If you have not been slapped, punched, shoved or physically threatened by a male relative or even a stranger, you are one of those one in 10 women who just escaped being part of a harrowing epidemic in Pakistan. Go celebrate. Go celebrate that you will never know what it feels like to leave your body because that is what happens to women in trauma. Go celebrate that you have not faced systemic continuous and chronic abuse because you have had no alternative to help you leave an abusive situation. In the #WhyIStayed campaign that took place a few months ago on Twitter, many women listed the reasons they stayed in abusive situations and they commonly pointed to the real and present danger of losing their lives or their children being harmed if they dared to leave. So go rejoice that you know nothing of that. You may have other pains but at least you can let time heal them.
According to physiologists, trauma takes three times the period of abuse to heal. For prolonged abusive situations, this healing time rests beyond the lifetime of many women. According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll, 90 percent of women are in such conditions in Pakistan. That is just marginally better than Congo where women are hunted like prey, and marginally better than Afghanistan where different forms of societal oppression keep the abuse of women under wraps.
Experts in this report ranked countries on health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, cultural or religious factors, lack of access to resources and trafficking. With honour killings, at least the reported ones, standing at a solid 1,000 a year, it is time for Pakistanis to stop responding to the woman question by sticking their faces in the sand. The question still is: are women equal to men? Heads of state like Turkey’s Erdogan saying they are not does not pose a progressive role model for other Muslim states like Pakistan, which has already abandoned its founder’s stance on the matter. What he said should not only be pasted on classrooms and government building walls but also in the nation’s kitchens where most of the stove burnings take place. “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you,” is what our founder said. Instead, Jinnah rests in the folds of books in libraries and bookstores. Religious leaders want him to remain there. The only thing they want to see women progress in is the geometric shape of the breads they bake at home, safely tucked away from the light. A good woman is a disappearing one; a better one is one who does this silently.
‘Sixteen days of activism to stop violence against women’ began on November 25 and ends on December 10 but Pakistan needs more. It needs a year-round advocacy programme that is both integrated and bottom up. Violence against women can be stopped if there is a clear deterrent for the perpetrators through not just laws but the enforcement of them, if women are aware about those laws and what constitutes a violation, if women realise that there is no justification for violence — religious or cultural — and, more importantly, when the government understands the economic cost of violence against women.
The United Nations report, ‘The economic costs of violence against women’ outlines that the estimated costs for violence against women in the US is at $ 12.6 billion and $ 4.2 billion for Canada. Pakistan, ranking third on the violators list, can only have more economic costs, not less. Women in Pakistan, particularly in the rural agrarian areas, have a burdensome workload tending to lands and this violence inevitably has an impact on productivity. Even with less labour intensive communities there are not just direct tangible costs but there are direct intangible costs such as pain and suffering, and the emotional loss of a loved one through a violent death caused by the violence. Then there is the health cost of an already anaemic community of women subjected to a hostile environment through this violence.
Moreover, indirect intangible costs have no monetary value. The negative psychological effects on children who witness violence cannot be estimated numerically. For the nation this means creating a generational acceptance of violence and inculcation of the over-dominance of males in society. Boys will be perpetrators and girls will internalise misogyny and end up being supporters of the violence. Strange, but it happens. It takes generations to undo this scale of acidity. These various costs can be borne by individuals, including victims, perpetrators, or other individuals affected by violence, businesses, governments at all levels and by society in general.
Any conversation about Pakistan’s sovereignty is a touchy topic for the men’s clubs but consider that a woman is more likely to be harmed at the hands of the men she knows than any epidemic. Where is the sovereignty in that? As a nation we cannot disrespect those who, when given the opportunity, outshine men in every field. As a nation we should revere them because there is an intrinsic power in fundamental truths like the equality of the sexes. This need not be granted to women by text or trade; it merely needs to be acknowledged.