We need domestic violence legislation…now

Published: January 31, 2012
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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.