Surging pandemic of misogyny with Covid-19
DUE to prevalent multidimensional disparities, women in Pakistan are vulnerable to the array of gender-based violence in private as well as public spheres.
Cases of violence against women, domestic violence, honour killing and femicide have been on surge for the past few years which is further amplified due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Owing to domestic and structural form of patriarchy prevalent in Pakistan, women have become even more vulnerable to be negatively affected in this health-care emergency.
According to Nicole Kidman, one of the UN Ambassadors, emphasized on the urgency to address the issue, once said, “One in three women may suffer from abuse and violence in her lifetime.
This is an appalling human rights violence, yet it remains one of the invisible and under-recognized pandemics of our time”.
There are physical, sexual and psychological forms of violence against women (VAW) in public and private domain in Pakistan that include: wife battering, dowry-related violence, child marriage and Vani, sexual abuse of female child, rape, sexual harassment and intimidation at workplace and educational institution, women trafficking and forced prostitution, honour killing and other cultural traditional practices to harm women.
Irrespective of the manifestation, the violence against women in our society is supported by the patriarchal norms and conveniently endorsed in the name of culture, norm and honour.
In addition to this, there are other socio-economic and political causes of prevalence of violence against women in our society, the most pertinent during COVID-19 pandemic is the increasing unemployment due to lockdown situation.
Due to lockdown in several cities of Pakistan, unemployment is exacerbating rapidly. Most private firms were temporarily closed hence, faced low consumer demand and reduced access to finance, therefore, they downsized and laid off their employees.
According to Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), people of underprivileged class especially workers who earn daily wages, having no other resources, cannot cope with this lockdown condition and, therefore, are among the most affected and vulnerable group which would increase rate of poverty of the country.
As per official record shared by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the share of vulnerable employment in 2020 was around 56% with the ratio of 71 % female and 52% male.
This indicates that women are more vulnerable to the unemployment and pushed into extreme poverty which make them prone to pandemic of misogyny.
According to the research conducted by Sustainable Social Development Organization (SSDO) 2020-2021, official records obtained from the concerned authorities shows that the cases of Violence Against Women are increasing drastically during Covid-19 period with the rise of unemployment.
In 2020, total 9,401 cases of violence against women, 1,422 cases of domestic violence, 4,321 cases of rape and 15, 714 cases of women trafficking and kidnapping, were reported throughout Pakistan.
Whereas, in 2021 the number of cases surged even further; 4,067 cases of violence against women, 11,255 cases of kidnapping of women, 451 cases of domestic violence, 2,048 cases of rape, 184 cases of honour killing registered in the province of Sindh and Punjab.
Due to increase in unemployment and growing frustration among masses amidst COVID-19 pandemic, rate of violence against women surged exponentially.
In this backdrop, women’s economic independence is prerequisite to eradicate this evil from society.
Moreover, the surge in violence against women implies that there is absence of state and society to offer justice and security to those women and families who are perceived as powerless.
It is observed that often the survivors of violence withdraw their case/FIR willingly or unwillingly despite cooperation of police due to the apprehensions of socio-cultural taboo.
This informs about calculated compromises and careful silence, conveyed shamelessly by the society, relatives, co-workers and friends.
Despite the drastic rise in VAW cases, a pregnant pause, deafening silence and a disquieting quiet seem to be observed among public and policy makers pertaining to issues of violence against women.
Only occasional rumblings of protest and some anger from different corners can be observed whenever a gross violence case is in spotlight. Raging passion and collective action across the country seem to be absent.
There is a dire need to include essential services to address VAW cases when making preparedness and response strategy for COVID-19 pandemic. VAW should be recognized as public health issue, and it should be ensured that lockdown measures do not obstruct women from seeking support when experiencing violence.
Male populace of the country should be encouraged to understand gendered nature of VAW and deconstruct traditional misogynist behaviour and mindset that underpin the continuing prevalence of VAW. Women should be provided stable employment opportunities and financial security.
There is a need of effective mechanism, agreed upon strategies and shared understanding among policy-makers and law enforcement agencies to address this complex spectrum of violence.
—The writer is a faculty member, Bahria University, Karachi.