Her husband beat her and other women told her it’s probably her fault

Published: October 13, 2015

They told her to be nice to him, not react when he is angry, cook him food and provide a peaceful environment. PHOTO: OSOCIO.ORG (WOMEN'S AID AGENCY)

A very recent Facebook discussion on a closed group brought light to an important issue: domestic abuse. The victim, *Humaira said she was distressed about the fact that her husband was not spending time with her so she voiced her concerns. Her husband reacted with anger; he shouted at her and grasped her tightly around the neck.   

She then asked them,

“Should I leave him?”

Whilst there were certain sane voices that urged the woman to leave the hostile environment and remove herself from a dangerous situation, even if it were for a temporary period of time, there were many others who encouraged her to stay with her husband and endure the abuse.

They told her to be nice to him, not react when he is angry, cook him food and provide a peaceful environment. Things like, “Maybe you pushed him too far” and “You should have sabr.” were common. It was unsettling to see that this closed group was a group of women who were encouraging to first correct her own behaviour before she addressed the problems with her husband’s.

Not only was the victim told to to have “sabr” (patience) and provide the abuser with a good and comfortable environment, she was also told to identify the things she was doing wrong, that might have been triggering the abuse.

The Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) claims that 90 per cent of women in Pakistan face some form of domestic abuse within their homes, and 49.39 per cent of victims do not even report the abuse (as of 2014). Even with those statistics at our disposal, little or nothing is being done to prevent domestic abuse, or provide for shelter, support or rehabilitation of victims.

The normalisation of abuse also featured in a few of the posts. A lot of the women commented saying that the victim’s husband was working long hours and was frustrated so this was bound to happen. How have we as a community, as a gender, become to think of abusive behaviour as normal? When did it ever become okay for a man to raise his hand on a woman, for any reason? The fact that our women believe that abuse is normal, or common, or a legitimate response to frustration is extremely frightening. It is thought provoking too; have we conditioned our children to believe that it is acceptable to talk with our fists?

Let this be a reminder that one day your girls are going to be married too, is this same advice you’d want to give her? Protect your marriage first, then yourself?

Being a victim of domestic abuse is a frightening experience. It helps to have support and guidance from other women. Women all around the world are working to protect each other. However, the women in this public forum are condemning those who advised the victim to separate herself from the situation by leaving her house.

“She will regret it,” they said.

The narrative of “regret” that is built around domestic abuse is what scares women into staying in situations that are dangerous for them. They stick around and endure abuse because we tell them that they would be much unhappier if they left. We tell them that because we subscribe to a vile stigma that dictates that divorced women are “bad women”.

The socially constructed labels of “good woman” and “bad woman” pollute our understanding of women’s rights and justice in general. A “good woman” is one who is married and has a standing is society as someone’s wife, no matter how battered or beaten she is. A “bad woman” is one who is not tied to any man, whose existence is not under the shadow of a male figure. The “bad woman” has no place in society.

It is because of these labels that women end up living a life of agony.

We stigmatise and justify the actions of the abuser. Internalisation of abuse, believing it to be part of a relationship, only exemplifies the abuse cycle in this country, and the mind-set surrounding it. No one should have to live in constant fear, in their own homes, where they are supposed to feel the safest.

The Facebook post also displayed the need for safe havens; for women to talk about their situations, to get sound professional advice without judgment, to find protection and support and not be told that the nothing is above the sanctity of marriage. It displays the need for educating women today about abuse, how to identify it, and how to overcome it. It is also our job as a community to support each other in need, and not indulge in victim blaming/shaming, and/or encourage perseverance in times when physical safety is of concern.

Sindh Domestic Violence Act 2013 defines domestic violence as,

“Including but is not limited to, all acts of gender based and other physical or psychological abuse committed by a respondent against women, children or other vulnerable persons, with whom the respondent is or has been in a domestic relationship including but not limited to:

a)      Abet

b)      Assault

c)      Attempt

d)     Criminal Force

e)      Criminal Intimidation

f)       Emotion, psychological and verbal abuse – a pattern of degrading or humiliating conduct towards the victim, including but not limited to:

  1. Obsessive possessiveness or jealousy, constituting serious invasion of the victims privacy, liberty integrity and security
  2. Insults or ridicule
  3. Threat to cause physical pain
  4. Threat of malicious prosecution
  5. Blaming a spouse of immorality
  6. Threats of divorce
  7. Baselessly blaming or imputing insanity or citing barrenness of a spouse with the intention to marry again
  8. Bringing false allegation upon the character of a female member by an member of the shared household; and
  9. Wilful or negligent abandonment of the aggrieved person;

g)      Harassment

h)      Hurt

i)        Mischief

j)        Physical Abuse

k)      Stalking

l)        Sexual Abuse

m)    Trespass

n)      Wrongful confinement

o)      Economic abuse.”

