In Pakistan, domestic abuse is none of your business
As Iman sat there talking to me, I could see all the classic signs of her being stuck in the cycle of abuse. First there was the abuse period, severe fighting at the end of which she would often walk out being the second, the third period would be the reconciliation where he would call and apologise or the elders of the family would be brought in to ‘patch things up’, and the fourth and final stage of returning to him, believing all his lies claiming that it would never happen again.
Nevertheless, as always, she would believe and he would betray, eventually bringing her back to stage one. However, after each cycle, she was a weaker, more passive victim who slowly believed everything was her fault. I could see that he was breaking her spirit gradually, chiselling away her self-respect and self-esteem. She had slipped into a state of chronic depression where she was living her life like a robot, doing everything to please him and making sure that nothing displeased him.
She was clearly a victim of psychological and severe emotional abuse that was often coupled with physical abuse as well. I was helpless because I was not a family member who could step in and take the required action to stop this abuse for good. All I could do was count the times she was coming and going.
On an average, abused women leave their abuser seven times before they finally leave for good. However, in the Pakistani society, I believe this statistic applies to only a very few people. Interestingly, as opposed to healthy societies where abuse is everyone’s business, in our society, abuse is no one else’s business except the abusers, especially if he is the husband.
All the do’s and don’ts that American psychologists outline to help out an abused person can be reversed in order to explain how our society reacts to an abused woman. What is supposed to be done is:
- Ask if something is wrong
- Express concern
- Listen and validate
- Offer help
- Support his or her decisions
What we do is the opposite of this as the strictly accepted norm in our society:
- Do not ask anyone if anything is wrong. It is her business not yours. Her family would not like interference
- Do not express concern. She might unload her worries on you
- Do not listen and (certainly) do not validate. Whatever goes wrong in a marriage is always a woman’s fault. Do not agree with her when she talks against her husband
- Do not offer help. Lest you find yourself unnecessarily involved with the problems of others
- Do not support her decisions. If she decides to leaves on your recommendations, are you going to support her?
Similarly, the outlined list of don’ts is:
- Don’t wait for a victim to come to you for help
- Don’t judge or blame
- Don’t pressure her to return if she doesn’t want to
- Don’t give advice and listen to her reasoning
- Don’t place conditions on your support
Just turn everything around again to get an idea of what exactly happens in our society:
- Do wait for her to ask for help. If they want help, they’ll ask for it
- Do judge or blame. The girl is always wrong and it is always her fault. The man is the master of the house and hence always right
- Do pressure her. She has to return to her husband’s house. The family’s honour is at stake. No one will marry the younger sisters if she comes back
- Do give advice. It is best to return. All men are angry by nature. Over time they will change. Children will make things better. There is no respect for a woman unless she is in her husband’s house
- Do place conditions on your support. I will listen to you but only if you go back to your ‘real home’. I will not be supportive if you think negatively about your husband
The most common reason the abused girl in our society is always forced to endure this abuse is because of lack of support that she requires from her immediate family. Close friends are often highly supportive of their abused friends but are helpless because the family is unwilling to support the situation. Many times, even though the family is willing to support her, they are pressured by the extended family members to send the girl back. This is because the guy has apologised and has promised not to do it again. Hence begins another cycle of abuse.
Unlike the western society, the abused girl here cannot even count on the police to rescue her or an abuse shelter to house her and help her get back on her feet. In our society, the only chance a girl in dire straits has is her family.
The aforementioned list of dos only touches the tip of the iceberg of the problem. In reality, it takes a herculean effort to admit that a daughter or a sister is being slowly destroyed at the hands of another human being. It takes even more effort to drag her out of this situation and help her get back on her feet. The greatest hindrance is the extended family and the fear of society.
Nevertheless, the list of dos as per our society is long and can only be written as the second part of this blog. Let’s first understand clearly that abuse really is everyone’s problem and we shouldn’t wait for a victim to ask for help. We have to give it, whether it is to the neighbour next door or our cousin.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.