On the 27th of March 2019, a woman Asma Aziz released a video that went viral all over social media. In the video, she accused her husband of four years, Mian Faisal, of stripping her naked, beating her with pipes, and shaving off her hair ruthlessly, only because she refused to dance for him and his colleagues. Asma confessed that although he had beaten her up many times in the past, he had never been quite as brutal as he had been that fateful day. She pleaded to the viewers of that video to please help her out because she was now homeless and utterly helpless. Thankfully, the video went viral on social media and the woman’s husband and one of his colleagues were arrested by the Punjab police. This case of horrific marital violence is terrifying to say the least. What is even more terrifying is that this case is not an isolated incident. Similar cases of marital abuse and violence are horrifyingly common in Pakistan.
In November 2017, a man, Feroz Khan, a resident of Chak No 85/NB, Sargodha, murdered his wife because she served him a ‘cold dinner’. Around the same time, a bride was allegedly strangled to death by her husband on the night of their wedding in a suspected case of ‘honour killing’ in Jacobabad. The husband thought that his new wife wasn’t a virgin and so he decided to kill her to preserve his own ‘honour’. Khanzadi, daughter of Lal Mohammad Lashari, married her cousin Qalandar Bux Khokhar, the night before her lifeless body was found in her bedroom in ADC Colony, Jacobabad.
In Pakistan, religion and culture have both contributed to men assuming perceived superiority over women. Misinterpretations of religious texts have led male scholars to conclude that men in Islam are ‘naturally superior’ to women. This is made worse by the fact that according to traditional Islamic jurists, a wife can never deny her husband sex. These scholars conclude that Nikah is a legal contract that makes the wife’s body, her husband’s property. As such, he can do with her whatever he pleases to do, as and when he pleases to do it. Although the Quran does not say anything about the husband owning the wife’s body, traditional Islamic jurists have interpreted the hadis to whatever it is that suits men upholding the oppressive patriarchy. Thus, men in Pakistan generally tend to misuse religion to their own advantage.
Pakistani culture and society also contribute to men thinking they can ‘own’ a woman’s body. In Pakistan, marriage is only a means of legalised sex. Young boys are raised by their parents to believe that they are superior to the women in their households. Parents are the greatest contributors to this sort of thinking. Pakistani parents for instance significantly prioritise their sons’ education over their daughters’ education. This is because Pakistan still continues to be a largely patriarchal society, where gender roles still very much continue to define everyday life. As such, roles of the man as ‘breadwinner’ and the woman as ‘homemaker’ are emphasized respectively. While sons are often sent to university for higher education purposes, the daughter is expected to stay home and learn to take care of the household emotionally and materially. The daughter is expected to cook and clean while the son is expected to relax and laze around the house. These sorts of practices convince men from a very young age that women are supposed to wait on them and run errands for them which further convinces them of their supposed ‘natural’ superiority over women. When these same men end up marrying, many of them treat their wives as their sexual slaves, using and abusing them for sex and violating their bodies as and when they feel like it (as in the case of Asma described above).
Things need to change, and fast. Men need to stop thinking they can treat their wives whichever way they please and get away with it. Socially and societally constructed gender roles need to be let go of and men need to treat women as first and foremost, human beings. Parents need to treat their sons and daughters equally in order for young boys realize that women are their partners and not their subordinates. Change needs to come at the grass root level. Perhaps only then will we be able to establish a society free of such monstrous crimes.