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Pakistan: Psychological Destruction Of Women At The Hands Of So-Called Societal Norms – OpEd


Marriage was meant for tranquility, peace, protection and comfort. But sadly, for ages, the psychological abuse of the creature called women has been normalized in the name of marriage throughout the world in general and South Asian countries in particular, remarkably indifferent to the damage that shatters their emotional well-being.


Physical abuse is one of the worst types of abuse, but the misery that emotional abuse brings may precede it. Psychological abuse is a way to control another person by bullying them in different ways like criticizing, blaming, shaming, manipulating, accusing, isolating, degrading, and much more. However, emotional abuse is not easy to recognize, it is an invisible thing to the bare eye. Still, it can take away one’s self-esteem to start doubting their abilities, knowledge, perceptions, and even reality.

Women have always been marginalized and presented as secondary members of society. They have had to fight even for fundamental rights. In South Asian culture, women have to endure, face pressure and have fallen victim not only in the hands of cultural norms but also by the misinterpretation of religion. It is stated in a ‘Series of Briefings on Violence Prevention’ by World Health Organization (WHO) that it is culturally believed in Asian countries that a male has the right to correct or discipline female behaviour, a woman is responsible for making a marriage work, a man has right to assert power over a woman and is considered socially superior. These are the social norms that promote men’s violent behaviour as they think themselves superior to women. So they have an urge to control females. They even use Islam to back their illogical and illegal actions.

The irony here is that they don’t understand religion and quote the overheard excerpts. Alexander Pope has rightly said that “little a learning is a dangerous thing”. Without having a proper understanding of right and wrong, men have been traumatizing women in the name of culture and religion. As Jane Austen portrayed 18th-century women in her novel ‘Pride and Prejudice’, they were forced to live their lives to the incompetent spouses because of societal norms and the law. Such structure caused women’s emotional abuse resultantly; they become compelled to lead their lives according to the school of thought of the century and suppressed their desires deep into their bosoms. Likewise, it has been followed in every corner of the world by multiple societies, but the situation is worse in Pakistan.

Today, the world has hit milestones in technological advancement; human beings have been focusing on the development and betterment of the world, irrespective of gender. Yet, in our patriarchal society, women have been battling for happiness and peace of mind. They have to endure and suffer in silence by the monopoly of deep-rooted norms, values and traditions. A United Nations (UN) research study showed that 50% of women are physically battered in Pakistan. In comparison, 90% are psychologically and verbally humiliated by their men, and the victims are primarily young married female individuals, and the aggressors are the spouses and in-laws (World Psychiatry, Feb 2004). Husbands satisfy their sadistic urges of power or total control by humiliating wives in several ways. Most likely, a person who wants to abuse his better half emotionally will use many tactics that are meant to undermine her self-esteem.

Here are some of the tactics used by an abuser:

