Gender-based violence: violence against women in Pakistan

saddam hussain samo
Violence against women in Pakistan: an overview by saddam hussain samo

Any form of violence that targets a person or a group based on their gender or perceived gender is referred to as gender-based violence (GBV). Both women and men experience gender-based violence; however, the majority of victims are often women and girls. In Pakistan as well, mostly women and girls face violence in different forms, including physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse.

 The gender-based violence in Pakistan mainly faced by women and girls is given as follows:

Honor killing:

Honor killing is a type of gender-based violence that is prevalent in Pakistan, particularly in rural regions. Honor killings refer to the killing of a woman by a family member, often a male relative, for allegedly bringing shame to the family by indulging in sex outside marriage.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 898 women, including girls, were killed in the name of honor in 2014. The numbers have decreased to 277 in 2020. However, there are many unreported cases of honor killing in the remote rural regions of Pakistan. Since a family member is involved in the killing, the whole household tries to cover up the issue. Hence, the actual data must have been greater than that mentioned in the reports of the commission.

Domestic violence:

Domestic violence is violence that occurs within the home or family premises against women or girls. It is another type of gender-based violence observed in Pakistani society. It is mostly faced by the victim in the form of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.

According to Pakistan’s demographic and health survey, 39% of women between the ages of 15 and 49 are physically and emotionally abused by their spouses. Besides, 1 out of 10 women is a victim of violence during pregnancy, according to the same survey. Another study by the United Nations Population Fund found that 70% of married women in Pakistan have experienced some form of physical or sexual violence from their husbands. According to the Aurat Foundation, there was a 200% increase in cases of domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acid attacks:

It is the throwing of acid, particularly on the face of the victim, with the intention of making her face ugly. It is mostly carried out against girls by the known victim when he is refused to get married, enter into the relationship, or when the marriage of the victim is set by the family with someone else. The major portion of acid attack victims in Pakistan are women and girls, who make up roughly 80% of reported incidents. Between 2007 and 2017, the Acid Survivors Foundation Pakistan (ASF-P) identified 1,385 cases of acid assault in Pakistan. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 232 women suffered acid attacks in 2014 alone.

In order to control the growing incidents of acid attacks against women and girls, the government of Pakistan enacted a law called “The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Act, 2011.” The law imposes severe punishments on those who commit acts of acid violence, including 14 years to life in jail and fines of up to Rs. 1 million. After the passing of the act, the cases of acid attacks decreased drastically, as only 74 cases were reported in 2019.

Sexual violence including rapes:

Around 5,000 instances of sexual violence, including rape, gang-rape, and other types of sexual assault, were reported in Pakistan in 2020, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. It is well accepted that many instances of sexual assault in Pakistan go unreported as a result of societal stigma, apprehension about retaliation, and a lack of confidence in the legal system. Besides, between 2014 and 2016, there were over 11,000 documented incidents of rape in Pakistan, according to the Aurat Foundation, a women’s rights organization.

The rape case of Mukhtaran Mai is a classic example in this regard. She was gang-raped in 2002 at the direction of the local council in retaliation for an alleged crime her brother may have committed. However, she stood up against the crime and highlighted the issue to get her culprits punished. Many similar cases are often unreported by women in Pakistan, mainly due to the fear of family and a decision-making council comprised of some powerful landlords of the area.

Women trafficking:

Women’s trafficking refers to the illegal trade of women and girls for the purpose of exploitation, including sexual exploitation, forced labor, and forced marriage. Women in Pakistan are mostly trafficked to Gulf countries by making false promises of better job opportunities, where they are subjected to sexual abuse. Some women are married and then taken to foreign countries where they are forced into the profession of prostitution. Many cases of women’s trafficking are not recorded. However, in 2010, 2236 cases of women’s trafficking were registered in Pakistan.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan reported in 2020 that there were 166 cases of human trafficking in the country, including 127 cases of forced labor and 39 cases of sexual exploitation. In 2019, Chinese nations involved in women’s trafficking under the name “bride trafficking scheme.” They married Pakistani women and promised them a better life in China. However, many of them were subjected to sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of abuse. In connection with a suspected human trafficking ring that was allegedly operating in the country, the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan announced in 2019 that it had detained 17 Chinese nationals. In the same year, the Associated Press reported that an estimated 750 Pakistani women had been sold as brides to Chinese men in the previous 18 months.

Girls as compensation:

For a crime committed by a male member of the family, particularly sex outside the marriage, the village council (an assembly of landlords, local leaders, or influential persons to settle the issue without involving courts) often punishes the culprits by giving either a young sister or daughter in a marriage to the victim’s family as compensation. Although it is illegal in Pakistan, the culture is still followed in remote tribal areas. In this situation, it is always a female member of the family that suffers without any fault or for the crime of a male member.

Forced marriage and child marriage:

Forced and child marriage is commonly seen in rural regions of Pakistan and is one of the most serious problems facing women. In most of the cases, it is carried out to settle the debt, get a hefty amount from the groom’s side, or under the duress of a powerful landlord.

Approximately 1026 incidents of forced marriage were reported in Pakistan in 2020, according to a Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. UNICEF reports that 3% of Pakistani girls get married before the age of 15, and 21% of females get married prior to reaching the age of 18. Over 3% of Pakistani women reported being forced into marriage against their will, according to data from the Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey, which was conducted in 2017–2018.

Female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C)

The partial or complete removal of the external female genitalia for non-medical purposes is referred to as FGM/C. It is regarded as a violation of human rights and may have detrimental effects on girls’ and women’s physical and mental health. It is not common and is only observed by one tiny religious sect. The occurrence of FGM/C is less than 0.1 percent. It is a serious issue for the women belonging to a certain community.

Thus, there are eight common forms of gender-based violence faced, particularly by women and girls. These are all illegal, and many acts and laws have been enacted by the government to control this violence against a particular gender. The instances of violence have been decreasing with the passage of time due to the passing of laws.


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