Issues and Challenges

Elimination of Violence Against Women — Legal Framework

The United Nations General Assembly has appointed November 25th as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women according to the UNGA Resolution 54/134. The basic aim of this resolution is to raise awareness of the fact that women around the globe are subjected to rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment, discrimination in education and healthcare, and other forms of violence. The aim of this resolution was to highlight the issue of violence against women and how awareness can help in eradicating this terrible practice existing for centuries all across the globe.

The United Nations and the Inter-parliamentary Union have encouraged governments, international organizations and NGOs to organize activities to support the day as an international observance.
According to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, “the term "violence against women" means 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, also known as gender-based violence, is violent acts inflicted on women. Violence against women has a very long history, though the incidents and intensity of such violence have varied over time and space, and between societies. These acts of violence are seen as a mechanism of subjugation of women, whether in society, in general, or in interpersonal relationships. Such violence may arise from a sense of entitlement, superiority, misogyny or similar attitudes.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states, "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women," and, "violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.”
The status of women in Pakistan is one of the systemic gender subordination even though it varies considerably across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to the vast unevenness in the socio-economic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women’s lives. In modern Pakistan, where women have held high offices, ranging from PM Benazir Bhutto to Major General Shahida Malik, the issue of violence against women has taken on different nuances and so have the measures to deal with it.
Recently, the provincial and federal governments have made initiatives to encourage women to work and use public spaces. The All Pakistan Ulema Council recently issued a fatwa denouncing honor killings. Furthermore, the province of KP is planning to increase the percentage of women in the police force. Although several steps have been taken to empower women, domestic abuse, rape, forced marriages, etc., remain rampant.
Pakistan’s constitution emphasizes on equality of people irrespective of their gender.  Article 25A encapsulates the equality of citizens. Section 25 (2) states, “there shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.” However, the legislations over the years, especially the Hudood Ordinance, negatively impacted the lives of women residing in Pakistan and made them more vulnerable to extreme violence. The majority of women in prison have been charged under the Hudood Ordinance. Similarly, a national study found that 21% of those residing in shelters for women (Darul Aman) had Hudood cases filed against them.
Pakistan is a signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW was adopted in 1979 by the United Nations General Assembly and is described as the bill of rights for women.
Being a dualist nation and a signatory of the aforementioned international law treaty, Pakistan has passed several laws in accordance with CEDAW for the protection of women.
The important national laws for the protection of women are The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011, Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Act, 2011, Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offense of Rape) Act, 2016, Criminal Law (Amendment) (Offences in the name or pretext of Honour) Act, 2016, Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, and Hindu Marriage Act, 2017.

“Pakistan is the only country in the world which has decreased any form of violence against women in the past 20 years,”
– Valerie Khan, Chairperson Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan

After the 18th Amendment, the power of the federation was devolved to the provinces, hence shifting the onus on to the provinces to pass legislation in compliance with international treaties. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2013, was introduced to provide relief to victims of domestic abuse. Among other responsibilities, the committees must inform the aggrieved person of his or her rights provided under this law, assist them in obtaining any medical treatment necessitated due to the violence, help them relocate to a safer place, and assist the aggrieved person in the preparation and filing of any petition or report under this act. The law was passed in 2013, but the government has neither appointed ‘protection officers’ nor set up ‘protection committees’ to protect women, children, and vulnerable persons from violence.
Likewise, Punjab passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act, 2016. This Act takes a broader view of domestic violence by including sexual, psychological, economic abuse as domestic violence. According to the provisions of this act, the victims can be placed in shelters and the court can compel the defendant to pay for the cost of the women’s shelters, which includes rent and meals. Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa also have detailed legislations to protect women against violence. 
While there are extensive laws for the protection of women, very few women venture out for a legal remedy. Social values and the society in general play a huge role as to how women perceive the problem of violence and how they react to it. Limited number of Women Police Stations further discourages the women in need to report the incident of any violence. The judicial processes being extremely slow, along with the rate of conviction being extremely small, further act as a roadblock for the victims. 
Addressing this issue is complex because of the multidimensional nature of violence inflicted on women. In view of the existence of legislation, it is imperative to take into account a few policy questions in order to implement the laws. Although the government has made positive efforts to protect women from abuse and violence, thousands of women still continue to suffer because of several reasons mentioned above. In order to effectively implement legislation, it is imperative for the government to start an awareness campaign so that victims can resort to the solutions provided under the law and feel safe. Moreover, the issue of violence against women, children and other vulnerable persons should be part of the curriculum from primary up to secondary level education. Respect for gender diversity can only be appreciated if taught to the younger generation since day one. HH

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