  • Character Assassination: He often tells his wife that she is always disagreeable, wrong, screwing up, know nothing; he says she is not good at anything, not even a fine and competent person at all.
  • Sarcasm: He usually criticizes her in disguise; when she objects, he will say it’s just for fun. On the contrary, he blames her for being dull, short-tempered and having no sense of humor that she takes the things in mind that are meant for amusement and nothing else.
  • Belittling her achievements: He never acknowledges her accomplishments. He tries his best to prove how trivial these things are. Her visions mean nothing to him. 
  • Put-downs her interests: He tells her how childish her leisure pursuits are and how dumb her interests are. Doesn’t she have something better to work on? Why is she wasting her precious time on the ingenious things that can be utilized to better her marital life? Most of the time he puts her interests down. He even guides her about what her welfare should be. 
  • Suspension: Emotionally abusive person will always doubt, negate or undermine her ideas. He dismisses what she says by telling her how stupid, illogical, insensible her thoughts, opinions, and values are. He doesn’t show any respect towards her feelings.
  • Control and isolation: Such a person will control her way of living by making her feel guilty and using her fears and flaws. He will isolate her from meeting and talking to her family and friends.
  • Threats: He will repeatedly terrorize her that he can do anything to her or take any action at any time as he is the one in power. Sometimes he will say that there’s no way of what he might do.
  • Digital spying: He keeps on checking her phone (internet history, emails, texts, call log or even gallery) as to whom she is talking or what else she does. 
  • Lecturing: The abuser will never get tired of preaching to her. He will take a keen interest in telling her mistakes, followed by long monologues. He will elaborate on her pintsized slip-ups and tell her how grave they are.
  • Financial control: He will make her beg even for her basic needs by telling her how extravagant she is. He will keep an account of every penny she spends. 
  • Impulsiveness and outburst: Out of nowhere, he will outburst with rage anytime, lacking any accurate reason to leather his shortcoming, to support his illogical argument or to make her surrender to what he wills. He will yell, scream and shout at the partner. Once she agrees, he will shower his love.
  • Taking others as a role model: He will always take others as role models and degrade her instead of her untiring and unceasing efforts. He will point out the invisible faults of his wife ignoring her incredible capabilities. 
  • Prodding and blaming:  He keeps on poking and stimulating to make her distressed. He comes on her nerves. But once the trouble starts, he takes the U-turn and blames her for provoking him. Instead, he would say she is the one who has anger issues and play the victim. He even blames her for his problems, shortcomings and for whatever wrong comes in their way.
  • Cause embarrassment: He cracks personal jokes at her in the name of fun at family gatherings. He will point out her shortcomings in front of others to humiliate her. He even works enthusiastically to turn family against her to gain nothing but sympathy. He will hurt her feelings even tell her that her sentiments and emotions are worthless.

About 90% of women in Pakistan fall prey to psychological or emotional abuse by their partners. But most of them remain silent instead of telling anyone about their suffering because of social stigma. A 5-year survey (1992-1996) at University Psychiatry Department Karachi (Agha Khan University/Hospital) showed that 212 patients received psychotherapy. 65% were women out them 75% were married. The most consultation stimuli were concerns with spouses or in-laws. Females’ response to the exploitation is limited because of a few options they are left with. They just cite reasons to stick in the abusive relations. The first and foremost thought that comes to their mind is the social stigma that ‘what will people say.

There are many other things: fear of retribution, lack of economic resources and family support, emotional dependence, and the hope that spouse will change one day. Surprisingly, the report shows that 70% of the women even don’t reveal it to anyone. Instead of suffering in silence, they need counselling to raise their voice to dig out these way old traditions. First of all, a woman should stop holding herself responsible for all that’s happening around her. She should accept that she is not the one responsible for it.

Men and women have responsibilities of different nature. Having completing the particular duties women are free to participate in all social, ethical and political activities with due respectability. No men has right to restrict their women from these activities. She must set personal boundaries to abuses and responsively give herself time to heal, get out of co-dependence, not neglect her own needs, take care of her mental and physical health, eat and sleep properly, follow her instincts, and stop continuously sacrificing her happiness for her partner. She must have the courage to cut off all the ties if a situation worsens day by day. If the man is not changing instead of her untiring efforts, it’s better to quit that relationship.

The Holy Quran speaks of spouses in these words: ‘They are like garments unto you as you are like garments unto them’ (Q 2:187). The simile of garment here states the basic phenomenon of life. If you cannot be the dress of the other, then you do not fit for this sacred relationship. What a garment does? It covers you; it prevents the exposition of what is meant to keep hidden. Spouses should protect each other’s dignity. They should cover each other’s shortcomings and frailties from others and work towards enhancing the other’s capabilities and upgrading his/her deficiencies. The relationship between husband and wife should be the one of love, mercy and understanding but not dominance and control. Therefore, if everyone starts practicing it, each home on this planet will turn into heaven on earth, and all the human beings will live in peace and tranquility.

*Hina Mahar graduated in English Literature and Linguistics from NUML, Islamabad and is currently teaching at IBA-PUBLIC school Sukkur, Sindh. 

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