A prominent group of clerics in Pakistan made international headlines today when it advised that is permissible for a husband to “lightly beat” his wife. This report does not reflect the views of most Pakistanis.
The Council of Islamic Ideology is a group of clerics who advise legislators. According to the Washington Post, the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) issued the draft of a report advising that beating is sometimes necessary and that a woman should not leave for a shelter if she is being abused.
The CII report may reflect the views of some of the most conservative parts of Islam in Pakistan, but it is out-of-step with how most Pakistanis view spousal abuse.
In 2012, the World Values Survey measured the values and beliefs in over 50 countries, including Pakistan. The survey included ethical questions. One asked whether “a man beating his wife” was always justifiable, never justifiable, or something in between.
The WVS found that 70 percent of Pakistanis said that “a man beating his wife” was never justifiable. There was no gender differences; both men and women held about the same view.
How does this compare to the USA? Among Americans polled, 80 percent of men and 90 percent of women said beating a wife is never justifiable.
One reason for the opposition to wife beating in Pakistan is its conservative views of sexuality and the family. Researchers Pilar Rodríguez Martínez and Huzefa Khalil used the World Values Survey to study views toward intimate partner violence.
Martínez and Khalil found that people who most tolerant of husbands beating their wives are those that hold a toxic mix of views: they are those who are more tolerant on sexual morality coupled with a belief that women are inferior to men. Those who hold to conservative social views and/or support women’s equality are strongly opposed to this abuse. Martínez and Khalil find this pattern most striking in developing countries.
In Pakistan, women have greater equality than in other predominantly Muslim countries, but significant barriers remain (particularly outside the major cities). There is also a problem with intimate partner violence–saying that wife-beating is wrong does not mean it is rare. A report last month by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan found extensive violence against women in the country despite some marginal advances in women’s equality.
However, the same conservative culture that leads to gender inequality also shapes views for how wives should be treated. Opposition to violence in the home doesn’t just come from those who see men and women as equals. A person who views women as lower than men may still see violence as immoral if the person also holds to other traditional beliefs such as it is the duty of the husband to protect his wife.
The CII is an important and influential part of Pakistan’s political system. But it does not speak for most Pakistanis on this issue.
This blog post includes material from an earlier post on domestic violence and religion.