It is not okay to compromise on abuse, even if you’re married!

Published: February 19, 2016

53 per cent of teenage girls in Pakistan believe that their partner hitting them is justified and girls aged 15-19 believed refusing sex was an acceptable reason for wives to be beaten by their husbands. PHOTO: WHO

“Admi hay, esay tou keray ga.”

(He’s a man, so he’s bound to behave like this).

I must have been five when I overheard my mother say this to a female relative. I had probably heard it before but was too young to remember. Last week, a shocking report by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) revealed that 53 per cent of teenage girls in Pakistan believe that their partner hitting them is justified and  girls aged 15-19 believed refusing sex was an acceptable reason for wives to be beaten by their husbands.

This is not surprising but it is painfully tragic.

In our country we refer to a woman with reference to the men in her life ‘falan ki beti, behn, ma, biwi’, (That is his daughter/sister/mother/wife) to protect her from any independent decision-making in the name of honour and restrict her ability to be a productive citizen by controlling whether she studies, has a job or has a bank account. Our societal structure is rigged in favour of men.

Over the last three years, I’ve worked with a passionate group of volunteers on Chayn Pakistan – an information portal for women experiencing abuse. Pakistan has one of the highest domestic violence or cruelty rates in the world – 90 per cent. The questions asked by women and the content most visited by women (often young girls) are telling.

Below are examples of some of the things I’ve heard:

“If he hits me”

“Are all men bad?”

“Will he change?

“I am tired of living”

“He will tell my parents. They will kill me. What should I do?”

“How can I get divorced?”

“What is domestic abuse?”

“At what point does his anger become abusive?”

“He says he will kill himself if I leave him but I’m afraid he will kill me first. What should I do?”

“My family won’t support me. I should just give up. Will things change?”

Often when I mention the statistic of 90 per cent women experience abuse conversationally, women and especially men, turn around and tell me that it’s not true and research done by professionals is wrong because they know for a fact women in their family don’t experience it.

Ironically, several times when I have received this response, I was aware members of their own family had experienced abuse but they just didn’t see it like that. Abuse goes beyond choking, beating and burning. Abuse cuts to the core. From emotional abuse to manipulation, from dictating who a girl calls a friend, where she goes, what she wears, to how she talks and what decision she makes for herself – these are all instances of cruelty, all the more traumatic from the people who are supposed to love you.

Young relationships are complex as it is because of peer pressure. The many relationships around me in school were often abusive, but I didn’t always see it that way. Things that are clearly signs of abuse in my eyes now were once seen by me as a ‘rough patch’.

I remember a friend of mine confiding in me that her boyfriend never struck her but every time they got into an argument, even over little things such as where to go for dinner, he would verbally abuse her and her family. Another said her boyfriend forced her to miss school so ‘guys can’t look at you’ and constantly downplayed her intelligence in front of friends, so much so that she began to believe she wasn’t smart. Another said her husband (she was 16) hit her when she refused sex and when she mentioned it to her mother, she said that was expected as that was her duty.

Abuse in teenage relationships continues to be an issue around the world and Pakistan is no exception. This issue is exacerbated in Pakistan due to the lack of support structures within families and by the state. And since relationships out of marriage are taboo in our culture, young girls will often not tell their parents about being in a relationship which puts them in a vulnerable place.

Nearly half of Pakistani women are married before they are 18-years-of-age and 9 per cent begin childbearing between 15-19 years. This is in a country where 64.6% of women are illiterate and 74 per cent are not part of the formal economy. Let that sink in for a minute.

There are many reasons why someone who is facing abuse chooses to stay silent or internalise it.

For one, women in our culture are brought up to ‘compromise’. As soon as a girl turns nine, we keep her restricted within the house, always chaperoned, guarded and unable to play with her brother and their friends. Suddenly she is different to her brother – more ‘valuable’ like a fragile glass vase, less free. We teach young girls they are less important and the only ambitions they can have must conform to the best version of themselves, in accordance with the society. In other words, she has to be a dutiful wife, stay at home mother, pious and devoted daughter. There is no room for self-definition.

Secondly, the view of marriage in Pakistan is clear and ingrained in all of our conversations around it. It’s a compromise. It’s up to the woman to make the marriage work. She must raise the children, look after in-laws, be a good daughter and be ready to take the brunt of her husband’s anger and frustration, like a punching bag – in the bed or in public. Despite a rich heritage of romantic literature, it’s perplexing how the view of marriage has gone from companionship to necessity. Ishq (love) has become compliance.

