Preventing violence against women in Pakistan
Maqsood is 43 years old and lives in a rural village in Muzaffargarh district in Punjab province, Pakistan.
As a child, Maqsood was deprived of her basic right to an education. In her hometown, women are confined to domestic life and discouraged from taking part in decision-making roles – even in the household. She then became a victim of the long-standing tradition of ‘exchange’ marriages, where spouses are exchanged between two groups.
Motivated by this experience, in 2013 Maqsood joined International Alert Pakistan’s ‘Creating safer districts for women’ project, run in partnership with We Can End All Violence Against Women and the Sanjh Foundation. The project aims to improve community-based methods of preventing sexual and gender-based violence.
Maqsood is an active member of the project. She has even become a local ‘champion’, which is someone who informs their family, friends and community about the importance of ending violence against women, and runs study circles on topics related to gender-based violence, such as women’s rights and the participation of women in decision-making processes. Through these study circles and her daily interaction within the community, Maqsood has motivated men, women and families to become change makers and champions too.
She has also begun to speak out and take action against injustices affecting women in her community. When she learned that one woman in her community was a victim of domestic violence and abuse by her husband and in-laws, for instance, Maqsood stepped in and contacted the head of the local police in nearby Rohilanwali. Police officers were sent to provide protection to the woman and arrested the husband. Following a meeting between the woman’s family and her in-laws, and in the presence of the police and Maqsood, the woman moved back in with her husband and is no longer the victim of domestic violence.
“I was able to succeed through the assistance of other change makers in the village,” says Maqsood. “The team at ‘Creating safer districts for women’ has given me the confidence to raise my voice against injustices at the personal and community level.”
Maqsood has now introduced more than 150 families to the campaign and continues to develop more champions and change makers in her village.
About the project
This project aimed to address the causes of sexual violence against women at the personal, household, community and societal levels in Pakistan.
Pakistan suffers from large-scale sexual and gender-based violence, including rape, abduction and forced marriage. Cumbersome procedures and a lack of local awareness about formal justice mechanisms prevent communities from reporting cases of sexual violence, resulting in a culture of impunity.
We worked to positively influence the mind-sets and attitudes of men and women, fostering a culture of respect and a sense of security. Through study circles, street theatres and women’s conventions, we encouraged communities to talk about sexual violence, changing attitudes towards gender bias, discrimination and harmful traditional practices. We also lobbied legislatures and policy-makers to commit to taking positive actions to curb sexual violence, and engage with communities (‘rights holders’) and the state (‘duty bearers’) to develop a model for prevention.