Accepting domestic abuse as a part of daily life

Published: October 1, 2013

Four in every five Pakistani women have experienced domestic violence, as opposed to 30% of women across the world. PHOTO: King Khalid Foundation

As a Pakistani woman, I grew up understanding that the best guarantee of my life-long security is the promise of a man’s companionship. A man will back me financially, ward off awkward questions that will arise if I remain single too long and give me a ‘home’ to care for. A man will chaperone me to family gatherings, tell me how best to behave and transform me into ‘a complete woman’. 

While this formula for security infuriated me on several levels, it is the things it left unsaid that horrified me the most.

No one told me just how badly a man can hurt me.

No one explained how helpless and alone a woman in my society can be.

According to the last set of statistics I came across, four in every five Pakistani women have experienced domestic violence, as opposed to 30% of women across the world. One in three has undergone rape, honour killing, acid attack, immolation, verbal or psychological abuse, with an overwhelming majority of this violence inflicted by marital partners.

Like most other women around me, I knew these things without having to pick up a newspaper.

I guessed that for the 5,000 women who lose their lives to domestic violence every year, there were thousands more whose injuries went unreported. These women died daily, bit-by-bit, bruise-by-bruise because they didn’t know another way of life.

As a writer’s child, I heard producers claim that TV serials sell more if you show women being beaten up in them- that way ‘the audience can relate to the plot’.

The housemaid who worked for my parents was scared senseless of running late on her way back- her partner thrashed her for every minute she delayed her return.

A loved one was routinely mistreated by her educated, cultured, socially revered husband, but no one around her could come up with a solution.

Last summer, I helped a young friend pick the right shade of concealer for her skin because she needed better cover for every time her husband would forget to stay off her face when venting his ‘frustration’.

How ironic that the very protectors we were told to worship turned around and stabbed us.

Yet, no institution of law, no social code of conduct, no familial shield can provide a way out for several of these women.

The women I saw abused, shied away from letting anyone but the closest of friends know what they endured. Domestic violence is a useful tool for men, a shameful secret for women.

We have been brought up to believe that one can’t just leave their husband because he hurts them once in a while. You’re supposed to stick with your chosen husband and in-laws. If they decide to pound you to unconsciousness, that’s just your problem.

Even when help is possible, it is somehow more outrageous, more dreadful to submit your sorry secret for public scrutiny, to pack your bags up and leave your abusive home. ‘Honourable’ women must stick to their destinies. They must rear children, roll chapatis, hold annual dawats, and dust and sweep the same rooms where they get slapped and stomped every now and then.

As an educated, privileged woman studying at a renowned women’s university, I still have to remind myself on a daily basis why I have chosen to distance myself from these ideals that suppress me, from conventions that tell me that my body, my pain may not be worth as much as the frustrations of my future partner, or the respect of my household.

I have to tell myself that I will never, ever settle for a man who as much as raises his voice before me. I have to reiterate this, loud and clear, so that I can throw out the tolerance, the patience that has been ingrained in me since childhood. I don’t want the ability to endure violence my supposed ‘protector’ inflicts on me. I don’t want to be able to tolerate such a destiny. I’d rather shrug it off, no matter what the cost might be.

Censors for domestic violence in Pakistan say that the trend has continued to rise over the past few years. And it will persist – unless women around us decide they’re going to change it. The only way out is for us to take our financial stability, our self-fulfilment, and our well-being into our own hands in spite of nonsensical social standards. It’s time we tell our daughters to be their own protectors.

Given the circumstances we live in, it is a daunting task to stand up for ourselves. But surely, it should not frighten us more than the prospect of living in abuse for the rest of our lives.


Areeba Kamal

An alumna and former employee of Nixor College. She is currently studying International Relations and Computer Science at Mount Holyoke, USA. She tweets @KamalAreeba

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

  • Chayn

    This is beautifully written and rings true of the ugly face of patriarchy in Islam. Have you checked our website?Recommend

  • Sane

    Violence against women is 1st due to illiteracy (prime cause) and 2nd due to mentality. Even adequately educated males born and brought up in cities abuse and beat their wives. I think there must be a forum where women could lodge complaint freely and members of this forum must contact their husbands or male members of the family to persuade against violence mentally or physically. They must also pursue in-laws if the case is so. But, this all must be in a very polite and civilized manner without threats and threatening of consequences. There must be a follow-up and if things do not get right must take legal action.