Thirdly, high levels of prevalence of abuse means generations of young children are growing up in abusive homes. Witnessing abuse as a child is highly traumatic. Children’s instinct is to protect their parent, but when one turns on the other and especially if the victim is the mother, someone who typically spends the most time with the child, the effect of this is harrowing.

You love your dad, but dad is also cruel to mother? Who does the child side with?

A life time of hearing, “it’s okay – your father loves us. He is just angry. Men are like that. Must have been my fault” from your mother is going to inculcate a sense of normality to abuse. Marriage should be a contract of love and partnership, not hurt and abuse. Wives must be more than nurses for your old parents, nannies for your children and cooks for the household. Similarly, if your sister has been facing abuse and your parents have done nothing about it, why would you expect it to be any different for yourself?

We need a revolution in our homes, schools, workplaces and masjids – a revolution of consent and dignity. Children are taught how to behave with their parents in school, to respect them and listen to them. The same education should be applied for relationships. Boys must be taught how to respect the independence of women and not derive honour from what the women in their family, say, wear and do. Girls should know that they deserve a life of happiness – not of abuse. Their husband is not their parent or guardian – and any attempt to ‘discipline’ is a violation of their dignity and free will.

They might choose to have a full family life and meet traditional expectations, but she must also be ready for when that doesn’t happen, and when she doesn’t want it to happen. With renewed political will to tackle child abuse and honour crime, as citizens, we must pressurise our government to introduce consent training for young boys and girls to tackle child and domestic abuse, and also provide financial and housing support for victims of abuse.

Every month I hear from young girls who have been forced into an abusive marriage and cannot leave because they have no money and nowhere to go. They are willing to work and live on their own terms, but are afraid of being exploited. Hence with the lack of comfortable shelters, police protection and no access to finance, they choose to remain in an abusive marriage.

How sad is it that we raise girls to believe that the happiest they can get is to not be killed, have children and a husband that provides?

Educating women shouldn’t start and end with academics – the life skills we impart must go beyond knowing how to cook and entertain guests. Marriage must be about companionship – not abuse.

Do you think women in Pakistan compromise on abuse to save their marriage?

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Hera Hussain

Hera Hussain

The author is the Founder of Chayn (chayn,co), a global tech project to empower women against violence. Chayn's first project was addressing domestic violence in Pakistan: She tweets as @herahussain (

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

  • KM

    Wonderfully written about an issue that needs to be spoken about again and again until is drilled down to everyone’s minds. Thank you.Recommend

  • RealMan

    “She must raise the children, look after in-laws, be a good daughter and be ready to take the brunt of her husband’s anger and frustration, like a punching bag – in the bed or in public.”

    And in cases where the husband actively participates in parenting, handling in-laws (and out-laws), is a good son in law and does not release his frustrations on his wife in public or private….. in such rare cases, he loses the respect of his peers and family, including his liberal-progressive wife. He is ostracized from society in general while the marriage diminishes to a functional partnership rather than a loving relationship. Perhaps womens brains are wired to crave what they do not have, and once they have the love, care, attention and respect of their husbands, these traits are no longer valued. One can only speculate as to what women really want.

    I speak from my own experience of many years of matrimony. While I empathize with women who suffer abuse, I fear that the obvious solution (simply raising boys who treat women on egalitarian basis) may not be the comprehensive one. It takes two to tango, the women also share responsibility. And its not just the women who have been taught since childhood to tolerate abuse, even many of the progressive minded women tend to be attracted to the bad-boys. Perhaps millions of years of evolution has taught them that these kinds of guys have the best chance of survival, and it will be hard to remove such conditioning from the genetic makeup.Recommend

  • Parvez

    That was a great read and an important topic. I have my own thoughts on this but they really do not matter…… what possibly would matter are stringent laws on this subject but more than laws is their enforcement and implementation.Recommend

  • Subhan Ahmad

    One sided post. The writer never mentioned what are the duties of a women to a man. I believe that a sustainable solution could only be reached when a holistic view of this issue is taken and not just one gender. Women are also capable of abuse.Recommend

  • Syeda Nimra Naz

    Well, you see how this is propagating? When women themselves think that the abuse is justified for not complying with her husband, father, brother’s commands, and they instill the same mind-set in their sons and daughters, that’s when this flows. Generation after generation, they teach the youth things that have been there for years just because it’s an old mind-set, instead of evolving the thinking and making things adjustable to the current/modern era. When you cant even speak up for yourself, how would you be able to raise a generation? The societal pressure is too much and a few people with a reasonable outlook are hushed and not supported, thereby propagating the sick mentality of the society.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    More than 50% of pakistan’s population is barely literate. Women’s illiteracy rate is even higher, which means that they are a financial and social burden on their parents and brothers.

