Violence Against Women: Breaking Down Walls

Posted on May 8, 2008
Filed Under >Aisha Sarwari, Society, Women
34 Comments
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By Aisha Sarwari

Art by Abro: Violence againat WomenWhat are the odds that I move into a house in the elite F/11 sector of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad and our land lord turns out to be a wife-beater?

1 in 4, according to the United Nations report on gender 2007. Flip it around and the same applies to 25% of all women in this country are said to have faced violence from their male relative, be it a father, brother, uncle, husband or son.

Take this statistic to a new geographical location and nothing changes, the same 1 in 4 of all relatively empowered women of the developed world face domestic violence at some point in their life regardless of race or socio-economic standing. There are two profound differences though, a woman in the west is more mobile and flexible in terms of walking out of a relationship and even moving into a shelter with her kids, and she is more likely to get the abuser to incur some damage, be it financial, social or legal.

This woman in F/11 in a corner house with a beautiful lawn has no such chance. There is no weapon, no upper hand, or moral imperative she holds to his mindless violence. I heard loud noises coming from their house while my family was away, and at first I ignored them, assuming they are arguments with some random person in our side of the driveway. When they grew louder, it was apparent it was a domestic squabble, over some matter, water in the drive way that she should have gotten cleaned up. The mister was making demands, his wife was giving explanations. I reacted by ignoring it. What’s the point?

Art by Abro: Violence againat WomenSoon, I heard the deafening thuds that beg a three act internal dialogue in your head, everything comes back, every character has an opinion and a role in this mind’s eye, while you struggle to decide if you are part or not. Now you’re a part, now you are not. He was hitting her. And that too real hard. I wondered what it was, knuckles, wall, just dragging, a couple of slaps, shoves, punches, or objects. There was also the simple wham that hit right near the eyes where it hurt the most. I kept saying to myself, I just got carpeting, curtains and air conditioning installed. I deserve a mental break, treat yourself, stay out of something you can’t affect.

This man who was now savage was salt and pepper haired. He watered his own garden everyday, Kissed his 3 year old son, was seemingly proper and respectful. His wife and I interacted a couple of times, she came across as sweet and informative, even knowledgeable. One of the first few things she said to me was, that her husband found it rather strange that I was singlehandedly involved with the hired help to construct a fenced wall for the pets and do all the carpeting, and she said, she too believed in doing things herself. Generally positive, definitely practical. In just a day we agreed to share duties of maintaining the gardens and cleaning the driveways.

The same woman was getting battered, so after about 15 minutes of her pleads and the children weeping, I couldn’t take it anymore, and decided to get downstairs, when I did, the impact of it only grew. She was being dragged against my wall. The wall I paid a year in advance to enjoy “peaceful and quiet living” as per the contract. I dwelled on trying to disperse the mulling dog from her by raising this point, I had to do something, I thought when I heard no sound but thuds right after she said, “Aren’t you a doing a great job of being a man, pick on someone weaker than you.” With my heart racing from the familiarity of life’s violence, and the tyranny of all unhealthy relations that my female relatives went though, I walk out expecting to see a scene. He’s dragged her in.

Art by Abro: Violence againat Women

I walk to their main door and knock, but they can’t hear me over the recurring shouts. I knock harder, begging for a distraction. How could this clinically narcissist of a human not care about his new neighbors? I kept yelling out and knocking. When I thought of it, it did seem like something was wrong. Like most abused women she tends to repeat herself for needless clarification, she seemed a bit unsure, yet while she had a polite smile on her lips, her eyes were brave. As if she had to learn to be on the defensive and her hands seemed always prepared, she cupped them in each other.

Finally someone was walking toward the door, I stepped back, ready. She opened it. Her head has blood on the side, her hair was pinched apart. She looked at me as if she got back from a brisk workout. I heard noises and I want to make sure everything is ok, I said, and surprised myself for interfering in another’s household matter, just because I happened to be there. She surprised me by her answer, same old she said, battering. Her honesty made me nod. I said, oh, and walked away. The purpose was served. The momentum was broken.

I read somewhere that the most scary thing about helping is being involved. I would like to think that I worked against my fear and got involved. The probability that a woman’s life is in danger are very high, and my simple knock on the door is not enough. One needs to break these walls and protect these brave women to be truly empowered by being mobile, and by gaining some mutually assured destruction for peace in the household.

(Also by Aisha Sarwari: Being Woman in Pakistan. Also see Silent Against Domestic Violence and Former Wicket-Keeper, Current Wife-Beater. Artwork by Abro from Flickr).

34 responses to “Violence Against Women: Breaking Down Walls”

  1. Tina says:

    I would also be interested in the follow-up to the story–what did Aisha do after she knocked on the door? Did it work?

    Her landlord’s unfortunate wife sounds like a remarkable woman. I would be interested in hearing what became of her.

  2. Tina says:

    Ahsn–unfortunately, they do represent a large enough trend to be of concern. There is an additional problem in that there is little legal recourse in Pakistan and penalties for men are light(as Matthew pointed out). If the woman’s family is not willing to take her back, she really has NO way out–she cannot realistically flee and work to support herself.

    In the situation of arranged marriages made with an eye to pleasing the parents, where the husbands family is often from the same family as the wife’s even, the parents have more motivation not to offend the husband’s relatives than they do to protect their daughter. They ignore and turn a blind eye and refuse to see until it is too late. They may even cover up a death; I have heard of cases of it.

    Instead of worrying about embarrassment, it would make more sense to worry about the murdered women and devastated lives, the children who are shattered and grow up angry and violent themselves. If you are more worried about anything else, this shows you take the lives of women very lightly.

    These women are literally tortured for years, then die at the hands of their abusers. What takes precedence over that? Is a woman’s life worth less than the family secrets? Apparently in the twenty-first century the answer is still yes.

    As for religion, it is hard to argue that more religion is the answer when the religion in question gives the man the right to privately jail and then beat his wife. I would make the same criticism of fundamentalist Christianity, and Hinduism too has plenty of bad things to say about women. Religions were put together at a time when women were not considered human and were worth less than cattle. It makes no sense to turn harder into that mindset; it makes sense to grow out of it.

    And I would also agree with the posters who have pointed out that violence in the home runs parallel to the larger violence in the society–children being beaten in schools, police brutality accepted as normal, and so on. It all works together.

    It only ends when we decide.

  3. Khadija says:

    Disrespect for women is a viscous cycle and unless we speak up against it it jut keps growing.

    Thank you to Pakistaniat.com for their struggle and many posts on this topic and for reminding us of the importance of these issue.

  4. Yaqoob Hassan says:

    Why are some people trying to make this about an attack on Islam. The post mentions nothing about that at all. This is a social problem and needs to be solved by society. I agree it is a very widespread problem and exists in education as well as uneducated, religious as well as non-religious and all sorts of households.

  5. AHsn says:

    Daktar, you are unnecessarily surprised and disturbed. I am very well aware of the miserable position of a female in a male dominated society of Pakistan. All the religions have given the second position to a female and a superiority to a male. Islam is not any different. In some cases, I will say the situation is even worse in Pakistan.

    Any argument, based on a single and a particular example and applied on the whole, is fallacious. Matthew’s in-laws family does not represent the whole nation of Pakistan.

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