By: FE’REEHA IDREES
A few years back, Pakistan’s former President Musharraf embroiled in an unprecedented controversy when he made an infamous statement on the prevalence of rape.
“You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This [rape] has become a money-making concern,” he said. “A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa, or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
Anger poured in from all quarters at these remarks. Yet, the shocking part remains that he got away with it. Musharraf’s ill thought words are a direct reflection of the dismal situation and attitudes existing towards rape victims in Pakistan today.
The question is, how did a man with such a patriarchal and misogynistic approach not only serve in prime positions in the country but go on to become one of the most powerful presidents in the history of the country?
The answer unravels some uncomfortable truths to which many zealous Pakistani voices will vehemently disagree. Most Pakistanis will argue that a “few sporadic cases of rape here and there” are not reflective of the whole society. In fact, the arguments in favour of the general positioning of women in society will weave a fairytale of how important, blessed and protected women are here. In fact, the protectors of the prevalent situation argue that Pakistani culture extols the virtues of womanhood and their sacred role in society; that women sit upon the highest social throne, and that paradise lies beneath their footsteps.
The above stories are nothing but lullabies to incense our sleeping masses.
They are part of the lie that Pakistani women don’t have it all that bad because they are revered in Islamic principles. All the while, the sad reality remains that society, under the influence of other patriarchal societies neither gives women the freedom of the West nor the rights ingrained in the true teachings of Islam.
Today, women and young children are picked up, brutally raped and murdered regularly. All the while, members of the state stand upright in court and in police stations to defend the rights of the perpetrators. The truth is that the internationally acknowledged gang rape victim Mukhtaran Mai feels unsafe in her own country as all the men involved in her rape are out of jail. The truth is that the screams of rape victim Amina who burnt herself in front of a police station in Muzaffargarh, in all probability fell onto deaf ears. The truth is that the Law Minister of the Punjab came out with reprehensible remarks wherein he tried his best to shift the blame from the accused to the victim.
One may argue that these are a few isolated events but that is inaccurate. In the prevalent system, we have made it difficult for women to get an education or to work because we have enforced upon the gender a self depicted image of a sacrosanct woman who really does not and should not have to work or get higher education. Those who boast about the huge achievements of women aviators and paratroopers must first answer some basic questions.
Have we given women the freedom to run in public parks? To walk peacefully by a road? To travel freely without harassment on public transport? Have we given them the choice to be career oriented persons without feeling guilt by social pressures? The answer to all the above questions is, No. So, with all due respect, can we really boast about the achievements of a handful of women in rebuttal? Are they a true reflection of the lives of a significant majority of women in this country? The answer still remains no.
In our tradition-obsessed culture, girls are groomed to be good wives. Being independent and career driven is an accidental or enforced requirement if the husband or father dies or cannot earn a living. As a result, we discourage our women from being brave, empowered and most importantly independent. Traditional values dictate that a woman’s importance or value lies not in her work or in her own right, but as the mother of children, and as a functional cog to preserve the higher, intricate pattern of the honour of men in society.
These pressures result in a family system that continuously shelters and controls the lives of women. The responsibility of giving every citizen an equal chance to life is shifted from the state to individual households in the case of women. Hence, women are tagged as items of honour, as personal property for the men in their families; first their father’s and brother’s, and later, their husband’s and his family’s.
Ultimately, this mentality leads to forced marriages, to domestic violence and honour killings. True Muslim society taught its followers not to bury their girls alive. Today, as part of our social calamities, taboos and cultural confusions, we bury our girls alive everyday and do not even moan the loss.
Lastly, the portrayal of women on television also stands well accused of accentuating, instead of challenging, this mentality. Gone are the days of women like Shazori, Sana and Sania, who challenged the status quo in Pakistani dramas. Today, the Pakistani woman is shown either as a conniving second wife, a despicable mother in law, or an oppressed daughter in law. The world of the soap opera presents chauvinistic men who harass and oppress women. And sadly, current affairs shows are not much better, wherein rape scenes are shown in reenactments purely for higher ratings.
We live in a blind world where even the acknowledgment of this epidemic is scarce. Is it then any wonder, that the local MNA in Amina’s incident distanced himself from the victim’s family, and the honourable law minister tried to move the investigation in an entirely other direction, by blaming the victim and the media? At some point in time, we will have to open our tightly shut eyes. And perhaps, that time has come.
The writer is the host of Eight PM with Fe’reeha Idrees on Waqt News. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org – Tweets at:@Fereeha