Monday, April 12, 2010

Women's mental health in Pakistan

In this entry, I am going to be talking about cultural practices playing a vital role in women's mental health. The religious and ethnic conflicts, dehumanizing attitudes towards women, joint family system (involving in-laws) represent major issues in the daily lives of women. In Pakistan, such practices has has an adverse psychological impact. Violence against women has become one the acceptable means whereby men exercise their culturally constructed right to control women. Statistics show that Pakistan women are relatively better off than their counterparts.

It has only been in the past few years that honor-killings and rape has received attention in Pakistan. The women's movement in Pakistan in the last 50 years shed light on forced marriages, violence, and tribal laws/disinheritance. There are still a vast majority of women who are unaware of these debates in the rural and slum areas in Pakistan.

The mobility of women:
Restricted mobility affects their education and job opportunities. Societal issues such as sexual harassment and violence has reached its peak and lack of awareness or denial confine women to the sanctity of their homes. This type of restricted mobility further lowers women's empowerment in society.

Honoring boys more than girls:
Birth of a baby boy is rejoiced and celebrated, while a baby girl is mourned and is a source of guilt and despair. Boys are given priority by giving better food, education, and overall care. This is where we get into child brides, exchange marriages, and dowries or "bride price." Females are shunned when they divorce and marriages often lead to wife-battering, conflict with spouse, conflict with in-laws, homicide/suicide, and stove burns.

In Pakistan, there are cultural institutions, beliefs and practices that undermine women's autonomy. Marriage practices can disadvantage women. Dowry can often times escalate to harassment, physical violence and mental abuse. This makes the female confined to an abusive relationship because of the social and cultural pressures. Divorce or separation is not encouraged by parents for fear of being stigmatized.

A United Nations research study found that 50% of women in Pakistan are physically battered and 90% are mentally and verbally abused by their men. A study by Women's Division on "Battered Housewives in Pakistan" showed that 80% of households has domestic violent acts. Human Rights Commission reports that 400 cases of domestic violence occur each year and half of the victims die.

Reasons for women to stay in abusive relationships: fear of retribution, lack of other means of economic support, concern for children, emotional dependence, lack of family support, and hope of husband changing one day. (70% of abused women have never told anyone about the abuse).

Psychological consequences of abuse are more severe than physical: Erodes self-esteem, increases chance for disorders like depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, alcohol, and drug abuse.

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