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Violence against women

"Violence against women is so ubiquitous, almost routine, that it has become a normal state for women in Pakistan," asserts a recently published report by the Social Policy and Development Centre (SPDC). The report entitled "Socio-Economic Cost of Violence against Women" cites that 80 percent of Pakistani women experience domestic violence, while one in every three experiences some form of violence such as rape, honor killing, immolation, acid attacks and verbal or psychological abuse.

The study has explored links between violence against women and socio-cultural backwardness and economic vulnerability. It provides a comprehensive summary of laws enacted in the country, affecting the social status of women and protection for them against such crimes.

Some landmark bills that could have helped alleviate the plight of women never saw the light of day. For instance, the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Bill was passed unanimously by the National Assembly on August 4, 2009; but lapsed after the Senate failed to pass it within the stipulated time period.

Other laws have undone progress achieved through earlier legislation. The Womens Protection Act of 2006 had provided the right to bail for women arrested in non-bail able offences, so that they would not languish in jail during trial. But, an amendment introduced in 2011 to the Criminal Procedure Code has left the issuance of bail in such cases the discretion of the court.

Still other laws, intended for the protection of women against forced marriages and domestic violence, are inadequate. For instance, the Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act of 2011 only recommends punishment for those who give a female in forced marriage; not for the bridegroom or his family.

Similarly the Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act of 2010 do not provide any mechanism for developing a mechanism to control acid trade, or for the rehabilitation or legal support of victims of acid attacks.

Women are also marginalised in terms of provision of education. Only 22 percent of girls complete primary schooling in the country, compared to 47 percent of boys. Female literacy is dismally low in rural areas; for instance, in rural Balochistan only 9 percent of females receive any education at all.

The SPDC survey exhibits some rather disturbing findings. According to respondents, in incidents of violence against women, the perpetrator is the husband 55 percent of the time, while in-laws are responsible 22 percent of the time.

It also asserts that in about 70 percent of all cases registered for violence against women, the cost is picked up by NGOs, while relatives foot the bill in less than 10 percent of the cases. This highlights a norm where women are discouraged from seeking justice by their own families.

The survey concludes that despite the display of governments concern for protection of women, the resources allocated to this end as well as the legislation drafted do not mirror this intent. Moreover, after the 18th Constitutional Amendment it is as yet unclear how the implementation of various laws and supportive frameworks will be adopted by the provincial governments.

The inequitable treatment of women in the country is a cause of strain for society as a whole. Until the social stature of women rises to be comparable to males, society will continue to bear direct and indirect costs due to violence and maltreatment of women.