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December 7, 2023 - Comments Off on Women Choose To Live With Abusive Partners, Only They Don’t

Women Choose To Live With Abusive Partners, Only They Don’t

Halima Azhar

Dedicated to all of us, who have faced this, seen this, lived this, survived this, fought this, and who are still struggling against this

Challenging Misconceptions About Gender-Based Violence:

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a reality that haunts Pakistani women like a powerful demon that keeps people awake at night. The said vulnerable group becomes subject to GBV in intimate relations, at workplaces, in public places, and online. These episodes of violence have not only a grave impact on the mental and physical health of the victims and survivors, but it also affects the family of the victims and survivors, including children even if they have not been directly assaulted. According to the Council of Europe, gender-based violence affects everyone and has a far-reaching impact than one can imagine. Despite the gravity of the issue, it is underreported globally, and Pakistan is no exception in this regard, rather the issue becomes a lot more convoluted here due to a culture that worships patriarchy. It is not only the impact that is grave, but the frequency of crime is also alarming in the country, as highlighted in a report published at HRCP in 2020, titled “Factsheet on domestic violence during Covid19 lockdown”, over 90% of Pakistani women have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. Despite      such prevalence of gender-based violence in one form or another in the country, many myths still surround the subject, which further complicates the matter and multiplies the challenges for victims and survivors of gender-based violence.

GBV is an issue of Working Class is a Myth:

Gender-based violence in Pakistan, much like worldwide, is frequently linked to the economic vulnerability or dependence of women on male figures such as spouses, fathers, brothers, or sons. While this association holds truth, it does not fully capture the complex dynamics at play. Anastasia Powell, a Lecturer of Justice and Legal Studies at RMIT University in Australia, contends that framing the discussion around factors influencing men to choose violence and women's vulnerability as risks can diminish accountability. It is essential to recognize that both perpetrators and victims of gender-based violence exist across all social classes and groups, challenging the notion that economic empowerment alone is a safeguard.

In examining the manifestation of gender-based violence through a classist lens in Pakistan, the convoluted nature of the issue, reporting barriers, and deeply rooted patriarchal culture contribute to a scarcity of data on this particular aspect. Notably, the portrayal of gender-based violence in the Pakistani entertainment industry, particularly mainstream dramas, serves as a reflection of societal attitudes. Within this narrative, gender-based violence is often depicted as an issue prevalent among the working class, romanticized or left unaddressed when shown within upper class or urban settings. For instance, the internationally recognized Pakistani drama "Tere Bin" features the lead character, Meerab (played by Yumna Zaidi), expressing indignation upon discovering her house help's abuse and encouraging her to take a stand. Paradoxically, the same character later faces romanticized violence at the hands of her affluent romantic partner, a wealthy landlord, perpetuating a skewed portrayal of gender-based violence across different social strata. Such depiction of gender-based violence is problematic, especially in context of Pakistan which continues to be one of the worst countries to be a woman.

Pakistan does not have promising circumstances to offer to women when it comes to GBV. Honor killing (murder in the name of protecting family honor), Karo Kari (honor killing of women/men due to adultery), sexual assault (non-consensual sex) and many other forms of violence are experienced by women every year, however, the murder of Noor Muqadam has been one of the most harrowing events in this particular context. In this case, the Murderer belonged to one of the most affluent business families nationally and internationally. Being the daughter of former Pakistani ambassador to different countries, Noor Muqaddam herself belonged to an affluent family as well. Class couldn’t stop Zahir Jaffer or protect Noor Muqadda from committing one of the most heinous crimes of         history.

Just after a year, another incident of “femicide” in comparable circumstances surfaced when Sarah Inam, a Canadian national herself was murdered by her husband Shahnawaz Amir, son of known journalist Ayaz Amir. In this case, both victim and the alleged murderer belonged to the urban elite who lived in Islamabad. In between these two murders which got media attention, many other incidents of violence against women happened which led to murder. Some were reported and some went unreported. However, this particular case, just like Noor Muqadam’s case reinforces that GBV exists beyond class, color and race, and associating to any such factor only risks lessening the responsibility, as said by Ms. Powell in her article, “Gender, culture and class collude in violence against women” . Thus, associating gender-based violence, with the working class or considering that economically empowered women are not as vulnerable to gender-based violence is not only a myth but also stereotyping of certain segments of the society. Thus, it can be said that GBV is a reality of women in this country irrespective of the socio-economic class they belong to.

Gender Based Violence is a Private Matter is a Myth:

Pakistan's societal landscape is marked by a patriarchal structure that not only fails to discourage gender-based violence but also discourages victims from disclosing such incidents. The prevailing patriarchal culture, combined with a system that lacks a reliable security net for victims, creates a discouraging environment for individuals to take a stand against gender-based violence. Despite existing laws, the conviction rate remains dismally low at 1-2.5 percent.

The disheartening social, cultural, and legal attitudes toward gender-based violence persist, partially fueled by categorizing it as a "private matter" between two individuals. However, it is essential to recognize that gender-based violence is a crime that must be reported.

The impact of gender-based violence extends far beyond the direct victims; it affects their families and children who witness such incidents. A 2019 World Bank on gender-based violence report highlights that children exposed to gender-based violence may become victims themselves in the future or even turn into perpetrators. Ignoring this issue under the guise of it being a private matter incurs not only a high social cost but also significant economic consequences.

