It is a known fact that the status of women in Pakistan is not homogenous because of the interconnection of gender with other forms of exclusion in the society. There is diversity in the status of women across classes, regions, and the rural/urban divide due to the uneven socioeconomic development and the impact of tribal, feudal, and capitalist social formations on women’s lives. However, on Women’s day a report by Geo TV, highlights the mental state of Pakistani women which is shameful, to say the least.
The statistics presented by renowned Pakistani psychiatrist Ayesha Mian, Head of Department of Psychiatry at Aga Khan University Women reveal that, more married than single women in Pakistan suffer from depression, anxiety. The psychiatrist who trained abroad for 16 years before moving back to Pakistan five years ago recalled that her mentor in the United States warned her that she’ll have to work three times harder in Pakistan, since Pakistani society is still struggling to accept women, the challenges posed to Pakistani women are different.
Now, Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey states that thirty-five percent of women age 25-49 were married by age 18 and more than half (54%) were married by age 20. This clearly means that more than half the women population in Pakistan is suffering from depression. No wonder why Pakistan is recurringly tagged as one of the most dangerous countries for women in the world by various data analyzing agencies.
Some forms of violence against women, especially domestic and customary violence, are so entrenched in the culture that they are hardly recognized as violence and largely condoned by the society. It is difficult to assess the extent of violence against women due to lack of data. Also, incidences of violence are grossly underreported. However, a few microlevel studies give some indication on the form and extent of violence inflicted on women.
Domestic violence is fairly widespread across all classes in Pakistan. It ranges from slapping, hitting, and kicking, to murder. Since the society, police and law enforcing agencies view domestic violence as a private matter, it goes unnoticed until it takes extreme forms of murder or attempted murder. A study conducted by the Women’s Division suggests that domestic violence takes place in approximately 80 percent of the households in the country. Incidences of stove burning, honor killing, acid attacks are being increasingly reported in the press. Data collected from two hospitals in Rawalpindi and Islamabad over a period of three years since 1994 reveal 739 cases of burn victims. Women in the poorest households (25%) experience more physical violence than wealthier women (11%). And the most common perpetrator of physical violence is the current husband (79%). Also among women who had ever been pregnant, 19% experienced physical violence during pregnancy.
Data suggests that almost 40% of ever-married women have suffered from spousal abuse. Physical or emotional violence by a husband is most common in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where 57% of ever-married women report having experienced physical or emotional violence by their husband. Spousal violence is most common among those with no education and women employed for cash (both 44%) and least common among women with higher education (20%) and from the wealthiest households (24%). More than half of women who have ever experienced physical violence have never sought help or told anyone about the violence. Only 35% of women who have ever experienced physical violence have sought help to stop violence.
Wide gap between commitment and implementation
Pakistani women are trapped in a web of dependency and subordination due to their low social, economic, and political status in society. In order to change women’s position and societal view of their inferiority, structural changes need to be brought about in the social and economic order that shape our social world. Women are totally absent from the state structures and decision-making bodies that could introduce such structural changes. Presently, in order to maintain the status quo, institutionalized violence against women at the family, community, and state levels is used as a mechanism to ensure their compliance with gender norms. This serves to prevent any attempt leading to the subversion of the male order.
Ironically, Pakistan has made several commitments at national and international forums to ensure gender equality at home. However, there is a wide gap between commitment and implementation and it seems that there is a long wait for Pakistani women to truly celebrate Women’s Day.
08 March 18/Thursday.