Since the 1970s there has been an emerging concern for violence against women. It has been shown that much of the violence perpetrated against women occurs in the home and/or at the hands of someone known to the female. While many Western and developed nations have been committed to the study of domestic violence, it has only recently achieved global priority. Although researchers have been more diligent in collecting data on various areas of domestic violence in North America, data seem to suggest that family violence dynamics are fairly similar from one nation to the other (Walker 1999). The global significance of domestic violence, and specifically violence against women, has been recognized as a major international issue. Rather than consisting of isolated occurrences, it would seem that domestic violence is a problem that transcends both culture and national identity. Indeed, domestic assaults of women share many commonalities across a wide range of otherwise diverse cultures. These common aspects must be examined to gain a broader understanding of a problem that is encountered in cultures throughout the world. One such commonality is that violence against women has, in general, been touted as gender based in occurrence and etiology. Indeed, Walker (1999) points out that ‘‘where women and girls are the primary targets of male abuse, violence cannot be eradicated without looking carefully at the gender socialization issues that facilitate such violence in the home’’ (p. 22). Indeed, any strategy to end violence will have to deal with eliminating those social causes that support and condone violence against women. This means challenging the underlying attitudes that support male aggression, renegotiating the meaning of gender, and redefining the balance of power held between women and men at all levels of society (Walker 1999).
It is with this in mind that a comparison of Chinese and Pakistani cultures will demonstrate an emergence of common themes. Similarities and differences between these cultures exist which serve to modify the nature and occurrence of domestic violence against women. In both cases, a common connection develops where patriarchy and female subservience seem to correlate with the onset of domestic violence. In each of these Asian cultures, as in many other cultures worldwide, there seems to be little societal concern about female assault within the home. Indeed, such assaults are frequently held to be a private matter for the family. These views are not unlike those held in the United States and England before the women’s movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. In fact, many similarities can be observed between the current experiences of these Asian cultures and the past experiences of Western nations. Further, just as with previous developments in the United States and England, there is a slow cultural shift toward consideration for the victim of family violence. While outdated beliefs regarding roles of perpetrator and victim are still maintained in many parts of both countries, there are changes occurring. These changes in both countries will be illustrated after comparing the more traditional beliefs and problems associated with domestic violence in China and Pakistan.
Traditional Chinese Values Regarding Domestic Violence
In Chinese culture, family lines are based on patriarchal family structures, and men are therefore endowed with a strong sense of importance and entitlement (Lee and Au 1998). Because Chinese cultural values support male supremacy and dominance over women, male violence against women in the form of physical abuse is often justified based on culturally acceptable reasons (Hanser 2001; Lee and Au 1998). Because family name and honor is paramount and because the individual well-being is held to be subordinate to family well-being, it is extremely difficult for many Chinese women or families to disclose the existence of abuse (Hanser 2001; Lee and Au 1998). Such cultural factors exacerbate the problems involved with intimate partner violence, creating a tenuous process in attempting to eradicate it.
Modern Developments in China Regarding Domestic Violence
Parish, Wang, Laumann, Pan, and Luo (2004) conducted a study that has supplied the first national analysis of intimate partner violence in China, including prevalence by perpetrator and severity; risk factors; and general, sexual, and reproductive health correlates of violence among men and women. Parish et al. (2004) used data from the 1999–2000 Chinese Health and Family Life Survey, which included a nationally representative sample of the adult population aged twenty to sixty-four. From their research, Parish et al. (2004) found that many risk factors for partner violence in China are similar to those in other countries. Like women in other countries, Chinese women are at increased risk of partner violence when their male partner is of low socioeconomic status and when either partner uses alcohol (Parish et al. 2004). Likewise, Parish and colleagues found evidence for a link between patriarchal beliefs and hitting. Acceptance of the belief that ‘‘men should lead in sex and women should follow’’ is at best an imperfect measure of only one set of possible patriarchal values. Nevertheless, this belief is associated with increased male-on-female and reduced female-on-male hitting.
Despite the strictures of traditional culture, it would appear that the social climate is changing quite rapidly. Indeed, one large-scale change is that the central government as well as nongovernmental organizations have started to place great importance on ending domestic violence. Though there is still no unified law against domestic violence in China, legislation has emerged in many provinces and cities throughout the nation (People’s Daily 2001). For example, in Liaoning and Hunan provinces, local people’s congresses have passed regulations to curb domestic violence, and Shaanxi Province is expected to follow suit shortly. At this point, at least thirteen provinces, regions, cities, and counties in China have passed local regulations to prevent domestic violence (People’s Daily 2001). And official statistics indicate that about 90 percent of the counties, cities, and provinces in China have established legal counseling centers for abused women (People’s Daily 2001).
