In Cases Of Sexual Abuse, Question Violators, Not Women
Zulqernain Sahi writes about the commonly held beliefs among men about victims of sexual harassment and rape. He argues that in cases of abuse, we need not gauge if a women has transgressed the commands of Allah, but we need to first focus on the transgressions that the perpetrator of violence and abuse has made.
Women who dress provocatively and/or become ‘overfriendly’ with men are one of the main causes of sexual harassment and rape.
This argument was invented by a man who had no clue about the real issues surrounding this vile feature in our society; and by our society I do not mean Pakistan, I mean the global society, since women all over the world are subjected to rape and sexual harassment in addition to other means of maltreatment.
The argument is erroneous on many levels. By stating that women invite rape and sexual harassment by dressing a certain way or talking to men in a friendly manner, you are implying that men are like rabid dogs who do not have any self-control and would jump on any piece of meat that is left unattended or uncovered. I say rabid dogs because even sane dogs do not exhibit such brute behaviour.
Several people, including some women, in Pakistan try to lend support to this argument by quoting religion and the Quran. The most often quoted verse – in the arguments I have witnessed – is Verse 31 of Surah An Nur, which says, “And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.”
It is argued that the Quran, in the above-mentioned verse and other places, lays a very specific dress code and code of conduct for women and that women who do not follow these directions are left unprotected, and are thus vulnerable to men. But if you go and research this verse you will find that before Verse 31 there is verse 30, in which Allah says;
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.”
Before commanding women to lower their gaze and guard their body, Allah commands men to lower their gaze. To the surprise of many, the command given to men in verse 30 is not subject to a woman’s fulfilment of the command in Verse 31. Thus, a woman who, in your opinion, is violating rules and boundaries set by Allah is in no way sanctioning you to violate the rules set for you.
At best, men who believe that they have an apt understanding of the Quran can guide women in their family and those who seek their guidance on what Allah commands. But they cannot in anyway deem themselves responsible for the behaviour or dress of others since Allah does not burden anyone with the follies of another.
As men and as individuals responsible for our own actions and our obedience to Allah, we are not responsible for, and ought not concern ourselves with, how a woman chooses to dress or behave in society. At best, we are responsible for ensuring a safe environment for women regardless of what they wear and who they smile at. We need not ensure that a woman in our city does not stay out late, instead we ought to ensure that when and if she does, we do not harm her or caste an evil eye upon her nor let anyone else do the same.
We ought not ensure that a woman does not enter a male populated court premises with an uncovered head in Shakargarh, we need to ensure that when she does enter our domain we do not hurt her or kick or slap her. We need to ensure that when one of us is resorting to such vile display of ignorance, we do not become mere spectators but intervene and protect her.
When a woman alleges sexual harassment by a man, we need not investigate her actions or whether or not she transgressed the commands of Allah with regard to her dress or gaze, all we need to know is whether the man transgressed the commands of Allah or violated her trust.
Those who believe that men are superior in any sense physical or otherwise, must also then believe that men are thus burdened with a heavier responsibility. Men who believe that men and women have equal rights must also believe that they are responsible for their own domain alone and cannot overstep into a woman’s domain and claim responsibility or ownership of her choices and actions.
Thus, women who in your opinion dress provocatively or transgress in their behaviour with the opposite gender may be violating the commands of Allah. However, that is for Allah to judge, and that transgression is no way an invitation for men to break the laws set for them.
The author is a lawyer based in Lahore. He is also a former member of Punjab Assembly.