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A staggering 32 per cent of women have experienced physical violence in Pakistan and 40 per cent of ever-married women have suffered from spousal abuse at some point in their life (The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2012-2013). However, these statistics do not accurately represent the full extent of cases. One in two Pakistani women who have experienced violence never sought help or told anyone about the violence they had experienced.

While the Government of Pakistan has passed various laws to prevent violence and support those affected by it, the conviction rate for violence against women sits at only 1-2.5 per cent. Resources and services for women survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) remain scarce. Health services personnel are inadequately equipped, referral systems are limited, and insufficient training on GBV combined with low investment in human capital enhances the vulnerability of women. These gaps exist on the backdrop of a structurally and culturally patriarchal society, where social norms promote gender-based abuses, disclosure to violence is discouraged and women are often blamed for their abuse. The need to change minds and behaviors is immense, and it is within this landscape that UNFPA continues to work toward change.

Preventing and addressing GBV

There are numerous barriers in the prevention of and response to GBV in Pakistan, including misperceptions around GBV, limited or ineffectual legislation and lack of support systems and safety nets for those who do attempt to seek support. Insufficient systems at the state, civil society and community levels are serious obstacles to comprehensively addressing GBV.

This situation is exacerbated in emergencies, where GBV is known to increase due to the breakdown of social structures and protective mechanisms, the weakening of norms regulating social behavior and traditional social systems, the separation of family members, increased male responsibility for the distribution of goods, lack of opportunity for women’s and children’s voices and opinions to be heard by decision makers and failure of decision makers to consider the security of women and children in emergencies.

UNFPA’s role

UNFPA’s work in Pakistan strengthens the capacity of both public sector and civil society partners to prevent and respond to GBV, including in cases of humanitarian crisis.

UNFPA works in schools to promote gender-responsive and age-appropriate life skills-based education for in and out of school youth, covering topics such as equality, respect and rights of both boys and girls.

In partnership with WHO, UNFPA also works in developing the capacity of the health sector to respond to GBV by integrating gender issues at a policy level, training health-care workers and building the capacity of the administrative infrastructure to be able to effectively and safely respond to the needs of GBV survivors. Using a survivor-centered approach is instrumental to UNFPA’s programme management and aims at mainstreaming behavioural changes throughout the health sector.

As the co-lead for GBV under the Global Protection Cluster, UNFPA plays a crucial role in the protection of women during emergencies and natural disasters. UNFPA works with national and local health and disaster management authorities and civil society organizations to effectively design, manage and evaluate programmes that address GBV and sexual and reproductive health needs.