This week, I begin working as a volunteer with Women Against Abuse, an organization in Philadelphia that provides shelter, legal aid and other resources to victims of domestic violence and their children. At the orientation for volunteers, they emphasized that domestic violence encompassed all cultures, creeds and backgrounds. At the same time, our training materials mentioned the variety of attitudes that a culture can have towards domestic violence. They include but are not limited to: outrage, denial and acceptance. For as long as I can remember, I’ve placed Pakistani culture in the category of indifference/acceptance when it comes to the matter of protecting women and children from the effects of domestic violence.
As a child, domestic violence was an inextricable feature of the culture in which I grew up. My parents, who emigrated from Pakistan in the eighties, settled in a small town in New Jersey where we interacted little with the Pakistani Christian community. But I recall clearly the time I was six years old and we went to Philadelphia for some kid’s birthday party. I tugged at my mom’s blue dupatta. “Hey mom, what happened to Aunty N.’s arm?”
My mom looked at the aunty’s cast-covered arm and then at me. “Her husband broke it,” she said calmly. For the rest of the party, I kept peeking in shock and horror at Aunty N. and her husband, who I adored because even though he pinched my cheeks like the other uncles, he always followed it up with some candy.
I wish that was the last time I encountered something like that. It wasn’t. From my parents, I continued to hear stories of women whose husbands and fathers slapped them around. And when I went to high school, I heard similar stories from other South Asian classmates. But I’m pleased that Pakistan is (finally!) making a small step in the right direction when it comes to treating domestic violence as a punishable crime as opposed to a private family matter.
Pakistan moved towards outlawing domestic violence when lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that will punish those found guilty of beating women or children with jail terms and fines. The law was passed unanimously in the lower house of parliament or national assembly, Yasmi Rehman from the main ruling Pakistan People’s Party told AFP, hailing what she called a “big day” for Pakistani women. It will come into effect after the senate, or upper house of parliament, approves the law and President Asif Ali Zardari signs it into legislation. Those found guilty of beating women or children would face a minimum six months behind bars and a fine of at least 100,000 rupees (1,205 dollars). “Domestic violence against women is not considered a major offense in our society. I hope this bill will provide protection to our women against all types of violence in their homes and living places,” Rehman said.
I hope so too, Rehman. I hope so too. It all depends on whether or not the police actually enforce it.