By Syeda Tuba Anwar
Last year saw a hike in women rights activism. We saw a rise in bold campaigns voicing for women equality and rights to the extent that the online dictionary Merriam Webster dubbed ‘feminism’ as its word of the year. The word ‘feminism’ lookups increased by 70% from the year 2016-2017. Initiatives like ‘One Day I will’, ‘Pledge for Parity’ & ‘be bold for Change’ signified the importance of empowered women. While every campaign achieved mightily, the most impactful of these movements was the #MeToo. It started as a Hashtag where women from different walks of life shared their stories of assault or sexual harassment; many even talked about how to counter harassment. Appallingly, the magnitude of #MeToo was much bigger than anyone had expected. In about a day ‘Me too’ had been tweeted more than 500,000 times and on Facebook, it was used by 4.7 million people. It was startling to see the internet talking but dismaying to read the dreadful reality.
The world is plagued with obscene cases of rape, assault, kidnap, sexual harassment, physical and domestic violence on women, and each time we shroud these cases, praying that we never witness them again, yet they keep coming back to us because deep down inside we know that we are lying to ourselves, because the root cause is much more hideous. It is like being diagnosed with a disease that will eat you out unless you completely eliminate it from your system. In order to eliminate it, you first have to find it, accept it and then put an end to it. In this case, the roots run deep and raise many questions; the most dominant of all questions is about patriarchy, the male supremacy.
Like the rest of the world, many women from Pakistan shared their stories with the ‘Me Too’ phrase. There were stories about harassment at work, domestic violence, being sexually harassed as a child and while some could not gather the courage to narrate their story, all women agreed that one must ‘speak up’ against violence whenever it happens. However, speaking up during an assault can sometimes cost the victim her life. Simply saying ‘No’ can trigger an assaulter or make it worse for the victim. There are scores of women who become bait to revenge for declining a marital proposal or speaking up against an assailant. We have witnessed dishonor in the name of ‘honor’ because the country has reportedly lost 15,222 men & women from 2004-2016 in honor crimes alone. Imagine the number of cases that are never reported.
So should we stop speaking up or standing against assaulters? No. we cannot bow to anyone who commits the smallest felony against humanity, but we can educate our women, our people to report these crimes and seek help immediately. Over time, Pakistan has greatly progressed and has introduced laws to protect women against violence. With the passing of ‘Women Protection Bill’ by the National Assembly in 2006, women have freed from the shackles of 1979 Hudood Ordinance as the WPB attempted to amend its contentious laws of rape & adultery. In 2016, Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill was passed which despite being criticized by the patriarchy, is a strong legal barrier of protection for the women as it covers sexual, domestic, physical, and psychological as well as cyber-crime. There are established Violence against Women Center’s to help, fight and empower victims. In Sindh, a Women Complain Cell has been established under CPLC which guides and helps cases of harassment and violence. Some private firms also have anti-harassment cells for women to report in case of any wrong. There are a good number of NGOs who are dedicatedly working for the rights of women. However, nothing changes if the victim chooses not to report. Reporting abuse/harassment/violence to the authority is the most vital step to put an end to the horror. Unfortunately, there is a social stigma attached when a woman chooses to report. When a man goes through hardships and comes out stronger, he is applauded and valued. Ironically, when a woman goes through the same, she is shamed for it. A society which shames the victim actually encourages the violation of women rights.
Change does not happen overnight, but it can happen effectively if induced systematically. Other than reporting these crimes, we also need to start shaping the minds of our society. For that, firstly we need to start by educating the boys. In schools, textbooks should introduce simple awareness programs that help the fresh minds to differentiate between right and wrong when it comes to the opposite gender. They should be taught to help and strengthen if they come across a victim. Education should be gender sensitive. It should ensure that textbooks promote optimistic stereotypes. Girls should be made aware of their rights and the importance to report a crime. They should be taught to not ignore threats. Regular campaigns and TV programs to kill social stigma of shame and honor should be introduced. Occasional programs for gender equality and to discuss the effects of women abuse should be arranged. Again, nothing will change overnight but with small efforts now, a dawn of empowered women will inch closer.
Pakistani women’s #MeToo is powerful in its own way because it challenges the ancient idea of ‘keeping harassment to own self’, ‘ignoring’, ‘boys do it all the time’, ‘men are lustful, save yourself’ and many more nauseous statements. The women in the country have suffered but have not let anything deter them. They have grown powerful and hold important positions in the country but the sufferings must stop. #MeToo is for everyone who understands the magnitude of the problem. #MeToo is a call to a realization that if we don’t create a safer environment for women today, our daughters and their daughters will suffer too. #MeToo is a great start, but reporting violence is a lot more important than just narrating it. Too many assaulters are free today because women don’t know their options, their rights. Perpetrators get comfortable with disrespecting women because they are never called out or reported. Awareness is important and implementation of the law is crucial. If you know a woman who can’t report herself, guide her or report for her. Once we start standing up for each other, and especially once women begin supporting their fellow women, we will create a society of harmony, liberating it from the looming caliginosity.
‘No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live’ –Quaid e Azam