Perceptions of members of the National Assembly regarding effective legislation on domestic violence against women
Date of Award
Master of Science in Health Policy & Management (MSc Health Policy & Mgmt)
Community Health Sciences
INTRODUCTION: International studies have provided scientific evidence regarding domestic violence as a major hindrance in attaining social well-being. Largely because of efforts of women's organizations, domestic violence against women (DVAW) has been recognized as a legitimate human rights issue by the United Nations and since l995th government of Pakistan has included domestic violence in the five years development plan being signatory to international covenants such as Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW). Yet limited policy attention has been paid to addressing domestic violence as a public health issue. Even though domestic violence is universal, its pattern and causes are varied and specific to different cultural and social contexts. Even where a particular act of violence might be deplored, powerful institutions- the state, the family, normative systems that regulate gender relations-collude in maintaining the status quo. In Pakistan no laws on domestic violence against women exist, and laws pertaining to women often discriminate against them. Political party leaders and Members of National Assembly (MNAs) hold a central position in the legislative process in the country and hence they are in the position to tackle this issue. OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this study are (i) to explore perceptions of women and men members of the National Assembly regarding legislation on domestic violence as a policy issue (ii) to explore commonalities and differences of opinions of women and men Members of the National Assembly, pertaining to legislation on domestic violence against women and (iii) to identify barriers with regards to perceptions of the MNA's towards effective legislation on domestic violence in Pakistan. METHODOLOGY: A survey based on a structured self administered questionnaire was conducted and triangulated with in-depth interviews. Thirty six MNA's from six major political parties were included in the sample. In-depth interviews were conducted with purposive sub sample of 20 members. Quantitative data was analyzed using statistical methods. Data from the In-depth interviews was transcribed and analyzed according to the grounded theory based on pre-determined and emerging themes. RESULTS: One can infer based on the data that MNA's are to some extent sensitive to the concept of domestic violence and many consider it as an important issue with consequences on health and development. However gaps and ambiguities in the understanding of the concept of domestic violence as a legal, health and human rights issue are also evident. There were significant differences in perceptions of men and women' the latter being more sensitive especially regarding specific services, the need for women's economic empowerment and legal reforms. There was a significant difference in the perceptions of MNA's affiliated with six parties on considering domestic violence as a criminal offence and approving a bill on domestic violence considering it as a criminal offence in the National Assembly. One significant issue is that although they agree domestic violence being considered as a criminal offence _ most showed unwillingness to take any action in this regard. CONCLUSIONS: Effective legislation can play a central role in controlling violence against women and needs to be implemented as recommended by the Report of the Commission on Inquiry for Women. Barriers to bringing such legislation includes the internal dynamics of politics and power relationship; a lack of understanding of the issue and patriarchal forms, lack of political will, lack of support to those who want to work on the issue, and the low priority given to it. The need for legislation was recognized, by most participants whether as formulation of new laws, or repealing of existing discriminatory laws/ordinances. The MNA'S were optimistic that larger proportion of women in the current assembly as compared to the past will have a positive effect on handling of women issues in the parliament. RECOMMENDATIONS: A need for culture specific advocacy campaigns was strongly recommended by participants. Specific and sensitive literature and research may be a useful tool to motivate MNA's to give the rightful place to domestic violence as a serious social issue that merits the attention of important power defining political groups. Consistent pressure by the activists/human rights advocates during and after election may also serve as an effective strategy. Any social construct that violates the dignity and integrity of an individual, be it man or woman, must be challenged.
Ashraf, P. (2003). Perceptions of members of the National Assembly regarding effective legislation on domestic violence against women (Unpublished doctoral thesis). Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan.