Women and girls in Punjab face a myriad of challenges when it comes to their access to the formal justice system. Every day, hundreds of women fall prey to gender-based violence - and worse yet, oftentimes a culture of feudal impunity and patriarchal privilege actively seeks to protect the perpetrator while stigmatising and alienating the victim.


One such victim in southern Punjab lodged a formal complaint with the Punjab Commission on the Status of Women through the Commission’s Helpline for Women. Local police officials refused to register a case despite the fact that a woman who had been beaten to a pulp by her own husband - someone she trusted with all her life. He was an influential man in the local community and missed no chance to control and overpower his wife.


Local authorities failed to take appropriate legal action when approached by the victim and her family. At the PCSW’s head office in Lahore, the victim narrated the series of events following herdesperate phone-call as nothing short of a miracle. Later on, PCSW proceeded to intervene in her case and soon enough the survivor informed the Helpline team that her husband repented harming her and apologised to her.


Playing the role of moderator and pacifist between the two parties, PCSW successfully acted as the safe and enabling platform through which a written deed of conditional compromise between the spouses was signed.


ASSESSING THE GENDER LANDSCAPE OF PUNJAB


Policy-making in Punjab is increasingly influenced by evidence-based research and concrete data. In 2015, Punjab Commission on the Status of Women set up a comprehensive Gender Management Information System (GMIS), which is accessibleonline (www.gmis.gop.pk) and provides real time scalable data, which highlights trends that depict the current status of women in the province across 6 thematic areas, including demographics, governance, health, education, justice and economic empowerment.


All data collected is gender-disaggregated, thus can aid the Government to ascertain development needs and create room for gender-responsive budgeting.


Data based on projectionsin 2016 found that the population of Punjab comprises of 48% women, with higher numbers observed in urban areas such as Lahore (4,295,000), Faisalabad (1,773,333), Gujranwala (1,548,667) and Rawalpindi (1,417,667) and in rural Faisalabad (1,806,333), Rahim Yar Khan (1,598,333), Muzaffargarh (1,533,333) and Sargodha (1,181,333).


In Punjab,women’s rights are often violated underthe pretext of orthodox cultural,social and customary practices such as so-called honour killings, rape, and wani. GMIS illustrates that from January to June 2017, 3,406 cases of violence against women were reported in Punjab, with the highest number of reported cases in districts Muzaffargarh (356), Rahim Yar Khan (297) and Vehari (285).


This data itselfdraws attention to the geographical pockets of southern Punjab where women are most adverselyaffected and where there is greatest need for aggressive intervention by the Government.


In light of the increasing prevalence of violence against women, the Punjab government has not only enacted laws such as the Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act 2012 and Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016, but has also introduced policy and administrative measures through three Women Empowerment Packages (PWEP),which, among other provisions, include establishment of female helpdesks in all police stations and a Women’s Helpline(1043), which is currently managed by Punjab Commission on the Status of Women.


How the Helpline works


The provincial government established the Helpline with an overarching purpose of providing awareness, guidance, and redress to aggrieved women. This 24/7 toll-free service helps women register complaintsregarding official inaction, obtain advice concerning their fundamental rights, and inquire about their rights in marriage, divorce, inheritance, criminal offences, domestic violence, harassment, employment, harmful traditional practices, financial support, political violence or any other issues.


These complaints are handled by a professionally trained team of lawyers, female call operators and managers, affording women the opportunity to talk comfortably about their case, and often share personal information regarding their case.


Complaints can be lodged bycalling the Helpline at 1043, submitting an online application on PCSW’s website (www.pcsw.punjab.gov.pk) or through a postal service, and by walking in to PCSW’s Secretariat in Lahore, and meeting Helpline officials.


Once a complaint is lodged, PCSW initiates the redressal by engaging with concerned government bodies for speedy resolution of the complainant’s grievance.


The Helpline team also proactively creates awareness among public through outbound awareness calls. Another crucial part of the Helpline is the media outreach strategy which includes Whatsapp and SMS messaging, public awareness sessions, advertising of the Helpline on rickshaws, newspaper and mass print advertising, and promotional campaigning on social media and the PCSW website.


LET’S TALK ABOUT IMPACT!


Punjab Women’s Helpline has proved to be highly effective in provision of recourse for victimised women. While GMIS data indicates high number of reported cases of violence and official inaction in southern Punjab, data compiled by officials of the Helpline from August 2014 to May 2017 correspondingly shows that a high number of complaints lodged are in fact from South Punjab, with highest numbers of complaints from districtsMuzaffargarh (33), Bahawalpur (32), Jhang (31), Khanewal (30) and Rahim Yar Khan (24).


Since its inception, a total of 1,057 complaints have been received through the Helpline till August, 2017, out of which 537 complaints have been successfully resolved and 495 complaints are in the process of being resolved.


The fact that 330,036 awareness calls have been made to the public at large, and more than 58,000 inquiries have been received and addressed through the Helpline since its inception. It indicates the wide outreach and success of the Helpline to date.


Successes


Interventions by PCSW through the Helpline have strengthened outreach and resulted in efficiency of government bodies that deal with and subsequently resolve cases of women across Punjab. In a recent case dealt with by the Helpline, SHO Faisalabad’s quick legal action led to prevention of child marriage in Chak Jhumara, Faisalabad.


In another instance, PCSW successfully rescued a woman from domestic abuse in Lahore, by coordinating efforts with district police officials. Prior to PCSW’s intervention, local police had refused to register her complaint and take legal action, due to her husband’s influential position within Punjab Police.


The most recent Helpline success story from August 9 is of a woman who was denied pension of her deceased husband. Due to PCSW’s efforts, the office of the Accountant General, Punjab, released the amount due to her as pension.


Moving Forward


The Helpline has proven itself as a beacon of hope for women and girls in Punjab, especially in backward and remote regions, where it is ever so difficult for them to raise their voice. Day by day, the number of calls received by the Helpline is increasing, since women have begun to actively use the Helpline and register their complaints against state bodies and individuals.


It is hoped that Government of Punjab’s efforts towards addressing women’s issues continue, and collaboration between PCSW and other institutional mechanisms results in reducing the incidence of violence against women in Punjab.


Authored by Punjab Commission on the Status of Women.