Speakers call for structural reforms to respond to gender-based violence

Abused woman leaning sadly on wooden wall, concept for domestic violence

ISLAMABAD: Violence against women is a global phenomenon that needs to be responded with full force and unity, however, structural reforms in the system are needed in the societies like Pakistan to implement relevant laws to deal with this menace. 

This was the crux of a webinar titled: ‘Violence against Women and Girls in Pakistan: How to Address This Shadow Pandemic Amid COVID-19 and Beyond’ organized by Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). 

Wendy Gilmour, the Canadian High Commissioner in Islamabad, while highlighting the global assistance policy of Canada, said that this policy revolves around strengthening judicial system and supporting victims of such acts of violence. “We work with civil society organizations at the grass roots level to build support systems for the victims of gender-based violence, she said, adding that destigmatizing of reporting rape cases is crucial to ensure victim’s access to justice.    

Ms Khawar Mumtaz, the former Chairperson of National Commission on the Status of Women, said the increasing trend of gender-based violence in our society is quite alarming and must be dealt with stern and speedy actions. ”Such incidents are now being reported in media and highlighted widely that is a positive sign,”  She said. Ms Mumtaz added that the lack of seriousness on the part of state institutions is one major obstacle in the ways of victim’s no access to our justice system. Therefore, she maintained, it would be important to build the capacity of people involved in the justice system.  

Dr Abid Qaiyum Suleri, the SDPI Executive Director,  was of view that marking 16 Days of Activism is a much needed initiative but keeping the intensity of violence against women in our society, we need to work with the same zeal throughout the year to respond to this menace effectively. 

“Amid COVID-19, increased reliance on internet and expensive gadgets for the connectivity has highlighted the pertinent issue of digital inequality,” Dr Suleri said and added that the number of out of school children, especially girls, has been increased due to pandemic and thus, this issue needs to be responded on urgent basis.  

Romina Khurshid Alam, the Member of National Assembly of Pakistan, emphasized that policymakers, women parliamentarians, and civil society organizations need to work together to address the structural lacunas such as rape being treated as a compoundable offense. “We need to focus on the real issues and improve the capacity of institutions for the better implementation of laws,” she stressed.  

Fauzia Shahid, the former secretary-general of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, said that after 1977, the society had systematically been turned anti-women, which ultimately fanned gender-based violence in the country.

Asma Shirazi, senior journalist and anchorperson, said that online harassment of women is a new form of violence, which is being used as a tool to silence the dissenting voices by the regimes in an organized manner.   

Munizae Jahangir and Arifa Noor, the senior journalists and anchorpersons, highlighting the gaps in the implementation of laws in rape and other crimes against women, emphasized the need for capacity building and training of the officials concerned in the justice system.  

Marvi Awan, the Chairperson of Women Protection Cell, was of view that the government and civil society need to join hands to improve the implementation of laws in the cases of domestic and gender-based violence.