A Shadow Pandemic of Violence Against Women Amid COVID-19
A Message on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Violence against women remains a worldwide pervading issue. In this regard, Pakistan is ranked as the sixth most dangerous country by the Global Gap Index 2018 for women and ranking in the second position as the worst in the world in terms of gender equality. According to the 2019 report of the National Institute of Population Studies, 24.5% of Pakistani women and girls aged between 15-49 experience partner physical violence once at least once in their lifetime.
Regarding this issue, initiatives of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly are appreciable where they officially adopted the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1979. In this regard, 25th November is a declared official Day against Elimination of Violence Against Women on February 7th, 2000 by the General Assembly, which was passed through resolution 54/134. A mutual ‘Spotlight Initiative’ was also launched in 2017 by the UN and European Union (EU) for raising awareness of the issue.
Ministry of Human Rights (MOHR) Pakistan launched a helpline 1099 nationwide for reporting domestic violence cases. It is seen in Pakistan that domestic violence cases are not generally reported in larger numbers due to the pressure of society, belief in private household affairs, and avoiding legal procedures to face difficulty in getting justice. Still, authorities were able to succeed in enforcing key reforms. As seen in the ‘Qandeel Baloch’ case, the parliament passed a law by closing the pardon loopholes where families used to protect perpetrators. The Supreme Court of Pakistan also declares not to allow to pardon the acid attacks’ offenders, as it is ‘extreme cruelty. It was stated in the UN Women Report 2020 that during COVID-19, 90 countries were in lockdown and saw a ‘shadow pandemic’ growing of violence against women. Even before COVID-19, it was already one of the greatest human rights violations. Further, the report stated that 243 million women and girls across the world aged 15-49 years have been subjected to physical violence by their partners. The violence against women had been estimated at USD 1.5 trillion approximately and assumed to be increased with time as the rise in the cases are seen.
Regarding Pakistan, various violence-based cases against women have been seen rotating on social media platforms with videos. In which, a man harassed a woman by forcefully climbing towards her while she was sitting at rikshaw; in another incident, a woman was forcefully pushed from the motorbike on the occasion of Independence Day and manhandled. Other than that, various cases of acid attacks, domestic violence in form of extreme beating, burning, beating to death have been seen. A recent case of a doctor, who was murdered by her estranged husband at Lahore, and Noor Mukadam’s case has created the shivers of horrifying situations in which the victims have gone through.
There is an urgent need to deal with the increased rate of violence against women with measures embedded with economic support and legal packages to meet the scale of the challenge. In Pakistan, a woman faces many hurdles to fight for her rights. First of all, going out from the home is the first step and followed to reach the authorities and going through the procedures. A woman is trapped within the cultural and societal handling, where the domestic issues are not taken seriously. It is a time to raise a voice against unmerited violence, where a woman is being handled against fundamental human rights. Women’s organizations, NGOs, communities, and other organizations are seen responding to these issues, and they need to be supported in this regard strongly. Police and justice should give high priority to these incidents with no impunity for perpetrators. All types of physical violence are required to be taken very seriously, and punishment should be given by the judiciary to perpetrators to demoralize them. Leaving out by imposition of penalty in the small amount still does not teach a lesson. They should be criminalized with a jail sentence with heavy fines. As stated by Gail Goldwin that ‘Good teaching is ¼ preparation and ¾ theatre’. In this connection, another quotation says that ‘Criminals should be punished, not fed pastries’, stated by Lemony Snicket. COVID-19 has already tested us in many ways. The raised violence as a dark feature has emerged that is a mirror of our society and challenge to our values. We have to stand with a woman’s powerful force and recover ourselves.
Dr. Saira Asad
The writer is an award-winning columnist, researcher, and Adjunct Asst. Prof. at Riphah International University, Islamabad, Pakistan. She can be reached at email@example.com.