.
    @ MetroMale:
    What do u mean by equal sacrifices n endurance tests?Recommend

  • leila rage

    @metromale:

    What sacrifices and endurance tests? Being treated as a demi-god, and being molly-coddled by their mums? Recommend

  • shazada zahid mahmoud malik loan

    The article highlights the concerns we all have of the way Pakistani men (and the in-laws as well as girls’ own families) treat women. The treatment of women must be in the context of Islam and not the Western imported garbage. The use of violence of any kind against women in Islam is totally forbidden and sanctions against the perpetrators are clearly defined. What makes it obnoxious is the use of Western, non-Islamic, ideological framework and benchmarks to assault Pakistan. The solution lies in not the imported Western approach but the use of the law and education. This twin track should help the macho men in moustaches see the sense in treating their women kindly as enshrined in Islam. The other approach is to elect women to political position that are not afraid to tackle head on the problem of domestic violence and help in framing laws that are Islamic in character. However the Western liberation approach is disastrous, as the author herself admit – abortion and sex. The Western women are fighting their own corner against sexual exploitation but have no regard for their own men who are engaged in sexual exploitation of third world (helpless) women. Similarly, the author does not define sexual abuse in marriage but alludes to it. The physical union of male and female in Islam and in other religions is of paramount importance and does not require external permission. May be the author could define sexual abuse before making the case.Recommend

  • Parvez

    @MAD: Excellent comment. You have cut through all the BS and got down to the basic problem at hand.Recommend

  • Beth Johnson

    This is what verbal abuse from a spouse sounds like and what it feels like:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhF8cYK2HhARecommend

  • hamzad

    why do you need “faarin” reports to tell you about yourself…Just see around..Domestic Violence in Pakistan is MOST prevalent among the so-called educated, english-speaking, top job holding and western looking couples…Ministers, generals, CEOs, in short the ELITE is the one most involved in it..By showing pictures (above) of poor women you imply that your class is somewhat superior..NO! they are “superior” only in fudging the facts and putting up appearances to “tolerate” the corrupt lifestyles of husbands/wives.

    Westoxicated scum in Pakistan IS the real curse…not the shareef people living in mohallaas and jhuggees.Recommend

  • fahad siddiqui

    @ MAD …… “You hit the nail on the head”Recommend

  • leila rage

    @shazada zahid mahmoud malik loan:

    Would you please stop with you west-bashing. Why can’t we stop bad mouthing them, and just learn from the good things in their societies?

    “However the Western liberation approach is disastrous, as the author herself admit – abortion and sex.”

    okay wait a minute, so you’re basically SCARED that if women are liberated they’ll go on a rampant orgy? Hahahaa. Very funny. Seriously, if anything, its the raping, murdering, acid throwing MEN who need to be restrained. Liberation for women will NOT mean immorality; it will simply mean a chance at a better life without the constant FEAR of abuse and assault, and the fear of knowing that the perverted perpetrator will always get away

    “The physical union of male and female in Islam and in other religions is of paramount importance and does not require external permission”

    Paramount importance? Honestly, do you REALLY think that is ALL that is important for God? Or all that is important in a marriage?
    Are you really saying marital rape is okay? You really need to see a psychiatrist. And I mean that in the kindest way possible. If you’re so concerned with Islamic ideals, let me just tell you that in one of the Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), it is said that there is nothing more despicable than a man who beats his wife and then lies with her. So in view of this, mr.holier-than-thou, do you really think “external permission” isnt necessary? I think you need to think again.Recommend

  • PT

    Good article. But stop saying that Islam/Quran forbids violence. Quran 4:34 is very clear about this. We are trying now to interpret this differently in face of modern morals and civil law, but the fact is that the Islam condones some level of abuse. Why isn’t there a similar ayat for women against men?

    Islam does give rights to women, no doubt. But where it lags, we must accept that and develop strong civil law to protect women.

    For those who rail against the West, I’ll guarantee you that 99% of all Pakistani women would prefer to live under Western law rather than Islamic/Pakistani law. Recommend

  • Chander Kumar Kolhi

    No doubt miss Hira that women are vulnerable in our society. They face many problems and work all the day. The given picture above is of Dalit women who are considered as ”untouchables” in society. Many considerations are put forth the government but it all goes vain and no any step is taken for their betterment. They are almost illiterate and also face many health related problems. Many of the women of the above said Dalit community die during their delivery after pregnancy.
    The most affected region in Pakistan is the whole Sindh and some districts of Punjab in majority.
    It was so nice to see your article highlighting women issuesRecommend

  • Raja Islam

    @leila rage:
    Not true in all cases.Recommend

  • John B

    @PT:
    “Islam does give rights to women, no doubt. But where it lags, we must accept that and develop strong civil law to protect women.”

    Well said, but there is the problem. How come Islam and Islamic Sharia law can be incomplete?

    violence against women is a major problem and when it is sanctioned in religious notion, it is hard to change the mind set of men, without empowering the women and enforcement of the law.

    Ps.: ” over 90% of married Pakistani women were kicked, slapped, beaten or sexually abused when husbands were unhappy with their cooking or cleaning, if they give birth to a girl or failed to bear a child.”

    Appalling to say the least. It is time to close the book and think rationally and move forward. Recommend

  • bp

    But ain’t violence good? Hollywood has been trying to tell us it is the epitome of humanity since at least after my birth.Recommend

  • Usman Toot

    Please Note! the verse 34 of surah al-nisa referred in the article infact ordains love and love-making, not beating, as an effective way in convincing dis-obedient wives. please refer to Dr. Nimer Busool’s translation of Quran in ‘Wise-Quran’.

    Also, it was really elaborating that while reading about the hypocracy of ulemas, I could see a picture Molana Fazal ur Rehman on the otherside of the screen.Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    @hamzad:

    Pakistan is MOST prevalent among the so-called educated, english-speaking, top job holding and western looking couples…

    And your vilification is based on? Or do I see a glimpse of envy there?Recommend