Muhammad Ali and Reshma Parveen
Violence against women is increasingly becoming one of the major challenges of our society. It is alarming to note that the incident of violence against women is increasing with the passage of time. For instance, according to the report of the Aurat Foundation (2010) within the period of 6 month almost 4069 cases violence against women were recorded. However, many of incidences are not recoded/ reported due to different reasons such as pressure for the influential segments, fear of exposure, lack of awareness and so on. According to another report one woman out of five faces domestic violence in Pakistan. The violence is at times in the form of karo-kari, honor killing and/or sexual harassment and at times in the form of physical/mental torture and/or social discriminations.
It is ironic that some segments of the society justify the brutality against women under the shadow of culture, norms or religion. Such an attitude indicates that our society is suffering from chronic ailments and ignorance of the core human values. Hence, the increasing intensity of such a disease demands a serious reflection for diagnosing the causes and requires conscious efforts to response such human issues.
Understanding the phenomena of violence against women is not simple. Violence/discrimination does not take place accidentally rather it is developed consciously or unconsciously in a society and gradually manifests in the actions of the people. Different factors contribute in developing such attitude in society. However, the prevailed stereotypes against women and ill-informed practices in the societies are potential reasons in forming the culture of violence and discrimination. For example, the stereotypes that man is stronger than woman therefore man protector the woman. Woman should obey man and should respect his views in any case. Woman is less intelligent than man, so every decision should be taken by man. Above all, in some contexts of our society woman is considered as commodity and so is treated inhumanly. In short there are several ill-informed perceptions which are becoming part of the beliefs of people and consequently manifest through their actions in the form of violence and discrimination. Furthermore, the strong attachment to the tradition and lack of reflective thinking doses not allow the society to critically examine its beliefs and actions.
It is crucial to understand how such attitude and stereotypes develop and perpetuate in the society. There are some forces and institutions which are considered crucial either in perpetuating or in challenging these stereotypes. Some of the important institutions are family, education, media, religion and state. These institutions are not working in isolation rather they function very interactively and influence each other. Here the role of these intuitions is discussed in perpetuating or challenging the stereotypes against women.
Family/home as a social institution play a significant role in shaping a person’s attitude towards people and the world. It depends how the elders of family treat each other or value male and female family members. Particularly, the distribution of work at home shapes the perception of gender identity. Sometime the parents consciously or unconsciously, treat their male and female children differently. In most of the cases male child is given preference over female child during different decisions or actions. These actions color the image of male as well as the female about their personality. Such attitudes develop the perception that male is important then female. Consequently in their daily life they exercise such perceptions and beliefs in the society. Hence, there is need to educate the family/ parents to sensitize them regarding their beliefs and practices about general balance in their home.
Educational institutions are also responsible for developing the stereotypes against women in the society. Generally it is expected that educational institutions should challenge the ill-informed practices of the society. However, people working in school come from the larger society with their baggage of perception and beliefs and they try to indoctrinate their own experiences and beliefs to the students. Hence, sometimes educational institutions are not able to challenges the stereotypes of the society rather they play their role in perpetuating them. Therefore, educational institutions need to transform their leaning environment by reviewing their policies, curriculum, teaching learning process.
Today media is emerging as a powerful institution influencing the society in many ways. Being part of our daily life media’s role is crucial in forming the beliefs and perception of the people in terms of gender. Media had two edges as on one hand its role is considered important in highlighting the gender discrimination in society, on the other hand it shapes the imaginations of the people by reinforcing the prevailed stereotypes in society. Therefore media needs conscious effort in highlighting the issues related to oppressed group and women. Media can be powerful medium to educate the mass by bringing into the surface the gender related issues and discussing them in an educative manner.
Religion is another significant institution playing its role in socializing people of a society. The interpretation of religious values strongly influences the belief and practices of people in a society. Therefore, religion is considered one of powerful vehicle to bring changes in the society. Although Islamic teaching gives equal importance to man and women as human being, however, sometimes the religion values are interpreted in such a way that affects some segments of society negatively, particularly women. Such narrow interpretation of faith restricts woman from actualizing their potential by not allowing them taking part in different social and economic activities. As a result some people justify violence against women by using such interpretation of religion. Hence, there is need to reflect and review such interpretations in light of Islamic teachings and by providing opportunities for women to get education and participate in societal activities.
The state’s role cannot be overlooked in shaping its citizens’ imaginations and culture in terms of gender. State policies influence the people directly or indirectly. Sometimes the policies seem gender balanced however, at practical level it discriminates among different people particularly between man and women. For example, at policy level there seems no discrimination for women in participating in the economic activates. However, practically there is less space for the women to enter in market due to the dominancy of man. Hence, only making law and policies will not change the condition of women rather it requires serious effort to implement those policies at grassroots level to enable the environment for women participation.
In short, violence and discrimination against women is a complex phenomenon therefore it demands a multi-dimensional response to cater this issue. All institutions need to work together to challenge the stereotypes and ill-informed practices in the society. To nurture a human sensitive society, as a nation, we need to transform our views and beliefs about women. We also require fostering such practices which promote equal opportunity for man and women. As a result they can become an active participant, playing their role, in the development of the country.
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