By: Iqra Shakeel 

How to eradicate the menace?

Islam plays a key role in bolstering the women’s position and raising their status in a society. In pre-Islam era, women neither had any legal rights nor were they accorded a legal status. With the advent of Islam, the holy Quran decreed an improved status for women in the society. The holy text underlines that: “O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul ….”

“Violence against women” is considered a violation of their fundamental human rights as it is a form of discrimination against them, and consequently all acts of gender-based violence including physical, sexual, psychological ones or financial deprivation further aggravate problems for the womenfolk. The issue of violence against women remains under-mentioned in literature. This is, in part, because acts of violence (especially sexual assault and domestic violence) are hardly reported due to prevalent social standards, honour taboos and sensitive nature of the issue.

Although it is difficult to track the history of violence against women, it is clear that violence is mostly accepted, and even legally approved, in various societies. They have been tortured by “people” as well as “states”. Examples include Roman law that gave men the right to punish their wives, even with death. Violence against the fair sex ensues form the gender roles adopted by societies.

Violence perpetrated against women at individual or family level can be divided into an array of categories: domestic violence, sexual harassment, female infanticide, forced marriage, child marriage, customs like Wani and Swara, and the list goes on. Some forms of violence have been perpetrated by the state. Sexual slavery during the conflicts; violence by police and authoritative agencies, discriminatory laws, non-provision of equal opportunities and such other policies amount to the abuse of women’s rights.

Rape is the most heinous form of violence against women. Victims of rape can be severely harmed and may even be influenced by posttraumatic stress disorder. Besides long-lasting psychological inflictions, this criminal act of violence also causes physical injury and puts the victims’ life in danger as sexually-transmitted infections may result in her contracting killer diseases like HIV AIDS, etc. Women are subjected to violence even by their life partners, the phenomenon often referred to as Intimate Partner Violence (IPV).

Moreover, women are mercilessly killed in the name of preserving the honour of the family they had – supposedly – damaged by involving in illegitimate acts or by getting married with a person of their own choice. In Pakistan, we often come across news reports about the killing of women and girls by members of their family (usually husbands, fathers or brothers). Such cases are also common in countries like Afghanistan, Egypt, India, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and others.

Another form of inhumanity against women is seen in the form of burning the bride alive only because she could not bring with her a hefty dowry package. Acid throwing, also called acid attack, is another form of extreme violence. Such attacks are common in South Asian countries especially Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

Sexual harassment is another commonly found form as women are harassed by their male colleagues. This happens mostly at workplaces – more generally at places where both females and males can easily intermingle – by threatening, bullying or offering money for fulfilling baser sexual desires.

Trafficking of women is also rampant, yet an under-reported, practice. Women are duped into illegitimate acts by promising a lot of money and a brilliant future, to them. But these unfortunate women often end up in the hands of those who force them to prostitution and other illegal acts.

In some parts of the world, widows are deprived of the finances left by their deceased husbands. In countries like India, the practice of burning the widow alive with her dead husband – called Sati – is also a common observance.

Cyber bullying is another form of women harassment and this electronic medium has further piled up miseries on the females to such an extent that they have to hide their true identity on social media pages. In the 21st century, cyber bullying has become increasingly common, particularly among the youth in the western countries.

Although a number of states have taken strict actions to protect women and girls from all acts of violence, they still face discrimination at all levels.

Although a lot of improvement has been witnessed in terms of curbing violence against women at national and international levels, especially since the dawn of the 21st century, and there is a great awareness on, and advocacy for, women’s rights, yet complete elimination of violence still faces many challenges, the most prominent being the flawed societal outlooks and lethargic judicial systems.

Communities can stop violence against women and achieve gender equality through different ways. For this, they have to:

  • Create laws and enforce existing laws that protect women against discrimination and violence, including rape, beatings, verbal abuse, mutilation, torture, “honour” killings and trafficking.
  • Educate community members on their responsibilities under international and national human rights laws.
  • Promote the peaceful resolution of disputes by including the perspectives of women and girls.
  • Strengthen women’s ability to earn money and support their households by providing skills training for women.
  • Sensitize the public to the disadvantages of early and forced child marriages.
  • Highlight the value of girls’ education and of women’s participation in economic development.
  • Encourage women to participate in the political process and educate the public on the value of women’s votes.
  • Raise public awareness of the poor conditions some women face, particularly in rural areas.

The debate can be concluded in the following words of the founding father of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah:

“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

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