Further, the China Law Society recently published a national survey urging the establishment of legislation against domestic violence (China Daily 2002). According to this survey, domestic violence has become publicly recognized as a social problem in China, where one-third of the country’s 270 million households cope with domestic violence (China Daily 2002). Amazingly, an average of 100,000 households are torn apart by domestic violence each year.
Traditional Problems with Domestic Violence in Pakistan
Within the nation of Pakistan, violence against women and domestic violence are commonly reported to occur (Human Rights Watch 1999). Women in Pakistan face the threat of multiple forms of violence, including physical and sexual abuse, by both family members and state agents (Human Rights Watch 1999). The worst victims were found to be those falling within the poor and middle classes, as their lack of financial resources make them particularly vulnerable to both the state and criminals alike. Women in Pakistan are also subject to oppressive customs and mores inside the home, such that the most endemic form of violence faced by Pakistani women is domestic violence (Human Rights Watch 1999).
Research on domestic violence in Pakistan indicates that it is a structural rather than causal problem. It is the structure of the family that leads to or legitimizes the act. This structure is mirrored and confirmed in the structure of society within Pakistan, and condones the oppression of women while tolerating male violence as one of many means to maintain the dominant power balance (Human Rights Watch 1999). Indeed, numerous customs exist which result in lethal consequences for women at the hands of their husbands or their husband’s relatives.
One type of domestic violence that seems to be more peculiar to Pakistan and some other Islamic nations is the practice of what are termed ‘‘honor killings’’ (Mayell 2002). This practice, referred to as karo kari, calls for the woman to be summarily killed due to being guilty of an illicit liaison. It should be noted that karo kari has been found to occur throughout all parts of Pakistan (Human Rights Watch 1999). Each year, it is estimated that hundreds of women are murdered by their families in order that the family can save its honor. Honor killings are perpetrated for a wide range of offenses. Marital infidelity, premarital sex, flirting, or even failing to serve a meal on time can all be perceived as impugning the family honor. Though the media in Pakistan make frequent reports of this occurrence, it is still difficult to get exact data on honor killings because the murders frequently go unreported and the perpetrators unpunished, and the concept of family honor seems to justify the act (Mayell 2002).
In addition to perceived blemishes against the family honor, many of these killings may be motivated by the fact that the dowry from the marriage is not considered adequate. Complicity by other women in the family and the community strengthens the concept of women as property and the perception that violence against family members is a family issue and not a judicial one. Mayell (2002) notes that ‘‘in a society where most marriages are arranged by fathers and money is often exchanged, a woman’s desire to choose her own husband—or to seek a divorce—can be viewed as a major act of defiance that damages the honor of the man who negotiated the deal’’ (p. 2). Further, when women are accused by family members of bringing dishonor to their families, they seldom have the ability to demonstrate their innocence.
In these cases, the public, police, and government officials seem lax in holding the husband accountable by conviction (Human Rights Watch 1999). State responses seem to be somewhat lacking, and domestic violence cases are seldom addressed by the police or the criminal justice system. As is the case with many countries across the world, domestic violence is seen as a private family matter, not subject to government intervention, with criminal responses being extremely unlikely (Human Rights Watch 1999). Rates of domestic violence in Pakistan are alarming, estimated at between 70 to 90 percent over the course of the woman’s life span (Human Rights Watch 1999).
Modern Research and Developments in Pakistan Regarding Domestic Violence
First and foremost, it should be noted that domestic violence is not a crime in Pakistan (Manzoor 2004). Indeed, it is commonly accepted that every man has the right to beat his wife, daughter, or sister. Likewise, it is estimated that roughly 5,000 women die annually from various forms of domestic violence (Manzoor 2004). Further, thousands are badly injured, maimed, and/or disabled. According to a survey conducted by a leading English-language newspaper in Pakistan, roughly 90 percent of all women polled reported facing some form of domestic violence (Manzoor 2004).
The tenets of Shari’a (Islamic law) hold that men are allowed to beat their wives or daughters, particularly if it is designed to protect the family honor from the possible deficiencies or character flaws that the woman is purported to have (Hajjar 2000). These beliefs are further reinforced by the sermons of the mullahs, who routinely disseminate this belief system regarding marriage and women’s rights.
The vast majority of victims of domestic violence in Pakistan (including those who are victims of attempted honor killings) have no way of getting legal protection (Manzoor 2004). One reason for this is that the police do not consider domestic violence as a crime (again, the male police are likely to enforce the tenets of Shari’a) and typically refuse to register cases dealing with family issues. In fact, it is often the case that the police encourage and/or force victims to come to a compromise with their own families. Likewise, there are very few shelters in Pakistan, leaving victims with little or no ability to flee the violence perpetrated against them (Mayell 2002).