This law explicitly states that physical abuse is just one aspect of domestic violence. This realisation is significant; one needs to understand that physical harm is not the only form of abuse. Women need to become aware of the laws that have been set in place to protect them in order to identify the nature of their marital relationship.

Do you feel afraid of your partner most of the time? Do you avoid communicating certain issues for fear of angering your partner? Do you think that you deserve to be assaulted or mistreated? Do you feel alone, helpless, crazy or emotionally numb? Are you belittled, humiliated, yelled at often? Does your partner blame you for their own abusive behaviour? Are you ignored, or put down? Are you threatened, constantly checked up on, or is your movement (where you go who you go with) controlled? – If the answer to any one of these questions is yes, then you may very well be in an abusive relationship.

Chances of an abuser changing are extremely low, but not impossible. First they must be willing toaccept and admit what they have done and stop making excuses or blaming the victim. They must act responsibly and work towards identifying the errors in their ways, and what causes them to be abusive. Rehabilitation is hard work, and in a country where mental health awareness and acceptance is very low, the opportunities to seek help or counsel will most likely be rejected or not followed through properly.

It is extremely important to know the impact on children who grow up witnessing domestic abuse.According to a UNICEF study, “Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children”, 40 per cent of children who witnessed abused became victims of abuse themselves. A large number of abusers were found to have grown up witnessing abuse in their homes. Social development issues and mental health issues were also found in high numbers amongst such children.

Staying married is not more important than a woman’s physical safety and security. So fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, aunts and uncles, I ask you: Has social “norm” been placed higher than humanity? Does the “bond” of marriage supersede human life? There is no justification for violence. It is never the victim’s fault. Instead of blaming the victim, we should look at ways of protecting them. We should be preventing further abuse, instead of trying to “sort things out”. Let’s stop wondering what the woman did wrong, and how she can save her marriage; let’s start talking about how we can save our women, and how we can try to end this cycle of abuse.

(If you believe you are a victim of abuse, you may contact the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), Shirkat GahPanah or Madadgar.)

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the victim

Madiha Latif

Madiha Latif

The author is a Political Science, Economics and Global Studies major. She works at Bolo Bhi, a digital and gender rights advocacy group. She tweets as @madiha_latif (twitter.com/madiha_latif)

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

  • Azma Humayun

    While I applaud your shedding light on the sensitive and pertinent issue of domestic abuse, I feel that your headline is an example of very irresponsible reporting. I don’t think the group has to put a disclaimer on its pinned posts saying that “opinions of individual members do not represent the opinion of the group itself” for that to be understood.Recommend

  • Sulk Kahn

    “People learn to love their chains” ― Daenerys TargaryenRecommend

  • lathi-charge

    She needs to urgently see a good lady lawyer to bring her abusive husband to book ! There are a number of prominent ones in Pakistan.Recommend

  • RKM

    “Including but is not limited to, all acts of gender based and other physical or psychological abuse committed by a respondent against women, children or other vulnerable persons…..”

    Appalled to see that the law does not cover abuse against men.Recommend

  • NM

    What about fathers or brothers physically and verbally abusing their daughter/sister in the house. Could the law and order situation take that seriously while dejecting “bhai behno mei toh aisa ho jata hai, wo bhai hai uska haqq hai” kind of excuses.Recommend

  • Amna

    Shocking but women are often brainwashed into facilitating what is better for a man and worse for a women under the guise of her ‘Izzat’.

    Female genital mutilation is also conducted by women on young girls under the guise of ‘tradition’. It’s difficult to ask men to change their standard of behavior when so many women accept and proliferate environments for more abuse.

    And I feel sad for the women telling her to stay in the marriage bc this reflects the inability of those same women to fend for themselves – and that in my fathers words is the greatest of tragedies; that a woman allows herself to feel worthless without a man and then tries to make strong women feel badly for respecting themselves.Recommend

  • Khan

    domestic violence is haram in islam, It’s better to get divorced than living with male chauvinist husbands…Recommend

  • Munazza

    I cannot agree with you more.abuse of any means and in any relationship is toxic to the well-being and sanity of a person,and yet people defend it by giving senseless excuses and resort to emotional blackmailing. This needs to stopRecommend

  • Nasir Ahmed

    Female Genital Mutilation ?????? and even if its done then whats the percentage compared to male circumcision ???Recommend

  • Sane

    There is another form of torture that to keep away wives from their relatives even the immediate ones like father, mother, brothers and sisters on one pretext of the other, which are all made and exaggerated falsely.

