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Are Karachiites more violent towards strangers than Islamabad residents?

KARACHI: An overwhelming number of respondents in Karachi – over 88% – reported being a victim of violence by strangers. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents in Islamabad-Rawalpindi reported violence by strangers. Dr Daanish Mustafa of King’s College, London, revealed this while speaking on the research report, titled ‘Gender and Violence in Urban Pakistan’, launched at IBA...

SAMAA | - Posted: Aug 25, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago
Posted: Aug 25, 2017 | Last Updated: 4 years ago
Are Karachiites more violent towards strangers than Islamabad residents?

KARACHI: An overwhelming number of respondents in Karachi – over 88% – reported being a victim of violence by strangers. Meanwhile, 35% of respondents in Islamabad-Rawalpindi reported violence by strangers.

Dr Daanish Mustafa of King’s College, London, revealed this while speaking on the research report, titled ‘Gender and Violence in Urban Pakistan’, launched at IBA on Thursday. The report has been co-authored by Dr Mustafa, Dr Nausheen Anwar and Dr Amiera Sawas. It investigated how different permutations of gender – men, women and transgender – help drive different types of violence.

Focusing on Karachi and Islamabad-Rawalpindi, 2,445 households were surveyed for the drivers of violence with relation to gender and gender roles, in 12 working-class neighbourhoods.

Interestingly, the research touches topics such as ‘infrastructure deficits’ – such as water, sanitation and hygiene issues – and delves on how these lead to violence against women.

According to the report, it reveals how changing gender roles, corruption, and infrastructure deficits combine to fuel conflict. “Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have traditionally been ‘women’s work’ in Pakistan, and rarely explored as a source of violence,” it reads. “But gaps in WASH infrastructure and services emerged as key drivers that are heightening violence linked to gender roles. For example, in Rawalpindi-Islamabad neighbourhoods where flooding is routine, stagnant waters in homes and streets directly harm health and livelihoods, but also fuel domestic violence against women.”

Water and violence

The report suggests that in both cities, a lack of solid waste management has led to neighbourhood conflicts and violence between men and between women.

“And, in six of seven neighbourhoods surveyed in Karachi, ‘water mafias’ are violently exploiting inadequate public water services,” it reads. “They divert government supplies and resell water to residents at extortionate prices. Where masculinity is defined by providing for the family, men are humiliated and lash out at female relations for their ‘wasteful’ practices.”

Mobility, lack of roads and violence

The research touches the topic of female mobility and how gender plays an important role in the freedom to move and make choices at home, in neighbourhoods, and within the wider city. “Across South Asia in general, mobility is equated with masculinity, public space is seen as the natural preserve of men,” it reads. “Women’s mobility is often interpreted as transgression and femininity is traditionally linked to the home or domestic sphere.”

It talks about how economic necessity, educational aspirations, mobile phones and other technologies are helping erode men’s and women’s ‘traditional’ roles. “But many customary attitudes and expectations continue to shape the options men and women have for work, education, and recreational activities,” it reads. “Physical transportation is one important factor, and for men and women – in Karachi especially – poor roads and limited transportation restrict movement and increase exposure to violence.”

The report further points towards the particular challenges faced by women. “Bussing is segregated in Pakistan, with almost 80% of space reserved for men,” it reads. “Women in both cities revealed that fear for their safety in public spaces is widespread, and is also not uncommon among men.”

Not-so-sweet home

The research report reveals that even though the confines of the home may be considered a woman’s domain, but this does not translate into safety. “It is also the main site of the domestic violence that women suffer routinely,” it reads.

A media and NGO literature analysis in Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Karachi by the researchers focused on incidents of physical violence or threats of physical violence resulting in bodily harm, confinement and/or constriction of mobility.

Rawalpindi: highest rates of violence against women

The report says Rawalpindi has shown the highest reporting rates of violence against women (VAW) (754 cases between Jan-Dec 2012), according to Aurat Foundation’s statistics.

“Rozan (2007) has conducted some interesting work on masculinities in Rawalpindi; which speaks to the literature on power/knowledge violence (our third category for investigation). Rozan explored notions and performances of masculinity in married men and women in Union Council Rehmatabad.”


Delving onto Rozan’s findings, the report reads that sexuality was a theme that dominated most discussions, and the image of the ‘sexually potent’ male was rather strong across men. “A sexual helplessness was commonly experienced amongst males when facing females, and this lead to a stronger desire to be sexually virulent,” it reads. “Almost all respondents expressed having experienced homosexual relations, often in order to practice for later sexual experiences with women. Rozan note that, when practiced with younger boys or males, it was often coercive.”

A second strong perception of masculinity was the need to provide for the family, without depending on female financial support, says the report about Rozan’s findings, adding that this was closely linked to self-respect. “The view of women working was rather disapproving,” it reads. “A key tenet of masculinity was expressed as the man’s need to take decisions, ‘control his wife’ or female relatives (in decisions and movements) and balance the needs of his wife and family. Control was couched in discourses of extreme distrust of women and males’ roles as the upholders of decency in society; violence a necessary measure to maintain morality and tradition in society. Men would even taunt other males who allowed female relations to do acts perceived as less moral, or feminine. Although homosexual was seen as an immorality, sexual experimentation with younger boys was considered acceptable.”

The need to be violent

Violence was tightly discursively connected to ‘being a man’, reads the report. “Most interviewed had been involved in violent incidents with other males or groups of males, often involving a range of weapons. Machoism and posturing according to what was deemed masculine were seen as important; negation of any feminine traits were key to their identity as males.”

Women see men as ‘guardians’

Interestingly, women reinforced the male-held perceptions of masculinity, reads the report.

