Passing laws against domestic violence may not guarantee safety for women in some parts of the world, but it is a start. Legislation has been proposed in Pakistan that would make domestic abuse illegal. It covers a broad spectrum of acts including emotional abuse, deprivation of financial means, and wrongful confinement. Currently, women can report their husbands for assault, but it is rarely punished and most often overlooked. This bill would go above and beyond covering atrocities such as acid burning, which is still extremely prevalent in Pakistan.
Another precedent was set in neighboring India last month, when the courts came down tough on the perpetrators of an honor killing. Five elders were sentenced to death or life sentences for killing a young man and woman of different sub-castes who eloped three years ago. Never before have the courts ruled so harshly on a practice that has, in the past, been considered a cultural practice. The five that were given the death sentence were the bride’s brother, cousins, and uncles. The local village administration leader was given a life sentence.
These actions are major steps toward insuring better protection of women in societies in which their intrinsic value may not be considered as great as men. However, these laws and legal precedents will only protect some, and often, those in rural areas will not benefit. Police officers tend to look the other way when horrific crimes are committed, especially in cultures like Pakistan, where ultra-conservative Islam prevails, and in India, where the caste system is still deeply engrained in societal values.
Many women in Pakistan continue to be victims of horrific abuse such as acid burnings. Their husbands and sometimes in-laws will throw acid on these women, horribly scaring them and sometimes causing blindness and permanent restrictions in movement. One woman recalled her crime for such a punishment: refusing to immediately wash the dishes after a meal.
Laws against domestic abuse will only go so far. One doctor suggested punishment for those who sell the acid as well. This is another positive step in the right direction, but even more must be done. The best way to improve the lives of these women is to improve their social standing. These areas are extremely poor and usually illiterate. Women who are victims of abuse often have no other choice but to stay with their husbands because of economic concerns. At Barakat we believe that women in Pakistan who are educated are much less likely to be victims of domestic abuse, or at the least, will not stick around in dangerous situations. If women understand their rights and their options, they hold the power to determine their futures.
The Acid Survivors Foundation, an organization based in Bangladesh, has helped some of these women restore their dignity. One woman has been learning to knit sweaters and can once again take care of her children despite damage to her eyes, which has left her completely blind. Another vows to open a beauty shop to prove to her husband and others that she is a survivor and the acid burning did not cause her to lose hope.