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Violence against women in politics rising in Pakistan, India: study

India, Pakistan on 02 May 2014
Location : Pakistan, India | Source : DAWN.com; image source: DAWN.com

A recent study by the Centre for Social Research and UN Women shows that violence against women in politics is on the rise in three South Asian countries namely Pakistan, India and Nepal.

Factors responsible for violence include inadequate implementation of laws, insufficient support from police and judiciary, the stark socio-economic divide and the existing power structure. The research also indicated that "religious extremism, and its interconnection with social divisions and power relations, cannot be ignored when understanding VAWIP, particularly in Pakistan."

The study 'Violence against Women in Politics' was conducted in the aforesaid countries and analyses incidents of violence that took place from 2003-2013. It was conducted with the purpose of addressing the nature, extent and factors of violence that deter women from actively participating in politics.

Approximately 800 respondents were interviewed, including election commission officials, police, contestants and families in urban and rural areas.

The findings revealed that although women candidates and females voters fielded by political parties had increased considerably in all the three countries, the ratio of female representatives in national bodies had declined.

The study revealed that the number of female voters and contestants have increased in Pakistan in the last two elections. The 2013 election in Pakistan witnessed an extraordinary voter turnout of 40 per cent for women.

Despite more participation of women in 2013, only 3.75 per cent of women won in 2013 from 12.8 per cent in 2008.

Ever since its inception, Pakistan has been the victim of massive violence in its political area. Notable women politicians have lost their lives in this cycle of violence, including former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and minister as well as activist Ms Zille Huma Usman. Both were assassinated in full public view.

Notwithstanding the fact that women’s rights have been addressed in the legislative framework of Pakistan, India and Nepal, violence against women is still rampant.

Ninety per cent of women in these countries have disclosed that this impedes this from joining politics.

In the study, more than one in every three respondents in Pakistan (36 per cent) maintained that keeping "politics as a male domain" is a key reason for VAWIP.

All respondents in KP (Pakistan) quoted purdah as one of the main impediments to women participating in politics.

More than half the respondents in India (53 per cent) closely followed by those in Pakistan (45 per cent) felt the family should decide whether female members could participate in politics.

A large percentage of respondents (87 per cent in India, 80 per cent in Pakistan and 92 per cent in Nepal) felt that a supportive husband was needed to prevent VAWIP.

Seventy per cent of the respondents in India, 78 per cent in Pakistan and 92 per cent in Nepal felt that women should not ignore their domestic responsibilities even after being elected.

The review of laws on violence against women has revealed that none of these countries have appropriate legislation to punish those perpetuating violence against women in politics.

Approximately two in every three respondents in Pakistan (65 per cent) and every second person in India (54 per cent) believed police do not respect a woman's right to participate in violence-free politics. Further, 63 per cent of respondents in India and 70 per cent in Pakistan feel that the high incidence of VAWIP results from most cases of VAWIP going unreported.

The study has confirmed that current cycle of violence is perpetuated by gender discrimination and current power structure. While physical violence, verbal abuse and threat of violence are higher in India, character assassination is regarded as a bigger threat in Pakistan and Nepal.

The characters of women politicians in Pakistan, namely Hina Rabbani Khar, Sherry Rehman and Nilofar Bakhtyar, have been questioned while being high in the political sphere. Furthermore, no official statement was ever issued by the parties these women represent to support them or condemn this form of violence against them.

Moreover, first generation women politicians face discrimination at all levels in politics and are not allowed to make decisions while being side-lined within political parties as it was perceived that they would be able to win less political seats.

The study recommends that election commissions in these South Asian countries should take steps to recognise and promote women while institutionalising their participation in politics.

It moreover proposes that law-influencing agencies should form positive pressure groups for political funding and create awareness among women voters.

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