December 2006 Dowry: The most frequently forgotten form of gender violence in Pakistan By Dr.Rakhshinda Perveen Pakistan, Gender based Violence: The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is riddled by contrasts in almost every sector. It is characterized by a selective male friendly interpretation of the dominant religion Islam and elitist friendly application of laws. Being a part of the patriarchal belt of South Asia, the culture, family and society is patriarchal. Although recent entry of “elected’ women representatives in the parliament and local bodies are being used as an instrument to make believe that women are empowered in Pakistan, the fact is that empowerment ( social, economic, political and legal) for most of the Pakistani women and disadvantaged communities in Pakistan is yet a distant dream. However, a number of efforts are underway to promote participation of women in all areas of development. There is also a growing attention by the current government to gender issues including violence that experienced political marginalization in previous democratic as well as military regimes. The visible outcome of such efforts which to date are limited to candid media, generous discourse and ceremonial gestures has yet to come. The country, today, like most other countries round the globe is facing the phenomenon of gender based violence. In the recent years, whenever and wherever, one speaks of gender violence and Pakistan or Pakistani communities outside Pakistan; one cannot recall any other form of violence but Honor Killing or the plight of Mukhtaran Mai. Media, especially western media have created hype on these. The net result of these associations is the convenient forgetfulness, by the Governments, Media, NGOs and other stake holders of the commonest form of gender violence in Pakistani; that is Dowry violence. Dowry violence is a culturally accepted; media generated and legally sanctioned form of violence, yet to be recognized as the most pertinent Pakistani gender issue by development activists in Pakistan. Pakistan: Marriage, Dowry and Violence: Contradictory to the obvious forms of gender based violence like rape, gang rape, custodial rape, acid throwing, karo Kari (“honor killing”), trafficking ,forced prostitution, child sexual abuse etc. ; Dowry as a form of violence has yet to be accepted and understood by the social activists, researchers and policy makers in Pakistan. The reasons behind this collective forgetfulness include more focused attention by mainstream NGOs and media towards donor funded campaigns and programs for eliminating barefaced forms of violence, conventional and conformist mindset of the public sectors, vested interests of the corporate sectors and inability of the donor agencies to understand the inclusive premise of marriage and dowry in Pakistan. Owing to the amalgamated uphill struggle of many NGOs, women rights activists and other non state actors the awareness level across-the-board on discriminatory laws like Huddod & Zina ordinance, Qanoone Shahadat and Qisas and Dait is quite promising. However, there is no awareness not only among masses but among the classes of those who can make a difference when it comes to the issue of absence of any law on Dowry. Pakistan has a Restriction Act 1976 with reference to Bridal gifts and Dowry which says that neither the aggregate value nor presents given to the bride by her parents nor the aggregate value of the bridal gifts or of presents to the bridegroom shall exceed five thousand rupees. This effort through law to place limits on dowry just like repeated bans imposed on wedding meals
has little rather no effect on practice. This is not only because implementation of any law has always remained a challenge but also because the existing Act has a number of loopholes and reflects absence of rationality. Marriage is still seen as an intact and inevitable institution in Pakistani society which is experiencing globalization and experimenting with...
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