Gendered social norms are difficult to overcome, due to a lack of consensus among legal, religious, and social institutions on the direction that will result in new social norms. In the case of Pakistan, which ranks sixth on the list of the most dangerous countries for women, it is not possible to change gendered social norms regarding domestic violence by only focusing on legal reform since, in its social context, the act of domestic violence is not in itself regarded as a serious offence. This article explores reform in Punjab, where deeply entrenched legal structural obstacles and discriminatory gender norms prevent women from accessing justice. The paper draws on a new framework for influencing changes in individuals’ behaviour to reduce the condoning of domestic violence. Using a mixed-methods approach the paper introduces a new initiative of women for institutional reform undertaken by the Strategic Reforms Unit (SRU) in Pakistan, to examine the role of social norms in normalizing the practice of domestic violence. This initiative provides an opportunity for examining how these prevalent social norms can be changed by both improving women’s access to legal processes regarding the registration and prosecution of crimes as well as addressing public shame associated with the wearing of a tracking device by the assailant. This model of institutional reform of the criminal justice system could provide the way forward to close the large gap between incidents of violence against women (VAW) and the low level of convictions in many societies. The paper concludes that such institutional reform could be adapted for use in other countries to comprehensively reduce VAW cases and to increase the success in prosecution and sentencing of perpetrators of such crimes.

Author Biography

Dr. Maryam Tanwir has an M.Phil and PhD from the University of Cambridge and is currently the Lecturer and coordinator for paper 340, “Gender and development,” Centre of Development Studies. University of Cambridge.

Dr. Shailaja Fennell has a BA, MA, MPhil (University of Delhi), MPhil, PhD (University of Cambridge) and is a University Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, attached to the Department of Land Economy.

Hafsah Lak holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She co-authored Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Act 2016 and was the Project Team Lead to establish the first Violence Against Women Centre in Multan, Pakistan.

Salman Sufi is an international public sector reforms and gender strategy specialist and was the Director General of Strategic Reforms Unit. He introduced the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2016 and South Asia’s first Violence Against Women Centre.