In Pakistan the upsurge in incidences of rape, domestic violence, dowry deaths and harassment is deeply agonising and heart breaking. We all need to ask ourselves why our society has become unsafe for young girls going to school, colleges and workplaces or women going about their daily business of life. Why are we least pedestrian friendly particularly for women? The school going teenage girl who recently became a victim of gang rape in Lahore should shake our conscious towards heinous crimes against women and young girls happening even in major cities of the country. We must ensure that speedy justice is provided in such matters. Also female police officers must supervise and investigate cases related to gender based violence to facilitate the victims.
Civil society organisations, women rights activists, female legislatures must not take these incidences lightly and make sure that not only these victims survive but are given protection from further persecution by influential perpetrators and sometimes even from the treatment meted out to them by the police. Instead of rehabilitating the victims we make life difficult for them by humiliating them and justice is rarely delivered in such cases. We have seen several instances in the recent past where rape victims have committed suicides after justice was denied and the cycle goes on. Violence against women is a very serious matter, it devastates lives, instills fear, limits options for women, fractures families and communities, and stalls development. It has enormous human, social, and economic costs. These costs are constantly accumulating, proving hazardous to the lives of women and their families, and to the poverty reduction and development efforts.
Violence against women is a pandemic affecting many countries, even those that have made laudable progress in other areas. South Asia has recently seen a sharp rise in cases of violence against women, particularly in India where rape, torture, discrimination and feticides are prevalent both in rural and urban areas. India is one of the largest democracies in the world yet has failed to deliver on account of protecting women from violence, rape, discrimination etc. Women also face the burden of social and cultural practices and traditions that limit their mobility and access to real economic opportunities. Ironically, South Asia is also a region with several female head of states in countries like Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. However, almost all of these instances can be attributed to hereditary politics and the grass-roots situation of women protection remains dismal. We need to ensure the very basic right of women to be free from all forms of persecution at homes, workplaces or public spaces.
Rape, torture, acid attacks, dowry deaths are unbearable offenses that have become rampant in our society. And when the convicts are not punished it gives a serious blow to the society struggling with women empowerment. Rise in violence against women should be worrisome for everyone. Gender based violence is not a problem of women alone. It is an issue for the whole society, for governments, for civil society and for men too. We cannot make significant progress on this issue without support from men. There has to be a collaborative effort and systematic engagement to deal with this menace. We need to look into every aspect of such instances, deeply entrenched cultural values, societal norms, attitudes and practices that are embedded in gender stereotype and ultimately justify exploitative behaviour and violence against women. We also need to look into things like upbringing of children, objectification of women in media, overcoming traditional barriers to mobility, gender parity in wages, gender sensitivity at workplaces etc.
A society cannot thrive without women being an active participant in every aspect of life. Muhammad Ali Jinnah truly acknowledged the power of women when he said: “There are two powers in the world: one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.” In the modern world women are considered a great asset for sustainable economic development. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s has also emphasised that “Investing in women is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do’. The Sustainable Development Goals that have been recently launched by the UN lay great emphasise on gender empowerment. The fifth SDG is specifically dedicated to gender equality and it has two broad targets. Firstly, end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere. Secondly, eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation. Pakistan’s performance on previous MDGs has been dismal, especially the ones related to health as we are still working towards fully eradicating polio. Ensuring gender empowerment will serve as a precondition to make significant progress on all others SDGs. The government will have to make deep legal and legislative changes to ensure women’s rights are upheld all over the country.
How can we possibly achieve real progress in overcoming daunting challenges of poverty, hunger, ecosystem destruction, inequality and sustainable development without active participation of women? The media partnering with governments, civil society groups must make exhortations to educate and advocate for ending violence by increasing awareness about the root causes of the scourge and highlighting its consequences.
We need to design prevention framework to look at preventive factors, a strong human rights culture and zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination and prejudice towards women and girls. Early intervention and education are critical components, especially education that emphasises the importance of rights and respect for all people. We require rigorous democratic deliberations to ensure full advancement and development of women in political, economic and social spheres.
We need to safeguard lives, dignity and honour of our daughters and sisters. Women need constant support, encouragement and protection for self-realisation but some inhumane criminals resort to the kind of brutality that has no justification. We need to inculcate good values in young boys to prevent them from abuse and violence against the opposite gender.