Patriarchy and institutional norms contribute to violence against women: Sherry Rehman

Islamabad: “Women’s rights are human rights, and we cannot have a just society until we have achieved full equality for women,” said Federal Minister for Climate Change Senator Sherry Rehman. “Laws and policies are important, but equally important is how society treats its most vulnerable members. How we treat women, religious minorities, and other marginalized groups reflects our values as a nation and shapes our identity in the 21st Century.”

The Minister delivered a keynote speech at the launch event of the policy brief on Domestic Violence by the National Commission for Human Rights, Pakistan. “Domestic violence is primarily about power. It is an ugly manifestation of one person’s attempt to subjugate another and exert their authority over them. The abuser seeks to bring cruelty to the table and assert their dominance by insisting that the victim is not equal but a subordinate. Unfortunately, it is a form of exercise of power that has become so normalized that people have become comfortable with it.” stated the Minister. She highlighted that is not a law of nature or civilization, but merely the law of the jungle that allows such behavior. She went further to state that this normalization can be attributed to patriarchal norms and culture.

Minister Rehman said that domestic violence is the hidden global pandemic that continues to affect women. “One of the problems we face is that we do not go far enough to challenge these norms. We create laws, but their enforcement is often diluted as bargains and trades are made outside the court. This culture is prevalent all over the world, and it needs to change. Domestic violence is the hidden pandemic that the world still shamefully lives with in the 21st century. The statistics are staggering – 90% of women faces some form of domestic violence in their lifetime, yet 50% of them do not report it, and only 0.4% of them go to court. Those who do report it often face shame and condemnation, and being told to keep silent about it is just as criminal as the violence itself. It is essential to disrupt the social consensus on keeping quiet about issues that disturb the status quo. Our society is layered with patriarchy, and it subjugates women through a series of institutional, social, and cultural norms that allow and normalize violence against women.” said the Minister. The Minister also stated that it is the elite segments of society that should be expected to push back first against such norms as these are the people who have accumulated power and have the resources to challenge such norms.

The Minister expressed disappointment that despite starting work on the Domestic Violence Bill in 2004, it still remains unpassed almost 20 years later. However, she also noted that many other bills have been successfully passed, and we should take pride in those accomplishments. “It is essential to understand that societal issues are all interconnected, and none of them exist in isolation. The status of women is a crucial factor that underlies all these issues. Fortunately, in the constitution of Pakistan, women are recognized as equal citizens, but this constitution is repeatedly abused, and women’s rights are violated in homes and public places,” the Minister remarked.

The Minister stated that while domestic violence used to be a hot topic in the 90s, it has become overshadowed by other injustices faced by women and vulnerable communities. The Minister cited the catastrophic flooding in 2022 that impacted 33 million people, with women facing the most challenges as their livelihoods and shelters were swept away. The Minister also lamented the fact that violence against women in conflict areas, climate-stressed areas, and other fragile environments often goes undocumented. They bear a disproportionate burden of these challenges, and the Minister emphasized the need for change.

The Minister concluded, “As long as there are enough of us to raise our voices, fight against it, and remind others that it is a problem that has been around since the dawn of history and civilization, change is possible. We need to ask ourselves why, not just in Pakistan but globally, a woman dies from intimate partner violence every 11 minutes. Unfortunately, this is only the tip of the iceberg because data and knowledge about women are limited. As empowered citizens, we have a responsibility to raise the bar of expectations for all those who provide frontline protection for women. It is our duty to demand that they do everything in their power to prevent and respond to domestic violence, so that no one has to live in fear of abuse.”