Voices of Strength and Struggle: Women's Coping Strategies Against Spousal Violence in Pakistan
domestic violence and cultural contexts
perceptions of domestic
spirituality and violence
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AbstractThis article documents the coping strategies adopted by women victims of spousal violence in Pakistan. By drawing on 21 in-depth interviews conducted in Lahore and Sialkot (Pakistan), we found that the women tried to cope with violence by using various strategies, both emotion focused (e.g., use of religion, placating the husband, etc.) and problem focused (e.g., seeking support from formal institutions, etc.). The data showed that a majority of the women used emotion-focused strategies, especially spiritual therapies, which somehow reduced the violence and provided them with psychosocial solace. Nonetheless, these strategies incurred some costs, such as the consumption of scarce resources, time, and emotional energy. Our data also showed that few women opted for problem-focused strategies, such as seeking help from formal institutions, as these strategies could lead to overt confrontation with their husbands and may result in divorce, the outcome least desired by most of the Pakistani women. We noted that the coping behavior of Pakistani women was complex, subjective, and nonlinear and that the boundaries between emotion-focused and problem-focused strategies were diffuse and blurred. Although the women never surrendered to violence, they were fully aware of their structural limitations and vulnerabilities. Being mindful of the consequences of their actions, women carefully tailored a combination of strategies which could be helpful in resisting or reducing violence but, at the same time, should not be counterproductive. This article argues that Pakistani women alone cannot effectively resist violence while living under a harshly patriarchal regime, where violence against women is embedded in the social, political, and legal structures of society. There are no quick fixes to change the status quo. The Pakistani government, civil society, and formal institutions must proactively support women in reducing their vulnerabilities and facilitate them in expanding their capabilities to address the real causes of violence against them.