Let’s talk about it: Violence against women in Pakistan and the U.S.

By student contributor Andrew Elliott

The Global Gender Program at GW embarked on its exciting new three-year partnership with the Gender and Development Studies Department at Lahore College for Women’s University in Pakistan, hosting its first international video conference on December 3.

GW students, faculty listening to and sharing ideas with participants from Lahore College for Women's University. Credit: Hannah Bryant.
GW students, faculty listening to, sharing ideas with participants from Lahore College for Women’s University/Hannah Bryant.

The event provided an opportunity for students and faculty at both universities to share views about challenges and prospects for change in women’s empowerment especially as related to gender-based violence.

The partnership, funded by the U.S. Department of State, is intended to establish enduring ties between the two universities through faculty and student exchanges, collaborative research, webinars, and virtual conferences such as the first one, entitled From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World.

The GW participants arrived early in the morning (for us), around 8:30 am. The LCWU participants returned to campus late in the day (for them), around 6:30 pm. We were all thrilled at the high quality of the video connection and our ability to hear each other so well.

The Chair of the Department of Gender and Development Studies at LCWU, Dr. Sarah Shahed opened the event with an enthusiastic welcome, foreshadowing great potential for the partnership. GGP faculty present were Dr. Barbara Miller, who moderated the discussion, and Dr. Shaista Khilji, who provided the wrap-up.

Three LCWU professors provided comments on aspects of violence against women in Pakistan to set the stage for further discussion among the conference participants.

Their key points included:

  • there is much misunderstanding about women’s situation in Pakistan and that violence against women occurs in all countries;
  • substantial legislation exists to protect women;
  • Pakistan is supportive of many international protocols including CEDAW;
  • special provisions such as women’s banks and women’s police stations are signs of progress;
  • variation exists across the country including rural and urban differences with urban areas being more progressive.
  • Pakistan had the first female prime minister of any Islamic country; and
  • the major barrier to women’s equality, including women’s education, is poverty.

The following discussion was lively and substantive, ranging from the role of civil society in Pakistan in addressing violence against women to the situation in the United States. One GW participant mentioned a statistic for very high rates of sexual violence against women in the U.S. which reminded everyone that just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean that it is free of such problems. Further, the U.S. has not signed on to CEDAW, while Pakistan has.

It became clear that both countries face challenges with some similarities and some
differences, and that we all have much to learn from each other in terms of data on violence against women, types of violence and how it may be changing, best practices for preventing violence, how to engage men, the role of student groups, and, overwhelmingly, the need for awareness raising across groups, including among high school students in the U.S.

Key themes for future research include asking whether and how women are marginalized in both countries; how to implement laws and policies to protect women from violence; the need to raise awareness of risks and rights; and how to change cultures that facilitate violence against women in both countries and around the world.

The Global Gender Program at GW and the Department of Gender and Development Studies at LCWU confirmed a commitment to work together on research that will seek to end violence against women in both countries.

Below are comments by professor Shaista E Kilji and GW freshman, Kirstin Dimovitz, and GW Masters student Jessica Soklow that participated in the video conference.

Thanks to Asthaa Chaturvedi, GGP intern, for assistance with the audio interviews.

Andrew Elliott is an Elliott School undergraduate student seeking a major in international affairs with concentrations in international development and a regional concentration in Asia. With interests in southeast asia and most of the developing world, he aspires to someday work and conduct research in these regions.

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