    However, so-called women rights NGOs or forums of that ilk shall not do anything in this respect, except exploiting the situation. So keep them away. Any other having better suggestion can contribute.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    To be honest…Domestic violence has to be curtailed as soon as possible..
    To every woman I have one request. Please teach your son manners that respect for woman. Sadly in most of domestic violence cases mother of the Husband helps, or is responsible for the act…
    To all the man….MANHOOD can be seen when once can handle women without violence. If you think you need to use force to stop females than basically you are a savage animal and nothing else…Manhood is proportional to respecting women…in simple words…!!!!Recommend

  • Karachi Bhai

    This is all result of Taliban and the oil money that comes to Pakistan, Who shoudl explain this to people from FATA and Tableeghi Jamat,Recommend

  • Chouhan

    violence against woman is a sign of fear and weakness of a manRecommend

  • Sami

    what it has to do with Taliban and money from oil… Just grow your mentality… if a women is abused in her home.. what is the relation between this a Taliban??? strange logicRecommend

  • gp65

    Domestic violence exists all over tehe world. What is unique to our subcontinent is the family honour and shame which will prevent the girl from complaining and the unwillingness of police to take cognizance and register a case against husband and in laws. The widespread debate on these issues is changing the scenario in India. Similar debates are necessary in Pakistan also so that parents
    1) educate their daughters and make them capable of supporting themselves economically
    2) teach their sons that violence is unacceptable whatever teh situation. Most people say women are treated with respect but qualify it with ‘provided they conduct themselves in ‘xyz’ manner. BEing free f violence should not depend on such qualifiers.Recommend

  • Bangalorean

    A woman makes a family, not the man!

    I try demonstrating that everyday to my wife and my son. My wife has hit me a few times but i have not retaliated. The reason for this is that I know she wants to show my son that she is bigger than me. The fact also is that the woman is the cornerstone of society unlike the man who will drift anywhere.

    Knowing me, I will not trust myself to raise my son as much as my wife.Recommend

  • Nandkishore C.

    May I put my comments: Man is a slave to money. For a women to be free she should have money. Don’t tell your daughter to fight back. Just give her enough money.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Serious stuff this and you are absolutely right when you say that what has to be done must be done by the women themselves. In the male chauvinistic environment that we have, expecting legislation and laws to be effective, is wishful thinking.
    In light of the book I am presently reading, just thinking aloud, possibly if when surveys are conducted it may prove useful to know what percentage of victims were Sunni or Shia. In a country as dominated by religion as we are, if figures are skewed to one side, this would give an insight and possibly a foundation to start a dialogue.Recommend

  • Syeda Abeer Fatima

    Domestic abuse makes life hell for a women and this is making our generations suffer. We need to condition our daughters to be more independent and strong, both emotionally and financially.
    However, it is heart-breaking to read comments blaming Islam for this phenomena. Islam has exalted the state of women. Blaming Islam for domestic abuse of women in Pakistan or anywhere in the world surely indicates faulty judgement and biased views.Recommend

  • observer

    The Government of Pakistan had proposed an anti Domestic Violence Bill. The Bill was shot down by Islamist Parties on the plea that the provisions of the Bill are against Islam.
    Can someone address this camel in the tent, please?Recommend

  • Hassan Abbas

    I disagree with you, there is nothing wrong in islam, its we who misinterpret Islamic rules & guidelines according to our wishes. You must separate two this
    1. Islam
    2. Society
    We claim that we live in Islamic society but unfortunately we are wrong.Recommend

  • gp65

    I agree with you partially. Of course the victim needs o speak up. No one can help someone who does not want to be helped. But that alone will
    Not suffice. Decent men need to speak up too after all they too are stakeholders as their mothers, daughter, sister may be impacted by domestic abuse.Recommend

  • Nobody

    so essentially you’re nothing more than a sperm donor? a society is made by man and woman coexisting, working together, much like a baby is made by both, it is up to both to raise a strong child. Recommend

  • Andrew

    Violence is , no doubt , an act of cowardness. It should be condemned at every forum. As for as the financial security is concerned , there is nothing wrong with it , as it is a matter of compromise on the part of man. If the jobs are divided , there would be peace for both the partners. If husband takes the responsibility of earning and wife takes the responsibility of taking care of the house it would be good.Recommend

  • ptr
  • broken chooza

    we are living in old ages as far as the social values are concerned.Recommend

  • Pappu

    As per religion a woman is considered half in intelligence, a woman will get half in inheritance, husband can remove her from his bed and beat her lightly, a woman’s witness is considered half, a man can marry four woman, a man has to clean up after touching her, most of the inhabitants of hell will be women and i can go on….Recommend