The economic toll of gender-based violence is not merely a statistic but a grave concern, amounting to 3.7% of a country's GDP – a figure nearly on par with what most nations invest in education. This financial burden not only underscores the severity of the issue but also emphasizes the opportunity cost of neglecting the fight against gender-based violence. By dismissing it as a private matter and stifling voices that could bring about change, societies inadvertently choose a path that exacts a high toll not only on the immediate victims but on the collective well-being and progress of the entire community. It is crucial to recognize that addressing gender-based violence is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the social and economic prosperity of the nation.

Women chose to live in toxic marriage is a myth:

A very common question that is often asked to victims of gender-based violence, particularly in cases of domestic abuse, continues to be “why does she not leave him?”, and some go on to think that these women chose to live with abusive partners. The answers to these questions are not as simple, instead there are many factors involved, one being socio-economic reality of the victim, which defines their dynamics with their partner or even their own family as well.

House, property, or any material asset offers social security to an individual irrespective of their gender, and influences their approach towards life and relations as well. In Pakistan, children have inheritance rights, however only men seem to be benefiting from this. According to the Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18, “97% of women did not inherit a house or land all across Pakistan”. This means that big majority of women do not get their property rights, and hence are deprived from the security that a material asset is capable of offering. Most of these women are married off and moved from Father’s house to their husband’s house, which also never provides them security or safety of any sorts. In case the marriage ends, so does their residence in that particular house, irrespective of the fact that how many years a woman has spent in that house with her husband and family.

According to National Report On The Status Of Women In Pakistan, 2023 A Summary, that the overall labor force participation rate (LFPR) for women is only 21% in Pakistan, which implies that rest of the majority is either shouldering the role of homemakers or engaging in informal work. This striking figure underscores a significant portion of women dedicating themselves to the demanding role of homemaking, a job that not only goes unpaid but often remains unacknowledged, a stark reality reinforced by the legal framework in Pakistan.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of homemakers, Justice Krishnan Ramasamy, a Judge at the Madras High Court, emphasized their contributions. He made history by recognizing women's rights to property acquired after marriage, emphasizing that homemakers play a crucial role in enabling their spouses to engage in economic activities. However, in Pakistan, there is a notable absence of laws pertaining to joint matrimonial property, highlighting a lack of recognition for the valuable work of homemakers. Furthermore, during divorce proceedings, societal patriarchal norms and an imbalanced power dynamic among spouses hinder any equitable distribution of matrimonial assets. This situation accentuates the financial dependence of women on their male counterparts. Consequently, women find themselves in a dilemma, facing the choice of enduring an abusive marriage due to financial reliance or leaving without any legal claim to shared assets.

It is essential to dispel the notion that women stay in abusive relationships out of choice. Such a perspective reflects a privileged stance that fails to grasp the harsh reality faced by women in situations where they lack agency and financial independence. The absence of legal provisions for joint matrimonial property in Pakistan perpetuates a cycle of vulnerability for women, underscoring the urgent need for legal reforms and societal shifts to empower women in both domestic and economic spheres.

While talking to one of the victims of gender based violence, whose identity stays anonymous as per her preference, she said,

“I tried leaving my abusive partner twice, and went back to my parents each time. I did not have any place of my own because I got married soon after studies, and also did not get anything from inheritance. So, going back to them was the only choice, and each time they sent me back with my husband after a few months. Now, I have accepted my faith because there is no fight left in me. I have my kids and I just want to live for them now, that is my life.”

Her words explain the dilemma of women living in such circumstances and the miseries she and many like her bear each day. In the similar context, another victim said that,

“It has been two years since I got married. My husband earns well, but does not give me any money to spend. I wanted to work, he stopped me from that too. I live a suffocating life, where I have to ask for every penny. I never thought of telling this to my parents, because they are going to advise me to be patient just like I have seen in my family before. They might also tell me to be thankful because at least my husband is not a wife beater.”

The statements of these women show the lack of options they have, and the lack of support as well. Neither they have family support nor any support from the system. Thus, living in an abusive marriage of one kind or another is the only choice they have. Financial dependence on partners creates an unbalanced power dynamic, which puts these women in a significantly vulnerable position, while forcing them to compromise and live a life that they neither deserve nor are content with.


Gender Based Violence exists in many forms and kinds, it is not just physical or sexual assault, it is also emotional and financial abuse. Often it is assumed that these are not the problems of modern women, but they are problems of modern women as much as they are problems of women living in marginal areas of Pakistan. Besides, an indifferent attitude towards GBV exists among all social classes, and they tag it as “personal matter” quite casually, while not only encouraging the preparatory but also leaving the victim without any support. These patterns of violence are only furthered when a partner notices lack of options and agency towards their counterpart, consequently intensifying the pattern of abuse and maintaining them for a longer period of time while making it difficult for the victim to get out of it. Over the years, these patterns become a habit of the victim and they forget to identify healthy patterns from unhealthy ones, and once again it must be remembered that it is not the choice but forced misery of the circumstances established and reinforced by the patriarchal society that Pakistan is.

Published by: Digital Rights Foundation in Digital 50.50, Feminist e-magazine

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