Women's Perceptions and Experiences of Domestic Violence: An Observational Study From Hyderabad, Pakistan
This community-based observational study of 1,325 women seen for antenatal care examined how women in Pakistan define violence against women (VAW), with an emphasis on domestic violence, what an acceptable response to violence is, reasons for remaining silent, and whether participants are willing to disclose incidents of domestic violence to others. Nearly half of the study participants believed that physical violence was VAW. Verbal abuse, controlling behavior by the husband, conflict with in-laws, overburdening domestic work, and threatening to leave or remarry were also considered VAW. However, only five respondents (0.4%) considered sexual abuse to be VAW. Most women who screened positive for domestic violence responded by remaining silent or verbal fighting back. None sought professional help. Women who decided to remain silent feared that the abuse would escalate or that responding would not help them. Women cited social stigma and concerns about the impact of the violence on children as reasons for not disclosing violent incidents to others or seeking professional help. Women's lack of autonomy further reduced their ability to take steps against violence. Although societal norms, particularly patriarchal beliefs and women's subordination to men, likely explain women's tolerance of abuse, their recognition of physical abuse as violence indicates that they do not necessarily believe it is always justified. Educational interventions to drive changes in the social norms around gender violence along with effective and enforceable legal measures are likely required to ensure women's safety.