External Affairs

Pakistan Gets Its First One-Stop Shop for Women Fighting Violence

A 2011 poll had found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women.

Station house officer Nazima Mushtaq speaking to a survivor at the VAWC. Credit: VAWC

Karachi: The Punjab government has set up a “one-stop shop” in Multan under the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act (VAWA) passed in 2016. The act covers sexual, domestic, physical, economic, cyber, or psychological abuse. The one-stop shop began functioning in March this year with the aim of providing legal, medical and psychological counselling to survivors.

The VAWC has been set up in an agricultural belt which is particularly dangerous for the Pakistani women. It is the same region infamous for the Mukhtaran Mai gang rape case that shook the world and where after nine years of relentless pursuit for justice by Mai, five of the six accused were acquitted.

“You can never get over the physical and psychological mutilation that scores of women go through every day in our society,” says Jawed, who is currently managing the new state-of-the-art all-women Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan. Before this she was working in the Punjab government’s social welfare department and managing shelters for women across the province.”We provide a fully functional police station, medical facility, forensic lab and legal aid as well as post trauma rehabilitation, all under one roof.” she continued.

A 2011 Thomson Reuters Foundation expert poll found Pakistan to be among the three most dangerous countries for women, where they faced a barrage of violence from rape to murders in the name of honour. The other two were Afghanistan and Democratic Republic of Congo. On the gender equality index of the Global Gender Gap, Pakistan scored dismally, coming second lowest (143 out of 144). On a more recent Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security‘s Women, Peace, and Security Index, Pakistan was ranked 4th among the worst countries for women to live in.

“In some villages, until just a few years ago, women were not allowed to wear any footwear. That meant they wouldn’t be able to walk with ease  around the village. If that happened, it would mean they would become more confident and not remain mere doormats. They would eventually find a tongue…and men certainly didn’t want that happening,” said Jawed.

Women, she said, are used as bargaining chips to settle family feuds, living in constant fear of being forced to marry, wedded in exchange, or punished for having spurned a marriage proposal. Even when married, she may find no peace or respect in her husband’s home where she may be punished at the slightest of provocation.

“It was a conscious decision to open the first centre in Multan because women are the most vulnerable and meted with the most violent attacks there,” said Salman Sufi, the director general of the Punjab chief minister’s think-tank, the Strategic Reform Unit who drafted the law and who conceived of this centre.

“In the first six months since we opened the centre, we received over 1,000 cases from Multan district alone,” said Sufi. The number of violence-related cases is far more. Overall, in Punjab, according to data gathered by the Aurat Foundation, in 2017, of the 5,979 reported cases of violence, 178 were of women killed in the name of honour, 1,086 were raped/gang-raped and 1,626 were kidnapped.

By March 2018, three more centres will start operating in other big cities of Punjab including Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. “The idea is to eventually have one centre in each of the province’s 36 districts,” said Sufi.