In Pakistan, domestic abuse is none of your business

Published: July 16, 2014

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. PHOTO: AFP

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.



Aalia Suleman

A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (

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

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Well done. to be honest most of the time the family of the abuser does not give a damn about what their son/brother is doing. This is a major difference from western households where people from BOTH families try to stop the abuse, while here BOTH try to make sure that it continues. Although I can not help but feel sorry for the family of the victim for they too are bound by social constraints and the so called matter of honor.
    Also the society here is such a cannibal when it comes to abuse victims, instead of helping her they just devour the news of her abuse with extreme relish.Recommend

  • another idiot in town

    In a society there are every type of people there are caring and there are indifferent, and there are hostile-towards-miserable In my experience in our society ratio is in favor of caring people, perhaps you have seen only negative group or habitually generalize negative on overall society and highlight it.Recommend

  • another idiot

    do you think western domestic life is ideal?

    their family system has almost collapsed….you want us to follow such a society?Recommend

  • Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    A person who is used to of abusing or so-called abuser,his worth is nothing but a coward and big sinner.
    but if a girl compromised again and again and scarifies for her family then what is so wrong? what are you complaining for? no doubt she ll get reward by Allah (in both worlds) “if something wrong is contempting in your mind,read ma answer from starting”
    the culture you are talking about dear “Writer” has hell of difference may be you know very well.but the thing is, there is a boundary by Islam exists. by talking English Folks do you want to say that she is suppose to be get divorce or get another hubby? no you shouldn’t.
    Islam expressed very well the value & rights of girls and boys too. Don’t compare it with English norms but take a deep look on Islam first.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    biased article only dominated with author’s own opinion. I dont know how the title is justified in anyway. And again, I dont know why it had to start off with ” In Pakistan…” sheeh just rest ok.Recommend

  • Visibly

    Well, maybe not Pakistanis, but the vast majority of Western women prefer the Western society. Better to be a single mother than in a domestic abuse household. Better to be a single mother than forced to marry a man you don’t like in the name of honour.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    yes perhaps that is true. I am happy that ur experience in our society is goodRecommend

  • Hammad Mian

    Dear Blogger, Even the domestic violence is more in the West, not only in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Aalia Suleman

    Our society is sadly filled with hypocrites who are very ‘caring’ if it is a question of the abused girl next door. But when it is a question of abuse of one’s own sister or daughter, they immediately want to hush up the matter because of the question of ‘honor’ and becoming ‘the talk of the town’.Recommend

  • Aalia Suleman

    @another idiot. I’m absolutely against the ideals of family system as preached by the west. But this does not mean we don’t appreciate the good things it has. And whether you like it or not, the fact is that they do support and help the victims of domestic abuse in a far more constructive way as compared to our society. Our society members want to brush the entire matter under the rug and hush it up when it comes to them directly. But when it is a story of the house next door, they want to make it the hot topic of the morning coffee with friends. Nothing proactive is done to actually help the victim.Recommend

  • Sammy

    Do you have a reading comprehension problem? Where does it say Western life is ideal?Recommend

  • Nasir

    There are certain thing people can do in a conservative society such as Pakistan. Adopt measures which are compatible with your culture. Since Pakistan claims to be an Islamic society and 100% are Muslims then you have to support a woman who is being abused. How? First parents needs education on types of abuse takes place. Secondly, their should be neutral arbitrator who can decide wisely based on logic, facts and considering that the woman was abused, traumatized or else. Thirdly, get counselling and psychiatric help for both spouses. Often I have seen that Manic Depression is the cause in women as well as abusing men. In other words they have bipolar disorder, they do not acknowledge but others who are educated on psychiatric issues can easily tell. Then their are other psychiatric disorders on part of the abuser either he/she has been traumatized, abused were in shock by seeing such incidents.
    In any case the taboo of not sharing and all hush hush is a major problem. Leaving the abuser is not always the answer, however, getting him/her help is painstakingly difficult but it is worth it in a longer run. So my dears create a society who is more acceptable in understanding these issues until and unless we don’t try things will stay in equilibrium.Recommend

  • toidi rehtona

    western domestic life sucks but pakistani domestic life sucks even more. it’s not a choice between good and bad. it’s a choice between bad and horrible. and pakistani domestic life, unfortunately, belongs to the later category.Recommend

  • another idiot

    again you are generalizing, may be your personal bad experience, to entire society.

