Issues and Challenges

Countering Gender-Based Violence

What shines through the history of the world is the struggle of a woman for her growth and survival. Whenever and wherever a woman was left behind, she mustered the courage to take a step and manage her being to transform and transition into a stronger, more resilient version of herself. Her survival has been threatened by many things, one of them being violence. It is heartening that this violation of her basic human rights is recognized and being tried to amend on national and international levels. In this regard, the UN, through its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, (adopted without vote by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution 48/104 of December 20, 1993) tried to address the issue head-on.
Article 1 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women stating: “any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Violence   against   women   is   one   of   the   most   devastating human rights violations. Be it at domestic level, public or at workplace, such violence is deeply present and embedded in our daily lives. What is worse is that this is often sustained by cultures that ignore, pardon, justify or encourage violence in the name of tradition/culture. In societies where patriarchy is being practiced and admired, men start believing the women as their personal property. The cultural norm of masculinity is one of the key drivers of violence against women. Unfortunately, this unequal and often violent treatment of women has gone on for so long that many women and girls just accept it as part of their culture and lives. Many have not known any other way of being treated.
According to a survey by the UN, approximately 1 out of 3 women have been harassed at some point during their life. However, violence against women even today remains largely unreported due to the taboo, shame and impunity associated with it.
According to UN, only 52% of women, married or in a union, freely make their own decisions about sexual relations, contraceptive use and health care, worldwide, almost 750 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday, 200 million women and girls have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), 1 in 2 women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family in 2012, while only 1 out of 20 men were killed under similar circumstances, 71% of all human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls, and 3 out of 4 of these women and girls are sexually exploited. Violence against women is as serious a cause of death and incapacity among women of reproductive age as cancer, and a greater cause of ill health than traffic accidents and malaria combined.
Violence against women has continued to be an obstacle to achieving equality, development, and peace, as well as to the fulfilment of female human rights. All in all, the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to leave no one behind — cannot be fulfilled without putting an end to violence against women and girls. 
Unfortunately, Pakistan stands sixth on the list of the world's most dangerous countries when it comes to protecting and safeguarding the rights of women. 
According to statistics collected by White Ribbon Pakistan, an NGO working for women's rights, 4,734 women faced sexual violence between 2004 and 2016. Over 15,000 cases of honour crimes were registered. There were more than 1,800 cases of domestic violence and over 5,500 kidnappings of women during this period.
Moreover, as per media reports, more than 51,241 cases of violence against women were reported between January 2011 and June 2017. Conviction rates, meanwhile, remain low, with the accused in just 2.5% of all reported cases ending up being convicted by the courts.
All these figures are those that have been reported with regard to violence against women, but there are countless other cases that could not be reported and that too due to fear.
In the male dominated society, especially in rural areas, it is almost impossible that a woman can approach any police station to report about an issue of any kind of violence against her. First of all, most women are not aware of the laws that prevent any kind of violence against them and then there are limitations and taboos that could endanger their lives even if they do have knowledge of the laws in this regard. So, in so many cases women avoid to face major trouble and prefer to silently accept their fate.  
This segment of our society needs more attention and awareness campaigns, particularly in the rural belt, with the objectives: (i) to educate communities that any kind of violence against women is a crime, and (ii) to empower the women to report any violence against them.
At present, women in urban and rural areas are only somewhat knowledgeable about their rights, and the safeguard of these rights still needs to be assured. It is the government’s responsibility to safeguard these rights of women, i.e., the right to live a violence free life, with dignity and equality in a just and equitable society.
In light of the constitutional and international obligations, successive federal and provincial governments have shown their commitment to women and girls’ rights by enacting pro-women legislation. However, this grave issue needs further action, beyond legislation.
The government must enact new domestic law and policies while bringing along existing law in line with it. In order to eliminate violence against women and girls, a zero tolerance policy must be adopted across all systems, sectors, structures and settings — formal and informal — without any loopholes or caveats. Judicial proceedings, inside the courtroom must be ensured along with the opportunity to provide other procedures outside and around the courtroom. The recent announcement of the Chief Justice of Pakistan associating 1,000 courts facilitating women dealing the cases of violence against women, is extremely heartening.
Women today, if given opportunity to stand along with men, can not only open new avenues of progress and development but also can promise a bright future for the country. HH

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