Saturday, October 8, 2011

Please Stop 'Honouring' Women

Sexual crimes are on the rise. Rape, gang rape, acid throwing and child molestation are making news each day. Punjab has a higher rate of reported sexual crimes than other provinces. I’m not sure whether it is because these cases are not being reported in other provinces or if there are actually a lesser number of these happening elsewhere, but one thing is for certain – women in Pakistan live in constant fear. It does not matter if she is a helpless poor woman in a village or if she is an educated urban woman, she is insecure. Men know that the ultimate weapon they have against her is rape. Rape scars the soul so deeply that she can never function normally again even if she has all the love and support of her family, even if the culprits are punished, she never heals.

An unfortunate trend has started over the past few years and that is the media involvement in such cases. Yes the involvement ensures that the police does its job and the culprits are caught but that also means that unless a woman is prepared to discard the few remaining shreds of her tattered dignity justice will not prevail. The news channels turn her nightmare into a circus and the politicians grab the photo opportunity. This trend also ensures that if an educated middle class woman is raped, she would not report it because she is afraid the media might get hold of her story. I have no answer as to how the media should handle such a situation, it’s a catch 22 situation – no justice without publicity but the price of justice is letting 180 million people witness her indignity.

There is a lot of debate on the Hudood Ordinance and the feebleness of the legal system, but one question we are not asking is ‘WHY?’ We start waiving the banner of Islam on the most trivial issues, we tell the world how Islam honours women and protects their rights, and yet our women are increasingly insecure. I have yet to see a religious party take out a rally or call for strike when a woman is gang raped which in itself is an indication of how thin is this veneer of ‘honouring women’.

The hypocrisy of our society is sickening. It spouts rhetoric about their mothers, daughter and sisters being their honour and then turns around and uses them as weapons to destroy the honour of their ‘enemies’. One can argue that crime is on the rise every where and hence we are seeing more rape cases, but when a village panchayat sanctions rape as a means of punishment then this is not merely criminal behaviour. It goes much deeper and is much darker than mere crime. It is an indication of how weak we are as a nation. We take the easy way out of every situation, and to rape is the easiest way to show how strong the man is.

We have an epidemic of low self-esteem and it is not limited to a certain strata of our society. Those who are in power take illegitimate short-cuts to get what they want and those whom they lead follow suit. To raise one’s self-esteem one has to take challenges head-on and not run away from life’s problems, but we turn to the nearest scapegoat to blame. It is never our fault, it is the society, the government, the US, the boss, the neighbour …. the list is endless. When we are empty on the inside we look for external markers to validate our existence, to give us a sense of power. This could be the 32 vehicle motorcade, or showing off our latest purchase, scratching the side of a brand new car or raping a woman. The root of the problem is the same, the manifestations endless.

The honour of a man in our country is linked to his possessions. His house, his land, his cars, his clothes, his cattle and of course the women in his family. Even the poorest man who has nothing else will have women. Women are mere objects in our country. They are brainwashed to think that they are the honour of their family because they are loved and respected – but the truth is that their status is no more than being one of the trappings of the man’s honour.

My earnest request is to please stop ‘honouring’ us. We are individuals, human beings with our own dreams, hopes and desires. We are not the object on which you cathect your honour. Perhaps the day men stop honouring us we will be free to live as human beings.

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