“They also saw males as the guardians of decisions, finances and morality within society,” it says. “They highlighted how males often suffered though, as a result of these responsibilities. Men’s respect withered if finances did, and the related emotional burden was heavy, often leading to anger and violence.”

Justifying violence

The report points out how almost all the married women interviewed justified violence in their relationships.

“According to almost all married women interviewed, men often resorted to violence in their relationships, but only if the woman has done something wrong,” it reads. “Thus women should moderate their behavior to avoid violence. Violence was seen as acceptable if conducted in privacy and apologized for later.”

Woman’s economic status

Quoting Zulfiqar and Hassan (2012), the report says that access to work and education outside of the home has a mediating impact on perceptions and experiences of domestic violence in a neighborhood of Rawalpindi (Lalazar).

“Women’s economic status is a significant predictor of abuse,” it reads. “A woman’s economic independence enables her to make important decisions by and for herself – also enabling her to take action (like going to police, or leaving the house of husband) against domestic violence and psychological abuse. This suggests that not only economic independence, but also experiences with different groups through work can break perceptions about what is acceptable behavior in the home.”

Media and violence in Karachi

Meanwhile, the report delves onto media coverage of violence against women in Karachi.

“In instances where abduction cases were reported, these were framed in conflicting terms: first parents reported to police their daughters were abducted or taken against their wills, and then there were simultaneous reports the women actually ran away because they were being forced to marry older men for money,” it reads. “Some stories reported the women fled homes as they preferred court marriages of their own choice.”

A hot topic for media these days are rape and abduction cases involving minor girls, something both print and electronic media cover consistently, says the report. “Such cases elicit strong condemnation with society’s moral and ethical dilemmas highlighted,” it reads. “English and Urdu print media cover gender related abduction, rape and murder cases by deploying terms like “Teenage girl raped”, “Teenaged girl torched by brother-in-law”, “Girl kidnapped from Karachi”, “Mother of four strangled by ‘lover’” and “School girl sexually abused and killed”, constantly emphasizing the victim’s age and marital status. It appears the younger the victim and the more bruised and battered her body, the more sympathetic and morally indignant is the tone of the story.”

Gender and class inequalities in Karachi

Within the overall context of gender inequality in Pakistan, violence against women in a large metropolis like Karachi unfolds in the complex urban scenario, which is defined by economic vulnerability, state and political violence, social and spatial marginalization and massive infrastructure provision issues, reads the report.

“Even though studies have shown that domestic violence against women cuts across all socio-economic classes, in public space and public life, class plays a significant role in intensifying or mitigating the violence experienced by women,” it reads. “Rising inequality and income disparity has meant that working class and low-income women have had to take on the role of providers and to step out of the home. The first challenge women face, however, regardless of whether they work or not, is in accessing basic infrastructure. Lack of access to drinking water means women often have to walk long distances from home to find water. Low-income women in public space are vulnerable to harassment and threats of violence. Taking public transportation is also considered as an undertaking fraught with dangers of harassment. Women who are part of the workforce face harassment and intimidation at work.”

Factory women-workers particularly vulnerable

Factory women-workers are particularly vulnerable, and a study on women workers in Karachi indicates that violent unrest in the city is provided as an excuse by employers to lay them off, reads the report.

“In the same study, anecdotal evidence based on interviews with women in low-income settlements like Orangi, Gadap and Lyari shows that women have been kidnapped during riots,” it reads. “Further, households have been scared to lodge FIRs with the police due to mistrust of the authorities. In addition, families were also afraid of reporting the crime for fear of violent repercussions from the perpetrators as well as the community at large, due to entrenched patriarchal norms (HomeNet 2011).”

Lack of belief in women

According to WAR, systemic bias against women in the police and the judiciary is one of the strongest obstacles for victims seeking justice in cases of sexual violence, reads the report. “This bias reveals itself at various stages of the procedures required to seek justice and includes dismissal and disbelief of the victim, blaming the victim for the crime, delays in conducting medical examinations and if the case does go to court, the propensity of judges to either dismiss the case or favor the male perpetrators by allowing “compensatory” justice in the form of payoffs to the victim or victim’s family,” it reads.

“Even more revealing is the attitudinal behavior of medico-legal officers whose continued reliance on key texts such as Modi’s Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology that was used in the colonial era to conduct examinations on rape victims, highlight hoary presumptions about victims and perpetrators’ behavior. Notably, the subjective views of police surgeons and medical examiners show how attitudes toward ‘authentic’ cases are shaped by dominant norms concerning a woman’s behavior and role in society. For example:

“The Police Surgeon held the view if a woman comes in for an examination in a calm and collected state, or if she is excessively emotional, or appears to be shy or coy, then she is regarded with suspicion. Those who are unconscious or badly injured are taken the most seriously. He was of the view that a woman who is “raped” can be at fault for that as well. For example, it is usually her fault if she was alone at the time of the rape, knows the rapist, or had invited him over.” (2011:30)

According to a female medical examiner, “girls that are bold and go out of their homes to meet men, it means they come from unhappy homes and have working mothers and fathers who are drug addicts – increasing the odds of being raped. Real victims will not come in to the hospital alone, because they will be too distressed, so those that do are likely to have left home on their own initiative, indicating that no rape actually took place”.(29) Such attitudes have a definitive impact on a victim’s pursuit of justice. In a highly contested domain of what is/is not ‘authentic’ rape, lawyers’ perceptions and assumptions are equally revealing. A male district public prosecutor stated most rape cases are simply not real and “….involve some other disputes and false evidence of rape is submitted. Other disputes can mean land or property disputes, but also cases of girls eloping and parents filing rape charges to save face.” (34)”

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