The shock people receive through media reports of incidents of extreme violence against women does not lead to public action as they are generally unable to comprehend the horrific forms of violence they read about or see on television. They consider them a bestial aberration from the norm. What is missing from their consciousness is the inter-connection between ‘everyday’ violence and the extreme forms of it. So the extreme is not seen as a continuation of something that is structurally inherent in our society.
Everyday forms of violence that occur within our homes include gender discrimination in intra-household food distribution, lack of access to education and health, early and forced marriages, denial of inheritance right, restriction on women’s mobility, verbal abuse, physical and sexual violence against women by male family members etc. Mistreatment and violence also take place in the name of culture, such as local customs of watta-satta, vani, walwar are karo-kar.i have also become rampant and acceptable.
In this context that one feels that, though the number of activities organised by local and international NGOs to mark the International Campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence in the country is overwhelming, the focus of urban activities in the campaign is missing out on providing a structural analysis of the root causes of violence against women. Violence of this kind always takes place within the context of power. Therefore, it is important to understand women’s unequal social positioning. The link between structural forms of violence and direct forms of violence against women must be fully understood.
It is perhaps no coincident that there is hardly any organisation in Pakistan that exclusively works on gender-based violence. The response of many women’s groups and the NGOs sector to gender-based violence has been at best ad hoc and reactive. Public protests and meetings do take place regarding incidents of violence and against women, but there is hardly a systematic follow-up on these cases.
Also, there is hardly any substantive provision of support that NGOs make available to the survivors of violence: excluding Edhi homes, only five or six shelters are run in the country.
The “Mela” would not have been possible without the support of donor agencies. Why are NGOs in Pakistan unable to secure programmatic funding to systematically work on the issue of violence against women? Is it because it may be too risky for local NGOs to work on the issue, or because there is no donor funding available to support a structural response to violence against women?
It is the social responsibility of women’s groups and women’s rights activists to create in-depth structural understanding of gender-based violence. The interconnection of violence against women with the larger misogynistic contexts of globalisation, militarisation and nationalism needs to be made. The global phenomenon of violence against women cannot be affectively addressed through the signing of international conventions and covenants alone.
The government must move to remove structural barriers in accessing resources and opportunities. Protective measures can be taken at two levels. Firstly, protective legislation should be introduced, such as laws against domestic violence, specifically such crimes as acid throwing, and cultural practices that discriminate against women.
It is appalling that while our assemblies have been quite resistant to promulgation of protective laws and some of our parliamentarians defend violence against women in the name of tradition, culture and ethnic identity. The fact that perpetrators of violence enjoy impunity is itself a source of its escalation. Only a preventative-protective-supportive framework can affectively contribute to checking violence against women in our society.
(The writer is director of the Centre of Excellence in Gender Studies at Quaid-e-Azam University)
NOTE:This is a cross post.