On November 25 every year, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women is observed.The special day is designed to focus attention on one of the most widespread and devastating human rights violations globally. Seminars are organised and walks held to sensitise public opinion and draw attention to the urgent need to end violence against women and girls.
Basically, gender-based violence is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. Violence against women takes many forms, including intimate partner violence, harassment, online abuse and so-called honour-related violence ultimately leading to femicide, which are crimes often committed within families and cut across all socio-economic divides.
To mark International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka issued a statement calling for a global effort to end physical and psychological violence. If she could have one wish, she said, it would be for the world to see “a total end to rape.” The scourge affects women and girls in all countries across social and economic strata, though more so in conservative societies like Pakistan due to deeply ingrained gender bias that lends acceptability to violence against women.
As we know, almost universally, most perpetrators of rape go unreported and unpunished. More often than not, the victims of assault and their families prefer to hush up such outrages for fear of stigmatization; and also to avoid embarrassing questions during police investigations as well as court proceedings.
Violence against women is endemic in Pakistan. A particularly heinous form of gender-based violence is that of so-called “honour killings”. An estimated 1,000 plus women are murdered in the name of “honour” in Pakistan each year.This inhumane practice continues to take place despite the enactment of stringent legislation, including the existing honour killing law of 2016, which mandates life imprisonment for convicted murderers and restricts the power of pardon by the family of perpetrators of such crimes.
In recent years, a host of laws have been enacted in Pakistan to prevent different forms of violence against women. But laws alone are not enough to set things right. Experts say that having more women in police force and training them adequately could be an important step in ensuring that survivors begin to trust that their complaint is taken seriously at every stage of what can be a complex process.
However, the overriding need is to address the underlying factors of violence, which are related to societal norms pertaining to gender roles. Towards that end, school curriculums need to sensitize students about equal rights between the sexes. Greater representation of women in positions of power can also help change social attitudes towards women. Only when people learn to respect women as equal beings will violence against them become more and more unacceptable.
The European Union is working with the authorities in Pakistan to strengthen legal frameworks and institutions, supporting development and education, improving services for survivors, addressing the root causes of violence and promotion women empowerment. The EU is actively supporting the effort of the government of Pakistan in addressing the problem through women’s empowerment programs, the promotion of girl’s education, as well as through human rights programs.
On the 25th of November, the Federal Ministry of Law and Justice, in collaboration with the European Union Delegation to Pakistan, organised a multi-stakeholder discussion and dialogue against gender-based violence and screened two short films highlighting the existing legislative framework against “honour killings.”
In an effort to engage with the public about the practice of “honour killing”, the first film, a Public Service Message (PSM), focused on highlighting the issue: A story of a neighborhood in a town, where the father of a young adolescent girl believes that his daughter has brought dishonour to their family. He is stopped by the people of his neighborhood, telling him the consequences of his actions and how he would be the one bringing shame and dishonour to their community. The second film, titled Aagahi, highlighted the existing laws against “honour killing,” according to the Constitution of Pakistan: The animated short film is a step-by-step guide about the laws and the resources available for survivors and their families.
International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women is a clarion call to put an end to the heinous crime. One way of doing this is to increase the awareness and implementation of Pakistan’s laws against honour killings. If more women and men knew about the existing legal framework, more could claim safety and support mechanisms that the law guarantees them.
Needless to say, ending violence against women requires a firm and sustained commitment not only at the institutional level; it also requires a broad involvement of all government institutions, civil society at large. The real challenge is to change attitudes, and this calls for sustained efforts by all concerned.