Dr. Rakhshinda Perveen
Dowry-related violence, a serious problem that affects the lives of millions of Pakistani girls and women, and their children, is not seen as a wounding tradition even by the educated ones, and even if they are against the custom, very few dare to protest against it.
Media, too, often endorses lavish wedding ceremony and indirectly endorses the institution of dowry. Regrettably, very little statistical data is available regarding dowry violence in Pakistan, which in spite of high prevalence (as marriage is a must to enter institution in Pakistan) remains buried in domestic violence. The violence and deaths associated with dowry demands constitute domestic violence. Similar to acts of domestic violence, the acts used in dowry-related offenses include physical, emotional, and economic violence, as well as harassment as means to exact compliance or to punish the victim.
The most common forms of dowry-related violence are battering, marital rape, acid throwing, wife burning, and other forms of violence. Perpetrators may also use methods of starvation, deprivation of clothing, evictions, and false imprisonment as a method of extortion. They often use violence disguised as suicides or accidents, such as stove or kerosene disasters, to burn or kill women for failing to meet dowry demands.
Some key challenges that I have noted after initiating different campaigns and activism against dowry related violence include the following:
How could dowry be made a high priority agenda to create a critical mass to combat this institutional violence? Are we ready to adopt this extremely critical gender issue as a passion? Is our mass media mature enough to advocate and sensitize all stakeholders? Do we have any political commitment in this regard and how far are our governments ready to go in this respect?
On behalf of Fight Against Dowry Advocacy Network (FADAN), I dare to ask the Government of Pakistan, all legislators, powerful donor groups interested in the development of a liberal society, and elite feminists, activists, and advocates of human rights, and child, youth, and women’s rights that for how long:
Will pro women legislation take place only when powerful elites champion the particular issue?
Will vulgar display of wealth be tolerated in the name of dowry?
Will “Stove deaths/kitchen deaths” of women, usually newlywed, be considered as “accidental” and not dowry deaths?
Will dowry demands and lavish weddings be endorsed in the name of culture and custom and not considered cognizable crimes?
Will legislation against dowry and related violence be delayed? (Does it impact corporate interests?)
Will the 200 million people of Pakistan (more than 50% of whom are below the poverty line) continue to wait for changing social attitudes, instead of proactive legislative action?
Will the State and the civil society continue to disbelieve & disregard that a society without justice is a society misruled?
Therefore, the law about dowry prohibition and austerity in weddings is a must. It must touch all three forms of justice; i.e. corrective justice, distributive justice, and justice in the social norms and practices of society.
Those who are against the idea and those who are sceptics come up with the argument that this kind of legislation would remain ineffective in a country like Pakistan. While a law never guarantees eradication of an evil, it always acts as a deterrent and demonstrates the consciousness of the state. Meanwhile, there is at least one ray of hope: the governance action of the Chef Minister Punjab in enforcing the law against lavish weddings in Punjab and his strict orders that marriage halls are to be closed by the decreed time.
Dowry is a multi-faceted, deep-rooted, gender issue with social, economic, and health consequences. I request all like minded citizens, especially human rights defenders and advocates of women’s rights, to take notice of the exclusion of dowry related violence in mainstream activism and advocacy and apathy of mainstream media towards the issue of dowry violence.
It remains a bitter fact that due attention has not been paid so far to this very grave and striking human rights and women rights issue at the policy level and shared social and political determinants of the issues of dowry and related abuses. While dowry is practiced in many different parts of the world, dowry-related violence is most prevalent in South Asia, in the nations of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
My more than two decades of works (without the push of the social class and pull of the power elites) in youth engagement, alliance building, TV, Radio, theatre & print communication, training, research, awareness raising, and legislative advocacy has finally convinced me that my country Pakistan needs a public policy and legislation against dowry related abuses to contribute effectively towards eliminating violence against women and girls and advancing the global goal of gender equality.
A strong anti-dowry legislation devised for the peculiar contexts of Pakistan should provide a definition for dowry-related violence. Drafters should define the scope of prohibited acts within a domestic violence framework, taking into account the dynamics of dowry-related violence.
The AHRC is not responsible for the views shared in this article, which do not necessarily reflect its own.
About the Author:
Dr.Rakhshinda Perveen, a victim turned survivor of dowry violence, is a recognized Researcher & Gender Expert who has been working against dowry related abuse in Pakistan since 1994. She was invited as a guest speaker in 2014 by UN Watch to talk about dowry violence on the occasion of 6 annual conferences on human rights & democracy. She tweets @survivorwins and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org