International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Breaking The Silence

This photo shows a woman talking with other women.

Colleagues from Bedari carry out a door to door session on gender-based violence with women and girls with disability.
© Bedari

Strengthening the rights of women with disabilities in Pakistan.

"When women in Pakistan are beaten by their husbands, society usually stands behind the man," says Anbreen Ajaib. The 44-year-old, as director of the local charity Bedari (a local women’s rights organisation), has been fighting to end violence against women in Pakistan. But in this heavily patriarchal country, most women do not dare to report domestic violence. The dependence on the perpetrators is often too great. Many of those affected see no way out. This is why CBM is working with the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women to ensure the safety of women and girls with disabilities in Pakistan.

About the project

Women and girls with disabilities in Pakistan are facing even more marginalisation due to the current coronavirus pandemic – deep socio-economic barriers as well as higher rates of domestic violence.

In Multan and Muzaffargarh districts of Punjab province, CBM is working with the UN Trust Fund and Bedari. We are ensuring that violence against women and girls with disabilities is included in the COVID-19 response at community level. We are also providing tele-health and online psychological support through Bedari’s helpline programme. Additionally, we are working with men to stop them resorting to violence in stressful situations. Advocating effective responses to address violence and marginalisation at the local level is also a pillar of our project work.

On average we are receiving 100 calls a week of domestic violence [through the helpline], mostly intimate partner violence and involving beating of children. Girls and women with disabilities depend on their abusers for personal care, mobility or communication – all leading to gross under-reporting [of domestic violence].
Anbreen Ajaib, Director of Bedari, on the sharp rise of domestic violence during the pandemic.

No means of self-defense

On the international day for the elimination of violence against women (25 November), CBM is drawing particular attention to the situation of women with disabilities who have an increased risk of being victims of violence. "These women are particularly vulnerable because they are mostly dependent on the help of others," says Anbreen Ajaib. This often creates involuntary proximity and increases the chances of potential perpetrators exploiting this relationship of trust. Disability can hinder their chances of self-defense - for example, visually impaired victims may not be able to see the perpetrator, deaf and mute victims are unable to communicate linguistically with others. "Girls and women with intellectual disabilities are also victims of sexual violence," says Anbreen Ajaib. "Perpetrators believe that this disability restricts their thinking and feeling, so this somehow justifies the violence against them." 

Getting the men on-board

This photo shows a group of men standing apart from each other and talking.

Carry out community sessions with the male population in Muzaffargarh on violence against women.

© Mudassar Abbas

This makes it all the more important to raise society's awareness - and also to bring boys and men on board in a targeted way: "We make it clear to them that masculinity does not mean beating women, but standing against violence of any kind," says Anbreen Ajaib. Only in this way is it possible to change behavioural patterns in a sustainable way.

To reach out to women in Pakistan and educate them about their rights, Anbreen Ajaib and her colleagues must proceed very carefully. They seek to talk to the women at home and contact women's shelters in emergency cases. To win the trust of the people, they immerse themselves deeply in the village community. This often takes months. At times they visit markets or accompany people in their work in the fields. They provide education in schools and lobby for change with local authorities. They are also committed to ensuring that the police take targeted action against such violent crimes. However, the most important task is to support and strengthen the women themselves. The project has created many self-help groups, and women with disabilities in particular have benefitted from it: "Nothing strengthens their self-confidence more than when they find that they can make a difference themselves."