Observing women close to me and reading up on stories of domestic abuse online, I have often wondered if women in South Asia, suffer from Stockholm syndrome.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, the following is a brief explanation of it.
Stockholm syndrome is a psychological condition in which the abused person empathises with their abuser and chooses to remain in a manipulative, vicious cycle of physical and psychological abuse.
From the building of tension to the act of aggression, and then the calm after the storm, the cycle of abuse is strangely predictable.
According to the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), 40% of women in Pakistan have suffered from physical and emotional violence in their lifetime. Another alarming statistic on the issue is that in 2021 alone 14,189 cases of gender-based violence were lodged in Pakistan. More data like this is proof of the deteriorating societal norms of our country.
From married women to young girls in love, I have more often than not, seen my gender ignoring and putting up with acts of aggression. Whether the violence is emotional or physical, tolerance towards it has always perplexed me. Why are women so forgiving, what makes them hold on to a nonexistent string of hope?
However, after limited research, I was easily convinced that the problem doesn’t lie in how women behave.
Women have been conditioned into thinking of themselves as these, super-tolerant and nurturing beings. They are told throughout their life that they are meant to be selfless and forgiving, no matter what curveball life throws at them.
Factors like financial dependence, social stigma, fear, isolation, and a tinge of savior complex all play a significant role in silencing women who are experiencing intimate partner abuse.
Therefore, the onus doesn’t lie on women, they are the clear victims here, the victims of systematic abuse and societal manipulation.
The obvious culprits behind the plight of women in our region are the abusers and the patriarchal society that supports them.
Raising girls in ways that never let them be independent or explore their personalities and unfairly prioritizing boys in our households have all, together laid the base of a rotten society, which is complacent to abuse and injustices against minority groups.
In recent times mainstream Indian cinema has also explored the issues of domestic abuse in movies like ‘Darlings’ and ‘Thappad’. Both movies have brilliantly dealt with the implications of domestic abuse and have given a clear and eye-opening reminder to women that they are not obliged to stay in relationships that oppress them and destroy their self-worth. Jostling the typical south Asian mindset of putting up with physical and emotional abuse in marriages.
However, in contrast, Pakistani dramas are still out there glorifying abuse and normalizing intimate partner violence. Sadly, every major drama on-air in current times has had one or more than one scene where the female lead is being slapped or mistreated.
And the most infuriating part is that the same lead is shown to fall in love with her abuser and disregard all his psychotic behavior later on in the drama. I don’t even want to name these mega-hit projects because we all know that abuse against women in our dramas has now become the norm, every other show on TV has to have a sensationally violent scene to make it become popular.
In summary, my antithesis is that, no, women of South Asia, do not suffer from Stockholm Syndrome any more than they do from the shackles of a patriarchal society.
The lack of education, social mobility, financial independence, and illegitimate ideas of men’s unfair authority over women have all collectively contributed to a culture of putting up with blatant human rights violations and tolerating insults to human dignity.
To break the vicious cycle of intimate partner abuse we need more advocacy from relevant stakeholders and a better legal and policy framework. Our laws and public policies should ensure that we create a just society for women. The one which is well-equipped to uphold all norms of basic human rights.
In 2017, the Ministry of Human Rights launched a free helpline service where one can easily lodge complaints against domestic abuse. By calling 1099, women from all over Pakistan can take legal action against their abusers and oppressors.
Moreover, Aurat Foundation, and Kashf Foundation, among many other similar organizations are working all over Pakistan for the upliftment of women, socially and economically. Empowering women to lead their lives with self-respect and dignity.
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