According to estimates - as many as 70 percent of women in Pakistan experience domestic violence. This violence can range from beatings, to sexual violence or torture, to broken bones and very serious injury caused by pouring of acid or burning the victim alive.
The victims of these abuses are trapped in a society where beatings from a male family member are acceptable and where independence and divorce are taboo. Often, these victims are trapped in a vicious cycle whereby they are abused twice over – once by their spouses and then by the very people they turn to for help – including policemen, judges and even mullahs (religious persons).
In many instances, violence against a woman is used as a tool by the abuser to drive the victim to commit suicide. In other instances, accidents are engineered – typically by the tampering of a kitchen stove and its resulting explosion when used – to cause a victims death. In some cases, petrol is pored over the victim and she is set ablaze, claimed to be yet another accident or suicide with plenty of family members ready to vouch as witnesses. These murders are committed usually when differences occur between the victim and her husband or his family – typically when the husband and his family feel that the dowry and gifts given with the girl during marriage were insufficient, if the husband wished to marry again and even if he and his family expected an inheritance from the death of his wife.
As of a few years ago, it is estimated by the Ansar Burney Trust that as many as four women were seriously burnt in such cases weekly in Pakistan. Police investigations were negligible and any prosecutions that did occur were as a result of intervention by human rights organisations such as Ansar Burney Trust.
According to our investigations, in the vast majority of cases where women lost their lives as a result of violence at home, it was their husbands and in-laws who were to blame; while at other times it was the victims' brothers and fathers.
Some women who seek divorce or separation suffered mutilation – their nose, ears and hair were cut off by angry revengeful husbands and lovers.
Another form of violence commonly faced by women in Pakistan is sexual violence. It is estimated that as many as eight women - half of them minors - are raped in Pakistan everyday, partly due to the general disbelief in women's rights in Pakistan.
Reasons for these rapes vary, many times being committed to extract revenge on the victims family as women are commonly believed to be the keepers of family honor. At other times, the rape of a woman is ordered as punishment through the centuries old "Punchait" and "Jirga" systems consisting of local elders, for the crimes committed by other members of her family.
Many sexual assaults on women occur in custody by the police, an act that has reduced in frequency due to the efforts of Ansar Burney Trust monitoring the treatment of women in police stations, prisons and mental asylums.
Women who seem independent or those who work are consistently sexually harassed, many times by male members of staff as independence and working away from home are seen as signs of indecency. This harassment is not only inflicted on lower and middle class women, but even female members of parliament have reported consistent harassment from men in their constituencies.
Acid throwing is another abuse inflicted on women to "teach them a lesson". In many instances, men who had proposed for a woman's hand in marriage only to be declined have resulted in throwing acid on the girls face and body to insure pain and suffering on the victim because she dishonoured him by refusing his proposal.
At other times, religious fundamentalists have been known to throw acid at women who are complete strangers to them – because they felt the women were too modern and westernised; even if all the women had done is wear jeans instead of the traditional Pakistani dress.
The Ansar Burney Trust estimates that on average, a woman suffers an acid attack every week in Pakistan; an act the Trust has been working against for many years.
In our battle against violence inflicted on women, the Ansar Burney Trust has raised its voice to improve awareness for the better treatment of women in Pakistani society and bring attention to their suffering and plight. The Trust provides the victims with free medical services and reconstructive surgery for their injuries, full protection and legal support to prosecute those responsible and a shelter home for these women to reside in without fear of persecution.