  • qhn

    Money can naver develop manners!Recommend

  • Shah

    You , sir , are ignorant.Recommend

  • Ap

    wow. how is that? I beat up a woman because I am weak? I can hit a woman because she has not learnt to hit back…Please get your mind right.Recommend

  • Ap

    You should go and ask women if there is anything wrong in Islam?
    Islam is systematic subjugation of women to establish male superiority…Isn’t it obvious???
    Women can’t drive, must wear a burqa( like a pet animal), can’t move alone. Should I go on?Recommend

  • I think you mean elephant in the room. Camel in the tent is a whole different proverb.Recommend

  • Chouhan

    tell me what is the other sign?Recommend

  • Mukhter Ali Said

    What an odd comment? Poland ranks as one of the highest spousal abuse rates in the developed world. They aren’t Muslim.

    This has more to do with the menality of male chauvinims and never admitting one is wrong. As an American Muslim domestic violence is frowned upon and will hurt your name in the community. Go to Malaysia where there domestic violence is punished severely with extensive jail terms

    It’s one thing to have people deny a problem and another to have subservient sycophants make a human problem an ethnic one.

    Having been born and raised as an American Muslim to Pakistani and Afghan parents, I can tell you the family cohesion, education, and respect men have for women in the Muslim American life specifically (vs say the UK or people ‘back home’) is something I have come to value as I grow older. These elements are more respected in our Muslim American community than greater American societyRecommend

  • Nandkishore C.

    Who cares about manners. I am just saying that if a wife has money of her own, even just enough for her daily needs then she will get the power to tell her husband to get lost.Recommend

  • Noman Ansari

    It’s easy. Take a small bag/pouch. Put two golf balls inside and tie the pouch. Show the bag to the pouch. Cut the bag and let the balls hit the floor. Look at the man’s face with eyes as cold as a dead fish.

    Go to sleep with scissors next to your bed.

    He will get your drift.Recommend

  • AL

    I don’t understand what the problem is. What Chouhan said is right. It’s really not a revolutionary or new concept.Recommend

  • AL

    Perhaps it is unfair to blame Islam. But the common denominator in a lot of the countries where women are the most repressed is religion, and that religion is often Islam.Recommend

  • Nobody

    What you’ve mentioned is cultural nonsense, not linked to Islam itself. Culture is what needs to change. Desperately and immediately. Burqa is a man made garb. People have misinterpreted modesty to mean woman ought not have a voice or be visible to society. Utter nonsense. As is the no-driving rule. As far as I know, cars didn’t exist 1400+ years ago.Recommend

  • Nobody

    You are confusing culture and religion. Burqa is a man made concept. People confuse “be modest” with “be invisible.” And as far as I know there were no cars 1400+ years ago; the no-driving silliness is culturally driven and has no link to Islam. Your issue, shared by many Muslims as well, is with followers and their interpretation of religion.Recommend

  • Salman

    When you are told by your religious clerics that it is OK to hit women than don’t tell me religion is not the problem.Recommend

  • Pappu

    Burqa is the cultural dress of most favored nation of Allah.Recommend

  • Dr.N

    Sir,I’m sorry to hear this..abuse can go both ways. You seem to respect your wife,but it doesn’t look like she does. Please go for counselling & fix your relationship.Both partners must respect each other.She has to vocalize her problems and not hit you.
    It’s all the more shocking that she does this in front of your son !! As an adult he will be open to abuse from a bully wife,since he has seen his dad being emasculated by his mum.
    This is not normal in anyway.Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    Triple Talaaq, I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you and throw the wife out of the house as trash …….is one from sevaral hilarious gifts of the Arab macho religion.Recommend

  • Indian

    Sad to read about your friend and you looking for the right shade of concealer for her face…Recommend

  • Nb

    How true…lolRecommend

  • AL

    But most women don’t want to wear the burqa. Women, like men, have the right to choose what to wear, and how to live their lives. They should be free to do so, without being abused by someone who thinks they have the right to control another person.Recommend

  • Pappu

    “misinterpreting Islamic rules & guidelines according to own wishes”. Zakir Naik is best at it. Although scriptures says earth is flat and sun revolves around earth etc , he has misinterpreted to prove it wrong.Recommend

  • G. Din

    Men are beasts!
    The only good part he had was that rib from which God fashioned the Woman!Recommend