“Woman sentenced to death for burning daughter alive”, “Judge accused of torturing child maid”, “Father marries 13 year old daughter to a disabled person”, “Atif Aslam halts concert to rescue a girl from harassment”… these are the biggest Pakistan headlines today and they all have a common theme — abuse. It’s an ugly way to kick off the new year for a nation who’s already fighting a global stigma. These four events are all too common, but thanks to social media, murder and abuse of women and girls is becoming impossible to ignore.
Any mention of women being mistreated for eloping or enjoying themselves at a concert is too frequently met with blaming the victim mindset. Terms such as “westernisation”, “culture” and “Islamic values” are thrown around for support of such arguments. If you want a human being to appreciate their culture, violence is not an effective motivator. Also, the half-baked fear of “westernization” leading to bikini carwashes on every street corner is laughable to anyone with the faintest grasp of reality. Such fear has prevented advancements in technology, energy, infrastructure and economy within the country’s own borders. If only Pakistan could strive for such greatness instead of focusing on the importance of child marriages and debating an archaic mindset that it should be a husband’s right to beat their wife.
Criticism for support of women’s issues should be met with challenges to the dated rhetoric, otherwise the primeval mindset will continue to fester. Dismissive stances to crimes against women can be damaging as well. There may be less oppression of women in urban Islamabad, Karachi or Lahore, but women in the rest of the country are suffering and improvement of their lives will be postponed indefinitely if every reasonable Pakistani is apathetic. Dante Alighieri recognised as much in his Divine Comedy, but John F Kennedy summed it up best with these words, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of a moral crisis.” In 1317, Dante was more enlightened than the laws that govern Pakistan today. There never has and will never be a circumstance where murdering a wife, daughter or a sister is tolerable. It is dangerous to brush aside such brutality against women in the name of culture, tribal practices or religion. Such violence needs to be recognised as a crime and dealt with accordingly.
Pakistan must stop failing its women. The solution doesn’t lie in covering up more skin and being locked away in the house. Being a patriarchal society, misogynistic practices are embedded in every sphere of life from prioritising education of boys to 1/8th inheritance rights. The odds are stacked against women from the beginning. Any thought of overcoming this deeply ingrained misogyny seems like a delusion when taking recent headlines into account. Yet, regardless of present struggles, such noble causes won’t ever fade completely and women have made great strides from a global perspective. What will it take for society to expect more from women than marriage at a young age, kids, and household duties? Besides several decades, it will take more than the efforts of women alone. It’ll also require sons, fathers, and brothers to affect lasting change. With all that said, the latest trending story from Pakistan is now, “man burns wife, rubs salt into her wounds”.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2017.