    Average Pakistani domestic life may be bad, but due to general economical and social issues than purely domestic issues. Western society is suffering miserably due to purely domestic issues.Recommend

  • another idiot

    Majority of western women preferring western society is very natural for them. Other than single mother status lot more is happening there which you will never like to happen in our society. We are different and have different lifestyle, different religion and different social and economic issues, we can’t adopt western ways nor can they live our way.Recommend

  • Hameedullah

    How preventing domestic abuse a “western way”? Problem persists in the country and tackling it has nothing to do with what happens in west.Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    You should try to assist anyone who you suspect is being abused regardless of who you are.Recommend

  • Sammy

    You have verifiable, peer reviewed proof or just a desperate attempt to pass off your opinion as something of a pathetic excuse for Pakistani domestic violence?Recommend

  • Sammy

    Yeah..we see those ‘rights’ in action every day in Pakistan. Give me a break!Recommend

  • Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    take your time. i am sure you didn’t get my point.Recommend

  • Zafi

    What Islam? Pakistani majority of mullahs and Officials do not know what Islamic Laws are, if they do know then these are never applied or adhered to, that’s why the corruption is rife and one can buy the “justice or fatwa” favouring their cause. That is neither Islamic nor legal/just. It happens day in day out. I know several people who are witnesses to this sort of goings on. At least in the West there are support agencies among many governmental ones. What’s in Pakistan apart from Edhi Foundation? Even that cannot look after many. Bring back the true Islam.Recommend

  • Zafi

    Like the one where the father bricked his daughter to death watched by the relatives and the Police too, right in the courtyard of Lahore High Court. Shocking and unlawful anywhere but Pakistan where honour killings go on unchecked.Recommend

  • x

    i agree with what you said earlier. Divorce has such a stigma attached to it that most people, even educated and progressive families, think honor is living in the husband’s home and being insulted by one man than bearing ‘insult’ of divorce in front of the whole society.Recommend

  • x

    It’s not western. Abuse is human/women rights, universal, no right or left, no liberal or conservative, no east or west. Abuse can be physical or even emotional. As long as abusive wives continue to suffer in silence, their sons, the new generation of boys will also grow up with the mindset that girl has to compromise/tolerate and girls will grow up to be taught that men are difficult and have tempers and need to be adjusted to, tolerated with hope of them changing after years of marriage, after kids, after this or that.Recommend

  • Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    Do you also know, 11 years old trade sex for drugs in the west?
    Or do you think there is no violence against women in west? You need to do some research.
    Praising western values more than the western folks themselves, Fact is they envy our strong family values and we envy their freedom and at the end of the day we both are admiring each other illusions. Strange world we live in.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    Actually there is proof IF you take the initiative to try and educate your self. And dear angry liberal, may I ask if you have verifiable “peer reviewed” proof for all the stuff that is written against Pakistan on ET as far as cases of rape and domestic violence are concerned? Guess not. Hence that makes you a person trying to pass of his opinion as an excuse for domestic violence in the West.Recommend

  • liberal-lubna-fromLahore

    whose there to check? the so called educated people who only like to show how oh so deeply concerned they are about problems in Pakistan, solve these issues by moving abroad and write blogs/comments about/against these problems while defaming the country alongside. Great way to solve problems.Recommend

  • Wishaal

    Thank you for writing this, Aaliya! We NEED more awareness. Recommend

  • R S

    I never usually post in blogs, but completely agree with Mirza Shoaib on this matter. I’m someone who was raised partially back home and then came to the US. We have strong family values from Pakistan and have never had any abusers in our family. Now that I’m married to a girl who was raised in the west, I see the difference big time.
    I grew up with parents who didn’t blindly support me on everything, right or wrong.
    In the west, Not only does the woman but the parents also sabotage and manipulate the man due to women having more rights whether its her fault or not. If both men and women, focus more on their own “responsibilities” compared to demanding “rights”, we would have less chaos in every society.Recommend

  • Sammy

    Typical rant excusing domestic violence in Pakistan out of silly nationalistic and cultural reasons. Stay on the topic…which is THIS article, not ALL articles in ET.Recommend

  • Sammy

    Your incoherent effort to excuse domestic violence in Pakistan is duly noted..and discarded.Recommend

  • Mirza Shoaib Ahmad Jarral

    “ignorance is bliss” and you cant deny it.Recommend

  • jin

    good one.Recommend

  • jin

    good one.Recommend