The truth lies, as usual, somewhere in between.
“Mutilations are the worst.”
Who: Aurat Foundation
What: Create the only statistics on violence against women by reading every word of the country’s newspapers.
The half-yearly report which the Aurat Foundation’s Violence against Women Watch Group released for the period January-June 2010 shows a slight decrease in the violence. Unfortunately, they believe it is not the violence itself which has declined but that the reporting has become less reliable as a result of the general lawlessness which prevails in large areas of the country.
This is what the figures look like for the first half of 2010:
285 honour killings
719 ‘ordinary’ murders
483 rapes/ gang rapes
65 cases of sexual assault
20 acid attacks
20 kitchen fires
852 other cases of abuse (trafficking, torture, child marriage, incest, threatening behaviour, sexual harassment, attempted murder etc)
The reason ‘suicides’ and ‘kitchen fires’ are counted as violence against women is that most of the women who take their own lives do so because of problems in the family – often related to violence or harassment from their husband or parents-in-law. Moreover, it is easy to make murder look like suicide. Disguising a murder as a ‘kitchen fire’ is also common, and many women have not been told how dangerous a gas canister, for example, can be.
It’s important that everything is correct, so that people can trust our figures.
In an overcrowded room at Aurat’s office, four people sit cutting articles out of newspapers. The fifteen newspapers are in Urdu and English, ten national and fifteen regional. Aurat also collects reports from the country’s women’s shelters, various lawyers and psychologists.
“We used to contact the hospitals too,” says the manager, Nabeela Shaheen, “but there was too great a risk of duplication. It’s important that everything is correct, so that people can trust our figures.”
The articles, which are often no more than just a few lines, are cut out and pasted into binders. When the investigators suspect that two papers have written about the same case they mark it with a big ‘R’. Each case is given an ID number and entered into a database. The information collected is published every six months.
“Of course, the number of unrecorded cases is very big,” says Nabeela Shaheen. “Many ‘accidents’ are never reported, and in the rural areas there are no journalists to write down what has happened.”
What are the worst things you see?
“Mutilations. Last year we had a case where a man had cut off his wife’s nose and both her hands. And it certainly isn’t only in the villages that these things happen. We recently had a father here in Lahore who shot his 18-year-old daughter because she refused to marry the man her family had chosen. That was a case where the family ‘forgave’ the father, who escaped punishment.”
How do you cope with sitting here with this work all day?
“When I started I used to get very depressed. I didn’t know it was so bad. But now it’s become routine work.”
When cases are reported in the newspapers, the police are forced to take action.
A job like any other?
“No, it will never be that. I’m here because I want to work for change. We have to make men understand that violence is unacceptable.
We’re trying to get our message out on radio and TV and through workshops. We hold seminars for groups of lawyers who discuss the cases and how the laws are followed.
Pakistan law forbids marriage for young people under eighteen. Yet we know of 11, 12 and 13 year-olds who have been given away in marriage. Indeed, there are parents who write marriage contracts for four-year-olds. Violence in the home comes in many forms. It’s not just physical violence, it’s also psychological torture, threats and restrictions on movement. Many women can’t go to the doctor when they are ill. We have to tell people about that too.
But it’s getting better. The police have been given training and the media are exerting pressure. When cases are reported in the newspapers, the police are forced to take action.”