The manifestation of an ailing society is not just the presence of the disease itself, it is also to malign those who, against significant odds, try to cure it. Cures of complex diseases are messy, at times painful, often inconvenient but always needed. We can choose to ignore the problems, vilify those who want to do something about it, call them our national disgrace and continue on our own disastrous path. Or, we can change course.
There is no doubt, based on data over decades and countless personal stories of victims, that there are deep issues associated with education, safety and security of girls and women in the country. It is not hard to understand why being a woman in Pakistan is not easy. Women are always on the shorter end of the stick whether it is domestic violence, access to education, right to fair trails and, in general, having a decent path to an honourable life. Denying this would not do us any good, except to add to our long list of absurd views.
So when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won a richly deserved Oscar, not only for making an outstanding movie, but also raising awareness about women’s plight in the country, the negative reaction was deeply troubling and yet another sign of our diseased mindset. To me, this notion that she and others championing the cause of women are airing our dirty laundry is deeply hypocritical and fundamentally flawed. Those who cry foul and wear the cloak of deep national piety have not done anything to address the issue. Many of them, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, even refuse to believe that women’s rights, domestic violence or gender-based abuse is even a problem. Some acknowledge, but then quickly point to other “bigger” problems — such as national security, terrorism or poverty. They intentionally or unintentionally fail to recognise that domestic violence and honour killing is just as bad as killing based on religious differences and other forms of intolerance. Then there are those who denounce Sharmeen, arguing that there are many other countries where this is a problem, why make Pakistan the poster child — failing to recognise that presence of intolerance and violence is wrong anywhere and everywhere. If someone chooses to do something about it in Pakistan, and does it with a spectacularly creative way, we ought to be proud, not ashamed.
Unfortunately, we have been here before. We have seen this pattern with the vile national discourse on Malala, that continues to this day on prime time TV, and with Sharmeen’s previous Oscar winning story. In Malala and Sharmeen, many of our countrymen choose to see women who are determined to portray a negative image of the country, who are somehow playing the grand game of shaming the nation for some personal gains. What we refuse to see are strong women, of immense conviction and passion, on a global stage, who are championing causes of immense importance. What we are unable to see are strong families, and particularly the role of strong fathers, who are enabling these women to bring a positive change to society. What we fail to see are women advocating for causes that have no controversy within them. Whether it is education or end to violence, there is nothing to debate.
Through the campaign of Malala and the lens of Sharmeen, the world does not see a Pakistan that is diseased, instead what it sees is a Pakistan that is fighting to end the disease with valour, grace and immense conviction. What the world sees is a strong Pakistani woman, at the helm, who wants to bring an end to the problems that plague so many countries.
The Oscar or the Nobel is not a recognition of our dirty laundry — there is plenty of that around the world — it is recognition of the refusal to accept dirty laundry as the status quo.
We should be proud of that defiance!
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2016.
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