On March 8, almost a month before the parliamentary ruckus over the domestic violence bill, scholar and activist Dr Fouzia Saeed, also MNA PPP and the mover of the bill, Yasmeen Rehman and another woman lawmaker from PML-N sat in my studio. It was a special for International Women’s Day and the discussion was on women’s rights. It was my unfortunate duty to disabuse the participants of any complacent views. Yet, their euphoria and optimism were contagious. I was finding it particularly difficult to convince them that a lot still needed to be done and whatever was achieved could easily be undone by the right wing. Faced by the possibility of annoying them all, I finally threw in the towel.
But my fears were soon proven right. After a few days, Fakhra Younus committed suicide and otherwise quite sane intellectuals were found rationalising the act of acid-throwing. A prime time host, a woman no less, even invited Bilal Khar, the man accused of throwing acid on Fakhra, to her show and allowed him to bad-mouth the deceased. The parliament, too, did not allow the name of Mr Khar to be included in the resolution demanding justice for Fakhra.
As if that was not enough, when the bill against domestic violence was presented in the senate, all hell broke loose and the parliament that we have so lovingly empowered was inundated by rants. A religious politician lost control and demanded that the bill which had already been cleared by the National Assembly be sent to the Council for Islamic Ideology, an unrepresentative body headed by Maulana Sherani, a member of Fazlur Rehman’s party. Later, President Asif Ali Zardari was to call Fazl and sympathise with him.
Why would anybody, not totally deranged, condone domestic violence and sabotage such an important bill? This question has been haunting me ever since. And yet, there they are. The children, brothers, fathers of women and yet, they want them to be beaten black and blue. And they use their religion to justify such barbaric acts.
Has it occurred to us that every time a woman is disfigured, hurt or killed we always manage to blame the victim? From Mukhtaran Mai to Fakhra Younus, why is it always the fault of women? In a country where men can get away with whatever they want, regardless of what their faith commands them or society demands of them, why should women always pay the price?
The time has come for the well-intentioned and conscientious men of this society to answer one question. Do they or do they not want women in their lives? If they don’t, the issue is settled and we can ask all women to leave the country en masse. But if they do want women to remain in their lives, they will have to end their silence and speak up now. The only parent who bore you for nine months, sirs, is a woman. The sibling who was always most affectionate towards you is a woman. The child who loves you blindly above anyone else will one day grow up to be a woman. Women in our lives have always been givers. Is it not time we give them something in return by ensuring that they are protected and no one can hurt them? Let us show them that we are not threatened by their happiness but rather we welcome it.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.