Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2017
THE 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Pakistan as the second worst country in the world for gender equality. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s annual report states that violence against women is the most common rights violation. Harmful customary practices; domestic, sexual, psychological and economic violence; and violence against women in the political arena are the main categories of ‘violence against women’ as framed by the National Commission on the Status of Women in 2015. Gender-based violence (GBV) is the term used by the UN and other international organisations.
A recent report, State of Gender-based Violence Response Services in Sindh, aimed at finding how medico-legal services were being provided; how many cases of violence against women were reported to the police; the nature of the cases and police responses; the services provided at shelter homes; and what measures have been taken for the effective implementation of the Domestic Violence Act (DVA), 2013.
GBV response services are being offered and run by government departments at the district and taluka level. Since the 18th Amendment, such services have been devolved and handed over to the provinces. The Sindh Police and the provincial health, women’s development and social welfare departments were engaged for administering detailed ‘key informant interviews’.
GBV survivors are the most important situational analysis participants. Two shelter homes from Karachi and two from Hyderabad were identified for focus group discussions. The shelter homes’ staffs were also put in the category of ‘key informants’. GBV service providers in the private sector were also engaged with to ascertain their role in addressing the issues affecting women in the province.
Key findings from the data highlight weaknesses in Sindh’s GBV response services sector. Until a few months ago, Sindh did not form its Commission on the Status of Women. This left a huge vacuum in policy formulation and devising institutional arrangements for eliminating anti-women crimes. The absence of ‘rules of business’ leaves the DVA unimplemented. The operation gap does not assign clear mandates to any service provider mentioned in the act. The lack of interdepartmental coordination is a barrier in providing relief to an already mentally and physically stressed victim.
It was also observed that the concerned departments had little idea of how the allocated funds should be spent. More than 80 per cent of respondents were not even familiar with GBV-related laws. This lack of understanding among government officials shows their inability to comprehend the complexities of GBV issues. Every department keeps their own records pertaining to GBV. The records are not being used for analysing the current situation, which would help in policy- and decision-making to take corrective measures.
Although police reforms are required to develop and adopt guidelines for handling cases of domestic violence and sexual offences in a discreet, professional manner, where the dignity of women is protected, medical and police department officials are not trained in handling GBV cases. To add, the dearth of female medico-legal staff and police officials intimidates victims.
While medico-legal certificates have to contain the personal information of the survivor, sexual assault history, forensic evidence collection, general examination for injuries and wounds (marks of violence), and examining doctor’s opinion, in practice, medico-legal officers record only very basic information. Medical records prepared by the MLOs lack evidentiary value that proves critical for the survivor during litigation.
Further, the living conditions in shelter homes appear to be very poor. Services related to medical treatment, psychological counselling, legal aid, rehabilitation, security and training are not being offered in government-run shelters, despite adequate budgets.
It is recommended that every department’s mandate with respect to GBV protection should be clearly defined, and the departments’ staff should be trained to effectively handle GBV cases. Provincial departments must develop the skills to prepare gender-sensitive budgeting for responding to practical needs with the required funds and resources. It is important to raise awareness about the law and the services that can be provided.
It is also important to appoint female MLOs at the taluka level to enhance women’s access to protective services in their neighbourhoods. The health department should consider establishing more forensic laboratories to collect immediate forensic evidence in GBV cases. More shelter homes need to be established in all the province’s districts so that the disparity between the number of survivors and available capacity can be addressed.
To achieve this, there needs to be a provincial-level umbrella body — comprising civil society groups, public bodies, legal aid agencies and department representatives — for collective planning and execution of GBV response strategies and action plans.