    Pack the above fact with hardcore islamic mullahfication, which prohibits girl’s education.

    Women’s rights in pakistan are going to get better with reduced religiosity, which in turn is going to encourage parents to send girls to school, which in turn would make them capable of getting jobs, which in turn would empower them.

    Believe it or not, all of this is connected to NAP.Recommend

  • E x p a t r i a t e

    Article is very good but only depicting one side of the picture. RealMan’s comment gives the complete idea about the whole picture. If a man becomes a good husband, he is not in the good books of his own family (mother, sister) and if somebody says, he can balance the relationships, then it is not possible, never in 1000 years. Humans have this very nature that they can’t remain happy with whatever they have, and they will keep complaining.Recommend

  • Arsha

    Women get attracted to strength but they do not get attracted to men who abuse that strength. As far as man losing respect of his peers and families…. So you are saying he earns their respect only when he hits his wife?????Recommend

  • TAM

    You have got to be kidding! How many cases of women abusing men do we see in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Bvh Qmc Bahawalpur

    How many teenage girls have boyfriend in Pakistan? this story is just fabricatedRecommend

  • Sunny

    Strange!! This blog don’t want counter argument???Recommend

  • Sunny

    I think you are the one who is kidding here! When women abuse men in Pakistan, He become a joke in society!
    “Joru ka Ghulaam” never heard?
    “mere husband ka Hakeem mar gya” nope??
    “Meri Biwi k jutay ka size meri Qamar se check ker lain” what about this?
    “Jahez mein ayi hoi DOI multipurpose hoti hai” OK, I got it. These are not jokes about violence against men!!!

    In Pakistan, violence against men is literally a JOKE to everyone. I never heard someone talking about “men being victims” when wife manipulate him, verbally abuse him, Defame him in Family, make laugh on him in gatherings, Physically abuse him.
    I’m 30 and believe me I’ve watched only one episode of a talk show during my whole life where ‘Pakistani men’s problems in domestic life’ was the ‘Serious topic’ to discuss.Recommend

  • RealMan

    Not necessarily hitting and/or beating, but by dominating and controlling her, thereby establishing his strength as the head of the household. A man who submits to running the household through mutual consent admits to his own weakness relative to strength of the union. How then would he inspire love, respect and esteem in a society that admires strength.

    In my observations, the more respected men in our society have the broadest repertoire of ‘wife-jokes’ and ‘second marriage’ taunts. These are the same guys who were trading girls phone numbers in college (and worse), and are susceptible to harass them in their current positions. Yet, they enjoy the company of spouses that run after their every whim and fancy. Its a self perpetuating cycle.Recommend

  • a pakistani

    The only way to do this is to change the mindset. Mother’s have great power to inculcate values of empathy and respect in their sons. Right from start, both sons and daughters should be taught responsibilities. Teach them to clean up the mess they have made. If old enough, teach them to drink water on their own. If there is domestic help at home, kids emulate your behavior with them. If you are constantly yelling at servants, they will learn to yell at them as well.
    Mothers have immense influence to turn the tables, change paradigms at home. If you have suffered by the hands of your husbands, don’t let your son learn the same. Recommend

  • Samee

    Abuse is something that most girl are raised being used to be it in the form of her mother beaten or she herself so the fact that she can accept it is not a matter of surprise .In a society where a father/ brother/ a family member can kill a daughter/ sister/ a family member & even that can be justified abuse being treated as something trivial is certainly not strange!Recommend

  • Dido

    O come on… I hv recently been. A victim. I hv such bad experience of marriage. Wtf and u gv prophetic teachings of womans duties. I will raise my boy in a way thay he atleast respect a.lady and nevr tries to torture her mentaly or physically. I think females are responsible fr their misery. But wen man slaps u its time to slap him back regardless of consequences. I couldnt do so and i repent. Men, husbands treat u like doormats. O come on there is limit of humilition men need highly qualufied slave fr their family and a child bearing machine.Then this idea of combine family, creats hell. There is no sharai or lagal explanation of the hell called susral. But in many cases situation is other way round. Way to go brillient article atleast mirroring the true filthy side. I think u guys ddnt knw rules nd respinsibilities of men in KSA!Recommend