By Nadia Agha
March 5, 2020
A life free of violence is a dream of every woman, which can only come true when women have access to equal rights and opportunities. This year, the International Women’s Day is being celebrated with the pledge to create a gender-equal world. Pakistani women, particularly from the rural areas, do not have a strong social position as compared to their male counterparts, as can be seen in the country’s low social indicators. Unless women are brought into the socio-economic mainstream and their basic rights are ensured, their lives will remain the same.
Education and employment enhance a woman’s autonomy and bargaining power. According to the Pakistan Economic Survey (2017-18), the total female literacy rate is 48% as compared to the male literacy rate which is 70%. This further declines to 36% in rural areas. Women in rural Balochistan have the lowest literacy rate i.e. of 15% followed by Sindh (19%). Women also lag behind in labour force participation as only 22% are employed.
The rigid patriarchal system prevalent in Pakistani society encourages gender inequality and the use of violence to control women. Apart from restrictions to their access to public life, many women are barred from entering education and employment. Thus, women continue to experience severe forms of violence in their daily lives, which further disempowers and worsens their situation.
Regardless of class or ethnicity, violence against women is pervasive, both in the private and social life. Incidents of intimate partner violence, sexual coercion, and domestic violence have become a public health concern. In the public sphere, an increased risk of rape, abduction, honour killing and sexual harassment has become a growing challenge.
Protection from the aggressors is the foremost step which can only be possible with improved laws and legislation. Currently, there is a lack of channels which enable women to access justice. Most of the time, aggressors are from within the family and if women resist them, they lose family support and shelter. While outside the home, they are under threat of rape, kidnapping and harassment. Thus, women prefer to endure domestic violence.
Awareness on women’s rights has now grown considerably. Nevertheless, more serious efforts, along with research funding are required to understand and address the socio-cultural factors which facilitate gender inequality.
A gender equal world can only be possible if women know their rights. A deliberate act to keep them away from education and employment is made because these factors considerably impact women’s autonomy. Similarly, child marriage is a violation of women’s rights. Under the Sindh Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014, no woman can be married before the age of 18, yet several women in Sindh are married before their 18th birthday.
Poverty is closely associated with practices that exploit women. Most of Pakistan’s rural population is marked by poverty and lack of social protection by the state. Despite programmes for poverty alleviation e.g. the now Ehsaas Amdan Programme, people cannot access them due to bad governance. Resultantly, people adopt local practices for social protection e.g. marrying a woman in compensation. The practice of exchange marriage, which takes a toll on women’s well-being, is also done to save poor parents from the financial burden of dowry and bride price.
Introducing policies targeting rural communities and programmes for poverty reduction may be helpful. Enabling women’s access to justice will help them resist the perpetrators. Creating specialised women police stations and extending their reach to the local level will also reduce the incidents of violence.
A mobile-based approach can be adopted where text messages about women’s rights especially on the legal age of marriage, importance of the Nikahnama, and access to complaint portals can be pushed out to create awareness. If women know that the state will protect them, there will be lesser stories of violence.
Original: Headline: Women and violence
Source: The Express Tribune