    Reporting and addressing domestic violence need to be made simple and accessible and punishment must also need to be ensured instead of labeling a ‘matter related to husband and wife’.Recommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    Good Muslim husbands will not do violence toward their wives. But unfortunately ultra-conservative Mullah usually stand with the chauvinistic husbands and always blame the women.Recommend

  • Videlicet

    Actually male genital mutilation is far more common in muslim communities so that part does not quite make sense. But agree with rest of what you say.Recommend

  • Videlicet

    Unfortunately the wife is treated so shabbily as she has no place to run away to. Her parents and friends are mostly obligated to advise her to keep the marriage intact and to no advocate separation or divorce until the violence becomes a threat to life.Recommend

  • Ayesha Khan

    The group Soul Sisters is nothing but a platform for all religiously hypocritical gossip monger Pakistani women who post the most insane of problems there on the group. Also, every time someone’s facing a genuine issue, some preacher brings in her Shariat-e-Niswan in and moulds the entire debate into an Islamic vs Non-Islamic argument. I regretted being a part of that group and let the group because it’s nothing but (excuse my language) crap.Recommend

  • Farah Khan

    Husbands are not god. He has no right to physical assault. Leave the man.Recommend

  • Basmah Fayaz Yousuf

    Circumcision is NOT the same as mutilation.Recommend

  • Videlicet

    It is mutilating the body of a person without his/her informed consent at an age he/she cannot understand. There is not much difference.Recommend

  • Basmah Fayaz Yousuf

    Circumcision has health benefits. It reduces the risks of a male developing urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS), penile cancer, and other discomfort or inflammation by making genital hygiene easier to maintain. It’s not done to inflict unnecessary pain or severe damage. Female genital mutilation has no health benefits.Recommend

  • RSM

    Discrimination against women still exists even in developed countries like, USA, UK and other countries. Women still do not have equal job opportunities in Public and private sectors. But in developed countries women are aware about their rights, but in developing countries women are still blank, do not know about their right.
    In developed countries the laws against gender discrimination are implemented strictly, nobody dares to violate law while unfortunately, in Pakistan nobody follows law and discriminates women openly.

  • Videlicet

    “Circumcision has health benefits” because people who practise it tried hard to look for justification. What gives the parents the right to mutilate their child’s body without its informed consent? Next you will say chopping off fingers prevents nail infection.

    Because these cults do not mandate female circumcision, people do not search for such justifications.Recommend

  • Basmah Fayaz Yousuf

    Oh please, they’re cutting off something which will only cause serious trouble and has no use otherwise anyway. Nail infection is not life threatening and fingers are useful so don’t don’t make exaggerated, misplaced comparisons to clarify your argument, please. “..child’s body without its informed consent” you talk as if the child is born a legal adult who is capable of making decisions. Do we also need consent for getting the children vaccinated? Because vaccinations hurt too and no toddler is looking forward to them, but they also protect the person from serious diseases. (including poliomyelitis, Hepatitis A/B, measles, influenza, chickenpox amongst many others)Recommend

  • Videlicet

    Do vaccinations irreversibly mutate a child’s body? Informed consent means let the child decide when it is old enough to. In other words, let a legal adult decide for himself/herself whether he/she want to alter his mutilate his body.

    As I said your misinformation is not the conclusion of any cost-benefit analysis of male genital mutilation. It is a retrospective attempt to find benefits for a inconsiderate social/cult practice.Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    Says the same lady (if you are that Ayesha Khan) caught in the fraud of selling cell phones on the same group?Recommend

  • Imran Sheikh

    Arguing for the sake of arguing is never a good approach. You obviously are unaware that following Western medical research on AIDS between 2008 and 2013 particularly in France, UK and Germany health workers are advocating circumcision for all males, and at a young age as it is more painful and can lead to complications if delayed till teens.

  • Imran Sheikh

    “Methinks the lady doth protest too much!”–W.ShakespeareRecommend

  • Videlicet

    I’ve read about some of what you say. But the part about pain is completely baseless. Just because an infant cannot express his/her pain with words we assume it suffers less. Plus where is the choice you give the person?

    These comments are for discussing– arguing if you prefer the word. If you do not like those, you can ignore them.Recommend

  • Imran Sheikh

    Are you serious in suggesting that an infant should not be inoculated for polio or diptheria or any of the serious childhood diseases till, if, it reaches adulthood it can make an informed choice? It is precisely because a child cannot make informed choices regarding what is in it’s interest that parenting is needed. Or should children not be taught social behaviour either in case it might want to become an outlaw when it grows up?
    Arguing for the sake of arguing is a waste of everyone’s time in a meaningful discussion.
    Goodbye, and may your God bless you.Recommend