The Urdu expression `chaddar aur chardawari’ is often quoted in Pakistan to suggest that women are safest under their shawl (`chaddar’) and within the four walls (`chardawari’) of their home.
This may hold true for many women, but for some, such as 25-year-old Naseeba Bibi, it could not be further from the truth.
Naseeba said she had suffered continual abuse from her husband since they got married six years ago in Kasur, about 55km southeast of Lahore, Punjab Province.
“My husband is jobless and a drug addict. He slapped and beat me daily, sometimes with a stick. I still have scars on my back. Recently, he started to tell people I was involved with another man, and would kill me for `honour’. I believed this was his plan, as he wished to marry someone else,” she said.
So she ran away to Lahore with her three children - the youngest is seven months old - and now struggles to make ends meet by selling hand-crafted toys on the pavement.
“Some days I eat nothing more than a few morsels of `roti’ [flat bread] so there is something for the kids to eat. We live in a single room with no water and no power. But had I stayed home, I would have been dead,” she told IRIN.
Naseeba’s story is not uncommon. Indeed, she is lucky to be alive. According to a 22 March report by the autonomous Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), 647 women were killed in the name of 'honour' in 2009 - up 13 percent on the 574 killings in 2008.
Photo: Kamila Hyat/IRIN
|Women are often too scared to report domestic violence|
“An `honour’ killing is carried out because the `honour’ of men in the family is perceived to have been injured. Often, these killings are just a pretext for murder motivated by some other petty matter,” said I.A. Rehman, secretary-general of HRCP.
HRCP also said that in 2009, there were 205 reported cases of domestic violence compared to 137 the previous year. These included burnings, torture and beatings.
“This is basically a consequence of the low status of women in society,” said Rehman.
Other organizations documenting violence against women also found a sharp rise in 2009. The Lahore-based NGO Aurat Foundation recorded a 13 percent increase in cases of violence against women in 2009 over 2008. Rabeea Hadi, a representative for the organization, told a press conference in Islamabad in February 2010 that 8,548 cases of such violence had been recorded countrywide.
However, it is unclear whether there is an actual rise in such attacks on women or whether there is a rise in the reporting of such attacks. Either way, there is evidence that cases of violence are under-reported.
“There are many which never see the newspapers, and are therefore never included in statistics,” said Sehr Ali, a Lahore-based psychologist. “As a mental health professional, I have met women from all kinds of backgrounds who do not want to make their plight public. Many don’t even tell close family members, even when they are slashed with knives or burnt.”
In August 2009, a tough new law was passed by the National Assembly against domestic violence.
But for women like Naseeba, who have never been to school and have no idea such a law exists, its value is unclear.
“I cannot understand what this means. And if I played any part in putting my husband in jail, his brothers would kill me,” she said. “I just have to manage to stay alive for the sake of my children.”