Research on domestic violence issues in Pakistan is not widespread but is becoming a topic that is drawing more attention from the global arena. One study conducted by Shaikh (2003) found that nearly 97 percent of women interviewed reported being victims of some form of domestic violence at one point or another throughout their lifetimes. Further, many of these women also reported multiple types of violence, from verbal to sexual abuse. Verbal abuse was found to be the most frequent form, while the use of a weapon such as a gun or knife was found to be the least common type of violence indicated. Among those women who had ever been pregnant, roughly 25 percent reported that violence had increased during their pregnancy, while 51 percent reported a decrease in the amount of domestic violence that had occurred. Also, nonconsensual sex was reported by 47 percent of the women who were interviewed. Though it would appear that domestic violence does indeed occur with some degree of frequency (Shaikh 2003), it should be noted that there were no significant findings related to the educational or income level of the victims or the abusers.
An earlier study on domestic violence in Pakistan by Shaikh (2000) assessed the prevalence and type of domestic violence by conducting interviews with male subjects. This cross-sectional survey found that 32.8 percent admitted that they had slapped or hit their wives at times throughout the duration of their marriage. Further, another 77.1 percent admitted to forcing nonconsensual sex on their wives (Shaikh 2000). This of course amounts to marital rape, though this is not a recognized crime in Pakistan (Shaikh 2000).
From these data-driven studies, it becomes clear that domestic violence is a problem by the admittance of both the potential victims and the potential perpetrators. Each study found substantial support that domestic violence is a serious issue, even though both asked fairly intrusive questions of both male and female subjects. Taken together, this is strong indication that problems with domestic violence are considered commonplace among the population in Pakistan.
As is readily discerned, perceptions among Asian cultures regarding domestic violence can vary quite significantly. Where some cultures tend to retain acknowledged violence solely within the family, as in the case of China, others, such as Pakistan, are more openly callous and nonchalant when addressing domestic violence focused against women. It would appear that the role of patriarchy is central to the social customs of both China and Pakistan. However, the religious basis of Shari’a in Pakistan has created a much more dangerous and lethal set of social practices of domestic abuse. While the People’s Republic of China appears to be modernizing its concept of women’s rights and, correspondingly, the social need to eradicate domestic abuse, the nation of Pakistan seems to continue to have a social climate that condones the practice. The difficulty in making social change where an exploited group is given fair and humane treatment is counterbalanced by the claims of many developing nations that the United States is behaving in an ethnocentric manner when it crafts policy that is designed to encourage countries to provide equality and humane treatment among its citizens. Resolving this dilemma between traditional culture and modern Westernized beliefs about women and the ‘‘balance of power’’ with family systems will be the challenge of those who hope to remove the occurrence of family violence from the homes of not only Asian nations, but a wide array of developing nations around the world.
- Burney, S. Crime or Custom: Violence against Women in Pakistan. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999.
- China Daily. ‘‘Domestic Violence Tackled,’’ 2002. http://www.china.org.cn/english/government/49704.htm.
- Hajjar, L. ‘‘Domestic Violence and Shari’a: A Comparative Study of Muslim Societies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia,’’ 2000. http://www.law.emory.edu/ifl/thematic/Violence.htm.
- Hanser, R. D. ‘‘A Cross-Cultural Examination of Domestic Violence.’’ Criminal Justice International 17, no. 48 (2001): 9–10, 30.
- Lee, M., and P. Au. ‘‘Chinese Battered Women in North America: Their Experiences and Treatment.’’ In Battered Women and Their Families: Intervention Strategies and Treatment Programs, edited by A. R. Roberts, 2nd ed. New York: Springer, 1998, pp. 448–482.
- Manzoor, R. ‘‘Musharraf’s Hypocrisy Won’t End Violence to Women.’’ Socialist Movement Pakistan, 2004. http://www.socialistworld.net/doc/1423.
- Mayell, H. ‘‘Thousands of Women Killed for Family ‘Honor.’’’ National Geographic News. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2002. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/0212_020212_honorkilling.html.
- Parish, W. L., T. Wang, E. O. Laumann, S. Pan, Y. Luo. ‘‘Intimate Partner Violence in China:National Prevalence, Risk Factors, and Associated Health Problems.’’ International Family Planning Perspectives 30, no. 4 (2004). http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/journals/3017404.html.
- People’s Daily. ‘‘China to Curb Domestic Violence,’’ 2001. http://english.people.com.cn/english/200005/06/eng20000506_40251.html.
- Shaikh, M. A. ‘‘Domestic Violence against Women: Perspective from Pakistan.’’ Journal of the Pakistani Medical Association, no. 9 (2000): 312–314.
- ———. ‘‘Is Domestic Violence Endemic in Pakistan?: Perspectives from Pakistani Wives.’’ Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 19, no. 1 (2003).
- Walker, L. ‘‘Psychology and Domestic Violence around the World.’’ American Psychologist 54, no. 1 (1999): 21–29.